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Ashes to Filament : 3D Printing for Death

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Exotic filament blends are coming to the 3D printing market every day, as startups around the world are competing to produce new filaments for 3D printers. These new filaments often combine the 3D printable properties of PLA with the desired artistic or performance qualities of the composite material.

3R3DTM  is a Spanish Basque Country startup company that is developing a wide range of 3D printing filaments.

They have agreed to send 3D-PT a set of filament samples which will be reviewed in a future blog.

Among the samples they provided, a filament called “Reincarnation” caught my eye. It is not every day reincarnation and 3D printing come up in the same sentence.

Reincarnation filament is a mix of PLA and ashes from burnt paper.

Reincarnation PLA + Paper Ash filament
Reincarnation PLA + Paper Ash filament

The resulting filament uses the paper ash as the fill product to produce a dark colored filament.

In talking with 3R3DTM, it turns out the paper ash version is a prototype filament. 3R3DTM is using the paper reincarnation to test the viability of producing a filament made from the cremated remains of pets.

Day of the Dead

As the USA prepares to celebrate Halloween and Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), 3D printers are cranking out ghoulish decorations and sugar skulls for the upcoming festivities.

While these 3D printed decorations are nice, it does bring a morbid question to my mind.

Sugar skull from
Sugar skull from

If 3D printing is so helpful to us during our life, why can’t it be useful in our death?

All composite filaments are made by mixing the primary material (be it metal or conductive carbon) with a plastic binder such as PLA. Other companies mix organic materials such as beer waste or hemp to produce biodegradable filament blends.

What if we could use the same method to mix cremated remains with a plastic binder to produce a memorial filament?

There are many different ways for people to carry the cremated remains of a loved one with them.

It is already possible to turn ashes into diamonds or to mix the remains into cement reef to produce a living memorials. With this in mind, I wonder if it would be possible in the future to produce a memorial filament by mixing plastic and loved ones ashes.

Death mask of Joseph Smith, from
3D printed death mask of Joseph Smith, from

In this way a filament can be easily shared with family members, or be used to 3D print a memorial lithopane or death mask of a loved one.

A memorial lithopane of Alan Turning, which can be 3D printed with a memorial filament
A memorial lithopane of Alan Turning, which can be 3D printed with memorial filament.

If family members are all given a section of this memorial filament, they can then 3D print their loved ones in a form that best honors the deceased.

Memorial Filament

This also begs the question,

How much filament can be produced from the remains of an average adult?

According to Wikipedia,

“ Ashes of adults can be said to weigh from 4 pounds (1.8 kg) to 6 pounds (2.7 kg), but the first figure is roughly the figure for women, and the second, for men. The mean weight of adult cremated remains in a Florida, U.S. sample was 5.3 lb (approx. 2.4 kg) for adults (range 2 to 8 lb or 0.91 to 3.63 kg). This was found to be distributed bimodally according to sex, with the mean being 6 pounds (2.7 kg) for men (range 4 to 8 lb or 1.8 to 3.6 kg) and 4 pounds (1.8 kg) for women [emphasis added by author] (range 2 to 6 lb or 0.91 to 2.72 kg). In this sample, generally all adult cremated remains over 6 pounds (2.7 kg) were from males, and those under 4 pounds (1.8 kg) were from females. “

Composite filaments like Colorfabb  BambooFill is 20% bamboo and 80% PLA, while other composites like Proto Pasta Stainless Steel PLA is about 70 % steel and 30% PLA.

For this I’ll estimate that a memorial filament will be about 50% cremated remains and 50% PLA.

A 378 cm length of 2.85 mm PLA has a mass of 14 g , or 0.04 g / cm

This means that for the average adult male (2.7 kg of ashes), you can have approximately 5.4 kg of memorial filament. When divided by 0.04 g / cm, this equals 1350 m of 2.85 mm filament.

For the average female (1.8 kg of ashes) you can have approximately 3.6 kg of memorial filament. When divided by 0.04 g / cm, this equals 900 m of 2.85 mm filament.

By both of these measurements, the ashes of a person would produce a large spool of memorial filament. This could   insure that all family members have a chance to take a fair portion of the remains with them.

