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Volume 2, Number 4, 2015

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
DOI: 10.1089/3dp.2015.0039


4D Printing Technology: A Review

Jin Choi,1,2,* O-Chang Kwon,1,3,* Wonjin Jo,1 Heon Ju Lee,1 and Myoung-Woon Moon1


3D printing has been recognized as a disruptive technology for future advanced manufacturing systems. With a
great potential to change everything from our daily lives to the global economy, significant advances in 3D
printing technology have been made with respect to materials, printers, and processes. In this context, although
similar to 3D printing technology, 4D printing technology adds the fourth dimension of time. 4D printing allows
a printed structure to change its form or function with time in response to stimuli such as pressure, temperature,
wind, water, and light. Recently, rapid advances in printing processes and materials development for 3D
printing have allowed the printing of smart materials or multimaterials designed to change function or shape. In
this review, we first compare the similarities and differences between 3D printing and 4D printing. We then
look into the main factors composing 4D printing technology such as smart materials and designs. Finally, we
summarize the current applications of 4D printing.

Additive manufacturing, more popularly known as 3dimensional (3D) printing technology, has been developed
for more than 30 years. Recently, 3D printing has been recognized as a disruptive technology for future advanced
manufacturing systems. With a great potential to change
everything from our daily lives to the global economy, significant advances in 3D printing technology have been made
with respect to materials, printers, and processes.1,2 In this
context, an innovative concept of printing technology known
as 4D printing technology has been developed. The term 4D
printing was introduced by Skylar Tibbits in his TED conference talk.3 Although similar to 3D printing, 4D printing
technology involves the fourth dimension of time in addition to
the 3D space coordinates. Therefore, one can regard 4D
printing as giving the printed structure the ability to change its
form or function with time (t) under stimuli such as pressure,
temperature, wind, water, or light. Figure 1 depicts a schematic
of the 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4D concepts. The concepts of 1-, 2-, and
3D represent line, plane, and 3D space structures, respectively.
For 4D, the concept of changes in the 3D structure (x, y, z) with
respect to time (t) is added, as indicated by curved arrows. The
3D printed structure can change its color, shape, function, or
other characteristics in response to stimuli such as temperature,
water, ultraviolet (UV) rays, or magnetic energy.47 In this

review, we first compare the similarities and differences between 3D printing and 4D printing. We then discuss the main
factors and recent trends in 4D printing technology such as
smart materials and designs. Finally, we discuss the current
applications of 4D printing.
3D printing is defined as an additive manufacturing
method for the fabrication of 3D structures by layering materials depending on a predetermined design. However, there
is currently a tendency to use 3D printing as a representative
term for all additive manufacturing technologies. 3D printing
technology is a convergence technology that uses materials,
designs, and 3D printers for certain applications since it was
first described in 1984.8 Recently, many countries have declared 3D printing technology to be an innovative production
manufacturing technology leading the global megatrend for the
manufacturing industry. Open-source projects such as RepRap
in the United Kingdom began after the expiration of major 3D
printing patents owned by Stratasys Inc. and 3D Systems Inc.,
leading to the sharing of important technical data for printer and
process creation. Such open-source projects also led to the
explosive development and application of 3D printing technology to diverse industries, such as sports, culture, electronics,
and aerospace. Recently, innovative advances have been made
in 3D printing technology with regard to printing processes and
materials. Carbon 3D Inc. recently announced a new continuous liquid interface production method that can print an

3D Printing Group, Computational Science Research Center, Korea Institute of Science and Technology, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Department of Multimedia Science, Sookmyung Womens University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Department of Mechanical Systems Engineering, Hansung University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
*These two authors contributed equally to this work.





FIG. 1. Schematic of 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4D concepts. A 4D structure is a structure (x, y, z) made by 3D changes over time (t).
Arrows indicate the direction of change with respect to time.
object 100 times faster than existing methods by creating an
oxygen depletion zone in liquid resins.9 New or smart materials and multimaterial composites have been also introduced with dramatic improvements in performance. For
certain functional applications, many efforts have focused on
the fabrication of new materials with desired functionality by
mixing nanomaterials such as graphene, carbon nanotubes,
and functionalized nanoparticles or biomaterials with existing 3D printing materials.10,11
4D Printing

