The newest frontier in Judaica: 3D printing kippot

It’s the most iconic geometric figure in Judaism.

By
October 24, 2014 07:02
2 minute read.
3D printed kippa

A Jewish youth wears a 3D printed kippa made by computer science Prof. Craig Kaplan of University of Waterloo in Ontario. (photo credit: CRAIG KAPLAN)

 
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There are many different ways to create a Star of David – for example, by drawing two overlapping triangles, or by connecting alternate corners of a hexagon.

Craig Kaplan’s preferred method is to melt tiny layers of plastic on top of one another in a technique called 3D printing, increasingly popular among futurists. Kaplan, a computer science professor, recently put this method to use, seemingly for the first time, in manufacturing yarmulkes.

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The yarmulkes – available online in eight colors and two styles – are fashioned from interlocking Stars of David that form a mesh to cover the top of the head.

“It’s the most iconic geometric figure in Judaism,” Kaplan said. “It also happens to be aesthetically a very nice object to cover the plane with it.”

A yarmulke is basically just a cross section cut out of a sphere, he said.

So it wasn’t difficult for Kaplan, a faculty member at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and a self-described 3D printing hobbyist, to come up with the mathematical specifications for how to make one.

He merely chose the size of the sphere to match the average size of the human male head and did a bit of guesswork on where to cut the ball.

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Throw in a bit of non-Euclidean geometry – mundane details for Kaplan – and the yarmulkes can be purchased through the online vendor Shapeways.

For Kaplan, who researches computer methods in art and has written papers on the geometry of Islamic stars, his interest in the yarmulke was professional rather than religious.

Other than wearing one to school every day as a child, he said he has no special attachment to kippot.

“I’m not doing [this] because it fulfills some deep spiritual longing for me,” he said. “I do have some connection for kippot that emotionally takes me back to my youth, but it’s not a religious experience – it’s just an object that’s interesting.”

Nonetheless, he said he has looked into manufacturing other Jewish objects, such as a menorah and a yad, the special pointer used to read from a Torah scroll. But 3D printing is not a particularly effective means of mass production, he said, as the per-unit manufacturing cost does not decrease with the size of an order.

While other manufacturing methods could be used to mass-produce his kippot, such as injection molding, Kaplan is not interested.

“For the yarmulke, if it becomes a mass produced object you’d just be wearing a piece of plastic on your head,” he said.

For other aspiring yarmulke artists, though, the frontier has not yet closed.

“Think of all the materials that a kippa could be made out of,” Kaplan said. “There’s room to grow.”

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