3D Systems ChefJet hands-on: the 3D food printer

There's no shortage of 3D printers in the halls of CES 2014, but 3D Systems' ChefJet is a bit different to most – it serves up edible 3D-printed sugary snacks. Designed to realise the most complex of pastry chef garnishings (or just the crazed imaginings of deep-pocketed sweet addicts), the ChefJet is the first commercially available 3D food printer.

Looking like a giant microwave plucked from the set of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, the gloss-white casing of the ChefJet looks every inch the futuristic kitchen appliance. It's based on similar technology to the company's range of more conventional 3D printers, with the mechanical workings replaced by food-safe components.

A sizeable monochrome LCD touchscreen on the right-hand edge heads up proceedings, and provides a crisp display of the current print job, alongside details such as the remaining print time, the volume and height of the printed object and the remaining printing materials. It's also from here that users can select the desired print job and adjust the settings.

The prints themselves are created from layer upon layer of finely dusted sugar, water, food colouring and flavouring. The ChefJet model we saw has only a single print head, and so is limited to a single colour of your choosing, but the four print heads in the ChefJet Pro model add the ability to create multi-coloured confectionery. You can also choose from a range of flavours, including chocolate, vanilla, mint, sour apple, cherry and watermelon.

Prints are crafted to a precision of around 1-2mm, allowing for the most complex sugary creations you can dream up - we asked if you could print something as complex as a human skull, and 3D Systems claimed it was entirely possible. The ChefJet comes bundled with a handy guide, The Digital Cookbook, and a software suite that's designed to be straightforward even for  the CAD-illiterate.

Knocking up a quick afternoon snack isn't quite on the cards yet, though. Prints take around an hour per vertical inch to produce, with objects such as the one below taking around seven hours. Items such as the intricate wedding cake design seen in the video at the top of the page take even longer, since it's made up of a number of smaller composite parts.

Our verdict

Slated for launch in the second half of 2014, the ChefJet is set to retail at around $5,000. We hope forthcoming models add the ability to print tasty 3D meat-based snacks - we're already salivating at the possibility of printing our own range of exotic Greggs pasties. We can but dream.

In all seriousness, we can really see the ChefJet capturing the imagination of pastry chefs and keen cooks alike. Our hands-on tasting suggests that the results are a little bland, but as a way of adding a bit of drama to an otherwise conventional recipe, the 3D Systems ChefJet is clearly capable of stunning results.

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