While 3D printing technology has been used to make static

structures from digital data in 3D coordinates, 4D printing
adds the concept of change in the printed configuration over
time, dependent on environmental stimuli. The 3D and 4D
printing processes are nearly equivalent, with printing beginning with product design in 3D modeling programs such
as computer-aided design followed by printing the design
with a 3D printer. Smart design and smart materials are the
key differences of 4D printing compared to 3D printing, as
4D printed structures may transform in shape or function
(Table 1). Therefore, the design of 4D printed structures
should be fully preprogrammed in detail by accounting for
any anticipated time-dependent deformations of objects.12
Another core aspect of 4D printing technology is smart materials, which can become more expandable, flexible, or de-

formable in response to applied stimuli. Lastly, to implement

4D structures by combining design with smart materials, new
4D printer concepts should be developed, or existing highly
functional 3D printers should be improved.
4D printing materials

To construct 3D structures, materials such as plastic, metal, and ceramics are widely used as 3D printing materials.
However, most of these materials are not applicable to 4D
printing because of their lack of reaction to external stimuli.
Recently, more materials with functional properties have
been printed using 3D printers by adjusting or modifying
process parameters such as nozzle characteristics, temperature, and printing environment. Therefore, the proper choice
of materials is important for 4D printing.
Recent developments have yielded several smart materials for functional 3D printing or 4D printing, including materials that self-assemble in response to temperature, UV rays,
self-degradation, or water absorption.8,1319 One recently introduced 4D printing material utilizes water absorption capabilities to produce a 4D printed structure. A research group at
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has printed
multimaterials that change shape underwater.16 The group
used two different materials with different porosities and water
absorption capacities to print bimaterial structures. These
structures have a porous water-absorbing material on one side

Table 1. Simple Comparison Between 3D and 4D Printing Technology

3D printing

Biomaterials or nanomaterials


3D digital information (scanning, drawing)

3D printer
Examples: stereolithography
apparatus, material extrusion,
and selective laser sintering


As printed
Jewelry, toys, fashion, entertainment,
automobile, aerospace,
defense, and bio/medical devices

4D printing
Self-assembled materials
Designed materials
Examples: shape memory alloy/polymer,
self-degradation/deformation materials, temperatureor UV-driven materials
3D digital information for change (deformation)
Smart 3D printer
Examples: modified nozzle, binder, and laser
Multimaterial 3D printer
Examples: solid/liquid, solid/solid, gradient materials,
and nanocomposites
Changed after printing in shape, color, function, etc.
Dynamically changing configuration for all applications
by 3D printing


and a rigid waterproof material on the opposite side. After

printing, the structure was inserted into a water bath, leading to
water absorption on both sides. The water-absorbing side increased in volume because of water absorption, whereas the
other side remained unchanged, resulting in bending toward
the rigid side as shown in Figure 2a. In the water bath, a
straight-line structure with programmed hinges could be deformed into a 3D configuration over time. This approach,
which involves combining materials with different porosities
or structures into one printed structure, originates from the
multimaterial printing method.
Multimaterials or functionally graded materials for 3D
printing were reported by Oxman, who mimicked the cellular
structure of materials that dynamically change in shape.4
Oxman introduced a multimaterial printer using cement and
concrete foam along with software for variable property
modeling. Porosity was controlled by changing the ratio of
aluminum to cement. This process has the ability to dynamically mix, grade, and vary the ratios of materials to
produce functional components with continuous gradients.
Such components can be highly optimized for performance,
efficiently use materials, reduce waste, and possess highly
customizable features with added functionalities.
Temperature-responsive materials such as shape memory
polymers and alloys are well-known 4D materials because of
their ability to contract or expand in response to changes in
temperature. When the temperature of a shape memory
polymer is increased above the critical temperature for shape
change, the deformed structure returns to its original structure. As shown in Figure 2b, shape memory polymers can be
utilized as filamentous material in the material extrusion
(ME) method to print artificial structures that can be refolded
from their unfolded states simply by changing the temperature. Figure 2c shows a functional 3D robotic device that can
self-fold from a single planar material into a 3D structure.6
These devices have several functions, including temperatureactivated self-folding, actuation controlled by an external
magnetic field, and degradation in liquids such as acetone
or water.
Photo- or light-responsive materials can also serve as 4D
printing materials, as a color reaction in a 3D printed object