Cremation tags used to identify remains.
Cremation tags used to identify remains.

Laws & Regulations

To comply with US laws to identify cremated remains, crematoriums must place a metal disk with the crematory name and an identifying number in the ashes to  be identified. To make sure that these memorial prints comply with the law, a digital tag file can be included or shared with the family members, so the information can be imbibed into the print. Crematoriums can also stamp out multiple copies of the ID tags to give out with the memorial filament. This will ensure that the 3D printed item is properly identified as a memorial and complies with the law.

While 3D printing is used to help with the practical and fun things in life, I do not see a reason that 3D printing cannot be used to help us when we die. As new filaments come to market, it would be interesting in the future to see 3D printing incorporated into our burial practices. A memorial filament can transform ashes back into a meaningful 3D prints for a family member to have a new way to remember a loved one.

Win 2 Rolls Of Filament From ProtoPasta By Designing An Urn Or A Ghost!

DISCLAIMER: Please check all state and local regulations with regards to handling of cremated remains, and the production of a memorial filament. Check with a lawyer before attempting this method. Ask permission of the filament manufacturer before running cremated remains through their filament extruder. Also get permission of the 3D printer owner before printing with memorial filament.

The article presented here is a proposal for an alternative death practice that has yet to be tested or approved. Please consult with your family, a funeral director, or mortician for all of your end – of – life decisions.

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  1. Eddie says

    LoL, that was creepily funny but very informative!

    1. 3D-PT says

      I’m glad it made you think about your impending mortality! I think we should consider how to dispose of ourselves in the future. Recycling our ashes into a 3D print does not seem like the worst idea ever.

  2. Quintox303 says

    Any explanation as to why the competition on gleam is now marked as “disabled”, with 20 hours to go???

    1. Daniel F says

      We Will check it and get back to you asap.

      1. Quintox303 says

        … Anything?

  3. [email protected] says

    There is so much about these 3 D printers I don’t know. Thanks for informing me.

  4. mperkins37 says

    little creepy,.,, 3d

    1. 3D-PT says

      When you think about it, people are already printing “standies” as sculptures of themselves.. so a natural progression can easily be printing the self, with material containing yourself.

  5. Tony says

    Well that’s depressing.

    1. 3D-PT says

      Not really when you think about it. We die, our body decays and is recycled by nature. Why not recycle our ashes into some material that can be repurposed into a useful 3D print? This way you can keep a memorial for a loved one without the mess of ashes.

  6. kattzzz says

    I think it’s kind of cool. I really don’t want anyone to have my ashes, but I sure would love to have my Grandmothers maybe in a ring I could wear or a little charm on a bracelet or necklace. If I think of something like a bust or a mini statute…the phrase “kiss my ass” (everyday for the rest of YOUR life) comes to mind for some reason…whoops! I’m pretty sure my frenemies would not keep a bust of my ashes around tho.

    1. 3D-PT says

      With a memorial filament, your friends can print your remains into any form they want, serious or funny!

  7. Andrew says

    I dont know if this is cool, or disturbing. Kind of intresting though.

    1. 3D-PT says

      well, it beats ashes that fly all over the place and make a mess.

      1. Andrew says

        Yes, that is true. You can look at it without having to worry about a mess.

  8. Richard Bynum says

    I’m not sure how I would feel about this when the time came to make a decision. I could see the benefit of having something to hold and look at but picking a shape and/or object to print from my loved ones remains makes me feel like I would fall short of the respect they earned in life. I wouldn’t want my mother to end up a plastic trinket in other people’s eyes. But then again, it could be made into something beautiful that could convey just how wonderful the person is/was.

    1. Stan Baldwin says

      I agree that tact and dignity should go into a print made with a loved ones ashes. I have seen people carry keychains that contain some remains, and others have mixed ashes with plaster to make bust or other small memorials for their loved ones. The advantage of mixing ashes with filament is that it would give you the flexibility to mourn, and after a period you can print something with clear emotions in the privacy of your home. You can print a small lithopane with your mothers picture and keep it close as a keychain or pendant. By making this filament you can create a fitting memorial at your leasure, without the pressure from funeral homes.

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