Image: Food styling at FoodArtConcept PHOTOS: Courtesy of FoodArtConcept

Have you ever walked up to a bakery window, looked at the samples and thought, those look a little like shiny plastic toys? Welcome to the world of fake food and the problem 3D printers is solving with exact replicas that are so like the original, you might not be able to tell the difference.

From space to the medical industry, these replicators have advanced to produce surgical tools, prosthetics, habitable lunar bases and food we actually eat. Now artists are taking advantage of the enhanced technology to print fake food for window displays, movie sets, photo shoots and more.

And it looks good enough to eat.

3D-printed fake food is an entire industry dedicated to mimicking the food we eat every day. Dubai-based FoodArtConcept by Caro works closely with restaurants, chocolatiers, museums and entertainment sets to ensure the presentation is as exact a match as possible. But it’s not as simple as asking the printer for something and out it pops.

There’s a lot more involved, and the process goes a little like this:

Typically, clients provide high-resolution images of the desired product outcome and overall impression they wish to convey with the artwork. From these images, a software program creates a rendering, or 3D digital model, of what the finished product will look like.

The raw material used for printing, typically composed of white or colored filaments, is fed into the 3D printer. FoodArtConcept uses Digital Light Processing 3D printing.

Digital Light Processing 3D printing is a type of stereolithography technology that uses light to solidify a photosensitive polymer (or plastic that melts instead of burns when heated) called a photopolymer.

CAPTION: 3D printed food display IMAGE: Courtesy of FoodArtConcept

The photopolymers react to ultraviolet (UV) light through a chemical reaction called photopolymerization. A digital light projector shines UV light in the shape of each layer of the 3D object onto the photopolymer resin, causing the resin to harden in those areas. This process is repeated layer by layer until the object is completed.

The process, originally developed in 1987, is popular because of its high printing speed. These printers create detailed and meticulous 3D prints, and because they are able to cure entire layers at once, they’re the faster choice — a clear benefit when you rely on them for business purposes.

IMAGE: Caroline Ismail, founder and managing director-FoodArtConcept

“The outcome is a plastic-shaped food, white or pre-colored (depending on the added filament). If white, it will be hand-painted to match as much as possible the food color,” says Caroline Ismail, food consultant and founder of FoodArtConcept.

Ismail started FoodArtConcept over nine years ago and serves clients all over the Middle East. She is also a doctoral researcher at College de Paris-Ascencia Business School in the UAE. Her research is focused on obesity and its relationship to socio-economic, cultural, consumer and federal influences.

The main obstacle Ismail faces is pushback on product cost. She says that businesses can create mouth-watering displays to draw in more business. Movie sets can save money and reduce food waste on sets.

Caption: Display at Qasr Al Hosn Museum, Abu Dhabi  IMAGE: Courtesy of FoodArtConcept

And ultimately, the return on investment over time can be worth it now that near exact replicas can be color matched, textured and painted to mimic the real thing.

“I always ask my clients to look at the profit and loss when needing to display a fresh croissant or ice cream every day,” says Ismail, who is also a food stylist who ensures brand continuity with not only individual pieces of food but entire displays.

“The final stage is done manually. Let’s take the example of a date basket or a bowl of nuts. Food styling for photography or filming purposes, the process entails ensuring each layer can be distinguished by the end consumer.

For 3D printing, the extra element is glue, ensuring each piece is displayed realistically and offers a long-lasting shelf life,” she says.

Some of FoodArtConcept’s clients include Subway, Godiva, Haagen-Dazs and the Qasr al Hosn museum in Abu Dhabi.

So be careful the next time you spot a piece of fruit or cake that looks too good to pass up, because if you choose to indulge, you might just break a tooth.

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