can be triggered by UV irradiation or sunlight.20,21 UVresponsive polymer chains that include azo compounds can
deform as shown in Figure 3. UV light energy induces the
deformation of the polymer chain structure, triggering a color
change from white to purple. This color change is caused by a
shift in the polymeric chain from the ordered nematic phase
to the disordered phase.22 When maintained in a dark environment, the color of the printed object returns to the original
white. Instead of color, the shapes or surface patterns of some
light-responsive materials have been known to change via
similar mechanisms. These light-responsive materials can be
used in shopping bag packaging, aerospace structures, photovoltaics, and biomedical devices.22 UV-responsive materials are available as ME filaments, and promising applications
of UV-responsive materials exist in areas such as the fashion
and entertainment industries.
Biomaterials are a major class of smart materials for
4D printing. Functional materials capable of autonomously
degrading in the body were studied in late 1990 with 3D
printing technology.23 Because the human body is composed
of dynamically and continuously moving systems, each part
is exposed to a unique environment and must therefore respond over time to differences in conditions such as temperature or body fluid. Therefore, printed body parts or
structures should have dynamic functional behaviors for
use in vivo. In this regard, biocompatible materials should
degrade in the body environment within a certain period
of time. Temperature-, water-, or UV-responsive reactions
occur in the aforementioned materials over periods ranging
from a few seconds to days in the body, whereas the biomaterials may take several years to degrade completely in a
fluid environment. Well-known self-degrading materials are
polylactic acid (PLA) and poly-caprolactone (PCL). PLA is
the major material for the ME method, and PCL is the major
material for the selective laser sintering methods.24,25 Both
materials have been reported to degrade over a period of
several years until the polymer chain has completely dissolved in body fluid.25,26
However, these approaches did not consider any timedependent changes except for degradation. Morrison et al.
created a supporting structure using the stereolithography

FIG. 2. Examples of 4D printing technology. (a) Transformation of a structure from 1D to 3D with water absorption materials,
printed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Reprinted with permission from Tibbits.14 Copyright 2014 John Wiley
& Sons, Ltd. (b) Temperature-responsive design of artificial hands by Korea Institute of Science and Technology. (c) Functional
3D device fabricated by MIT. Reprinted with permission from Miyashita et al.6 Copyright 2015, IEEE.



FIG. 3. Printing examples using a photoresponsive material: (a) cat, (b) flower, and (c) schematic description of changes
in the polymer microstructure in response to light.

(SL) apparatus method with liquid PCL for infants with severe tracheobronchomalacia to prevent airway collapse during normal breathing.27 PCL is known as a biodegradable and
biocompatible material.28 While Morrison et al. printed the
supporting structure with a customized design for patients
less than 1 year old, the splint accommodated changes in

airway size by expanding as the patient grew for 3 years as

shown in Figure 4. After 3 years, the materials were completely removed from the body and the fully grown airways
were able to function unaided.29,30 This example demonstrates that, in combination with 3D printing technology
and designs for changes in shape and material properties,

FIG. 4. (a) Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine images of a patients computed tomography scan used to
generate a 3D model of the patients airway via segmentation in Mimics. (b) Stereolithography representation of a
tracheobronchial splint demonstrating the bounded design parameters of the device. (c) Final 3D printed poly-caprolactone
tracheobronchial splint. (d) Mechanism of action of the tracheobronchial splint in treating tracheobronchial collapse in
tracheobronchomalacia. Reprinted with permission from Morrison et al.27 Copyright 2015, The American Association for
the Advancement of Science.



FIG. 5. 4D printing with a shape memory polymer. (a) Schematic of the folding mechanism and (b) representative images
for folding by heat. Reprinted with permission from Ge et al.39 Copyright 2013, AIP Publishing LLC.

4D biomaterials are extremely useful and promising for

4D printing can be useful for a wide variety of healthcare
applications, ranging from nanoparticle design to tissue
engineering to the manufacture of self-assembling humanscale biomaterials.3133 Organovo Holdings Inc., U.S.A.,
has been involved in several bioprinting projects focused on
the development of functional human tissues.34 This company is developing an artificial human liver using 4D
printing technology. The potential of this technology to
create programmable biological materials with changeable
shapes and properties can be a foundation for enabling smart
pharmacology, personalized medicine, and programmable
cells and tissues that can precisely target treatments for

Smart design

In addition to smart materials, one of the core techniques

for 4D printing is the design of materials for structural
change. Although the smart material itself plays a pivotal role
in transforming a printed object into another shape or configuration, sophisticated design based on a rigorous understanding of mechanisms, predicted behaviors, and required
parameters should be performed to achieve controllable results.37,38 The powerful advantage of 3D printing technology
is the capability to create complex 3D shapes with varied
material distributions through spatial arrangement. By designing the orientation and location of smart materials such as
shape memory polymer fibers within composite materials, we
can facilitate morphological changes in response to external

FIG. 6. (a) Left: rendered illustration of the primitive folding. This design is composed of bars and disks. The disks in the
center act as stoppers. By adjusting the distances between the stoppers, it is possible to set the final folding angle. Right:
video frames of the fabricated primitive folding in water over time. (b) Fabricating a time-varying curve. From left to right
and top to bottom, the curve deforms over time into a different shape. Reprinted with permission from Raviv et al.40
Copyright 2014, rights managed by Nature Publishing Group.


