Calligraphy goes high tech in Japan: Draw in the air, laser burn to wood


If you’re even remotely interested in the up-and-coming field of 3D printing and digital fabrication, chances are you’ve probably already seen some of the work done at FabCafe Tokyo.

Operated by the folks at Loftworks, FabCafe hosts various community workshops, including a really fun one back on Valentine’s Day where participants could print 3D representations of their heads in chocolate. You may also recall this clever laser-etched 360-degree book we featured earlier in the year.

And this week the cafe played host to an Air Shoudou event, where attendees could try doing traditional Japanese calligraphy in the air with their hands, and the characters would be shown on a big screen using a system equipped with a Kinect camera. As the user leans forward to write (as pictured below), the camera measures the distance between the hip and the hand. The bigger the distance, the stronger the weight of your brushstroke.


So where does the fabrication come in? The system actually records the character you draw as well, and it can then be printed in various forms. The folks at FabCafe made the activity into a fun competition, posting the characters on a wall and then voting on a winner. And then in true FabCafe fashion, they printed prizes for the winners, including one on a sake bottle using a laser etching system they have on site. I had mine printed on a masu box (see right) [1].

This is one of those really great creative projects that beautifully illustrates how Japan can fuse tradition and technology to do something entirely new and wonderful. We look forward to lots more fun stuff like this from FabCafe (see their 3D Snap & Touch workshops for starters), and we hope if you’re in the neighborhood that you check them out as well.

  1. It’s missing a few strokes as the 60-second time limit ran out before I could finish. It was still lots of fun!  ↩