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Celebrate with the team behind the Cocoa Press Chocolate 3D Printer – 3DPrint.com

Celebrate with the team behind the Cocoa Press Chocolate 3D Printer – 3DPrint.com

It was actually supposed to be a one-semester engineering project. A chocolate 3D printer? A fun thought experiment, maybe even a tasty one, but no one would seriously do that, right?

Every maker has an idea that captures their imagination, and for Ellie Rose, that project was the cocoa press. A mix of unwavering culinary technique, the DIY spirit of the RepRap movement, and an undeniable dash of Philly stubbornness paved the way for the decade-long journey that has seen this machine now slowly appear on desktops around the world.

2024 was still smelling like new cars when I got the chance to spend a day with Rose and several members of her team at the Cocoa Press workshop. Tucked away in a quiet corner of Philadelphia, I entered a workspace where the air hummed with the gentle hum of Prusas—each loaded with a spool of custom-made PETG filament, printing away the pieces that would soon adorn some lucky maker’s future cocoa press She.

From left to right: River, Ellie and Kim

Our conversation was quite extensive. We talked about everything from internet drama to BattleBots (Ellie recently joined a team), but the question that burned a hole in my notebook was the most obvious: Why did she keep doing this? The internet is littered with 3D printing projects that are dead in the bud, if they ever came to fruition. As sad as it was to think about it, the moment Rose flipped the question, someone somewhere had probably thought of a million dollar idea that they would probably give up on at the end of the day.

“I guess I’m just a little obsessed.” Everyone in the room laughed when she said that, but there was a real sincerity in her words. “Everything I learned in engineering class; everything went back into the printer.” Ellie was unafraid to describe the idle times when an earlier version of the printer sat unchanged for weeks or months until the lightbulb went off for the next revision. The Cocoa Press workshop itself was a kind of living history of food 3D printing. The earlier versions of the printer were proudly displayed on the shelves and Rose beamed when she got the opportunity to show off her MakerBot Cupcake.

The cocoa press version 1

Ellie blushed at the thought of ending up as an early chapter in some book about 3D printed food. She and the Cocoa Press were previously featured in the latest issue of 3D Printing for Dummies, in the section on 3D printing food. After her team pushed her a bit, she admitted that she was asked to give a keynote speech at a food 3D printing conference.

Cocoa press specifications

So let’s talk about the cocoa press itself.

An assembled cocoa press

This printer lacks some of the things you would expect from regular DIY 3D printers. There is no Z end stop as there is no real risk of the tool head colliding with the bed. The bed is not heated and there is no fan – the room temperature plays a big role in successful prints. Too warm and you’ll see a runny but delicious chocolate mixture.

The device comes standard with a 0.08mm nozzle and an additional 1.6mm nozzle, a cartridge case with 65 gram chocolate centers and a silicone baking mat as a printing surface. Overall, it has a slightly smaller desktop profile than an Ender 3. It definitely looks like it would be more at home on a countertop next to a KitchenAid than in a workshop with other printers.

The secret ingredient

We also have to talk about the chocolate. Yes, it was delicious. I was encouraged to take as many photos as I wanted during my day in the lab, but was asked not to take photos of chocolate cones. Finding the right chocolate mix for the device appears to have been one of the more difficult aspects of its development. While there’s some grumbling online about Cocoa Press not following an open source ethos when it comes to its chocolate recipe, there’s a feeling that the team would welcome other makers trying to make their own perfect kernels.

“Over the years, many people have made suggestions about the design of the printer – how it works. Well, some of these people have them and I get messages like, ‘Oh, I see why that idea was completely wrong.'” Rose’s voice dripped with joy as she shared this. It’s a victory if this printer goes far. It’s not just about overcoming technical or production challenges. Now every single person who builds and prints a cocoa press has to live with the ideas that occupied them and their team.

One thing that couldn’t be ignored was how freely and quickly ideas flowed around the Cocoa Press workshop. When someone made an offhand comment about printing ice sculptures, there was a serious discussion about trying to put a cocoa press in a freezer. As a natural instigator, it took incredible restraint not to encourage them as the team gradually talked their way out of the situation.

According to the Cocoa Press group, 3D printing enthusiasts appeared to be the largest buyer category, followed by small businesses and schools. While previous versions of the machine were designed for small businesses, the expanded model is designed for the hobbyist space, and Cocoa Press feels comfortable working in that space for now.

Who buys a cocoa press?

Still, I was curious about who built these printers. Also, it almost seems silly to ask, but many people may ask: Why chocolate? Precisely heating and extruding a food certainly has other applications – we’ve already seen attempts with frosting and icing printers as well as a pancake printer. However, it takes a special mind to view chocolate’s unique properties as a selling point rather than a gimmick. I reached out to manufacturer DaveMakesStuff to tell him about his experience with the cocoa press and was surprised that he only had one of these heads:

“Many of my designs are intended for ‘spiral printing’… ‘Spiral printing’ is a really good way to print with a material like chocolate as you don’t have to worry about retractions, your model will be printed in one long, smooth chocolate extrusion ! The first time I saw a Cocoa Press video, it gave me design ideas that I wanted to try.”

Chocolate flowers designed by DaveMakesStuff.

In many ways, Dave’s reaction to the Cocoa Press confirmed many of the things Ellie had told me about the development of the printer.

“I knew this was the right direction when I saw that the crowded area at the M&M store in Times Square was the place where people could personalize their own candy.”

In a time where almost every product imaginable is just a few clicks away, how do you make your product stand out? The adaptation. Anyone can bring a box of chocolates to their loved one, but can they print the chocolates themselves? Or give them a cupcake with a custom chocolate topper? That will have an effect.

“I have a Thing for You” Valentine’s Day print designed by Philly Wonka, an avid contributor to the Cocoa Press discord.

Speaking of customization, the ability to print your own parts has led to some fantastic-looking builds, like YouTuber Zack Freedman’s novel printer. DaveMakesStuff also decided to print his own pieces and found assembling his machine pretty straightforward overall.

“Assembling the printer definitely requires some knowledge and experience with 3D printers, but the instructions are clear and concise. The support team at Cocoa Press is also super helpful,” Dave told me.

During my time in the Cocoa Press lab, I was equally impressed with the startup’s assembly instructions. It is by far one of the clearest product building manuals I have ever seen. The team took great pride in their focus on user experience and you can see that work reflected in the passionate community that is growing around this printer.

What’s next for 3D printing chocolate?

When Dave told me that he was working on tweaking the settings on his cocoa press to hopefully make waterproof chocolate shot glasses, I had to wonder what other amazing treats we might see in the next few months. The number of YouTube and Reddit comments I’ve seen about whether or not certain psychoactive ingredients can be used in conjunction with the system leads me to believe that we’ll definitely find interesting content from this genre sooner rather than later become.

On the day I visited the site, 130 printers had been packaged and shipped to manufacturers, with #131 being prepared for shipment. The ever-increasing activity on the Cocoa Press Discord and videos posted on TikTok and Reddit show that a still-growing community of makers are finding it increasingly easy to show off their chocolate prints.

Rose and the team have high hopes for the future of the cocoa press. They tell me they might like to develop other tool heads and work on their ability to serve customers like bakeries, but probably an educational series on printers will be planned first. For now, her main goal is simply to “help people do cool stuff.”

Before I end my day at Cocoa Press, I only have one question left: They printed chocolate, why not another food product?

“Butter,” Ellie said without batting an eyelid. And I could see the wheels starting to turn.