stimuli. For example, Ge et al. investigated the design variables that are important for creating a laminated architecture.39 They examined various fiber orientations and volume
fractions as well as the magnitude of the curvature as a
function of the composite geometry, applied mechanical
load, and thermal history. A two-layer laminate consisting of
one lamina layer with fibers at a prescribed orientation and
one layer of pure matrix material was constructed (Figure 5a).
When the samples were heated, the printed two-layer laminates transformed into bent, coiled, and twisted strips; folded
shapes; and complex contoured shapes with nonuniform and
spatially varying curvatures depending on each samples
prescribed fiber architecture (Figure 5b).
Raviv et al. fabricated self-evolving structures with a variety
of highly specific joint designs for folding, curling, twisting,
linear expansion, and shrinkage as well as other transformations in the presence of water.40 They used a computational
design approach to characterize topology transformations of
the various self-evolving structures. As a design step, the group
modeled three primitives: a linear stretching primitive, a ring
stretching primitive, and a folding primitive. Two different
models were created for stretching, and another model was
created for folding. The length of the linear stretching primitive
could be controlled over time. By adjusting the ratio of expanding material in the middle to the rigid disks as shown in
Figure 6a, they were able to change the length of stretching
and the percentage of linear expansion in the joint. The ring
stretching primitive was based on expansion of the ring-like
shape into a bar. Because the inner and outer rings were
printed with different materials, the inner ring expanded and
forced the structure to deform into a bar shape once the
structure was submerged in water. By controlling the radius


of the ring, They were able to adjust the stretching length of

the structure (Figure 6b). In the folding primitive, the rigid
disks in the center acted as stoppers. By adjusting the distances between the stoppers, the desired folding angle could
be created.
The importance of smart design in 4D printed objects is clear
in the fabrication of self-assembling origami, where a flat sheet
automatically folds into a complicated 3D component.5 Ge
et al. extended the concept of self-assembling origami by using
spatial variations in the material composites to control shape
deformation in an origami structure.39 They also fabricated a
self-folding and self-opening box with two-layer printed active
composites as hinges connecting six inactive plates of a stiff
plastic as shown in Figure 7a. Ge et al. developed a theoretical
model that considered design parameters and the complex
thermomechanics of the composite hinge structures to fabricate various active origami structures.5 More specifically,
the group focused on characterizing hinge behavior with respect to the hinge bending angle as a function of geometric
parameters (hinge length and laminate/lamina configuration),
thermomechanical loading parameters (stretching strain),
and programming parameters (deformations and heating/
cooling temperatures).41 Using this model, Ge et al. could
actuate the hinges created from composites with polymer
fibers, making the hinges fold to a prescribed angle. Finally,
the group created a number of active origami components,
including a box, a pyramid, and two origami airplanes based
on different design parameters. They demonstrated that the
folding of the printed composite hinges depended on the
material properties of the polymers (including the shape
memory behavior of the fibers), the lamina and laminate architecture, and the thermomechanical loading profile.

FIG. 7. (a) Folding processes of cubes printed with a composite material with a hinge made of shape memory polymer.
Reprinted with permission from Ge et al.39 Copyright 2013, AIP Publishing LLC. (b) Folding processes of cubes printed
with a single shape memory material. (c) Hinge design of a heat-induced folding cube made from a single material.


We have printed a hexahedral planar structure using ME

3D printer with a thermal polyurethane (TPU), which is a
shape memory polymer filament. While all of the parts can
be printed with TPU, we designed hinges with different
thicknesses to allow for the proper deformation and bending
of each arm as shown in Figure 7b and c. We also connected
the six faces by inserting TPU lines through predesigned
holes to improve shrinkage strain as temperature was increased.
Printers for 4D printing

In general, conventional 3D printing materials such as

PLA or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) are optimized
for the printing parameters (e.g., temperature and nozzle
design) that are already preset in each 3D printer. Smart
materials with specific functionalities or multicomponent
materials may cause problems in current 3D printers, as these
materials may become agglomerated, clogged, or resolved
during the printing process. Therefore, several techniques
have been adopted for 4D printers. We used a printer with a
coated nozzle tip that was adapted for stable printing of TPU
with the ME method. This printer also has a heating bed for
proper heat circulation during the printing process. Because
TPU has a high thermal expansion coefficient and compresses in the nozzle when heated, the printing nozzle easily
becomes clogged. In addition, the molten TPU may flow over
cold end regions, leading to poor adhesion between layers or
pores in the printed line. To suppress the overflow of molten
materials and to reduce friction, the TPU printer nozzle is
coated with polytetrafluoroethylene and has a barrel that is
1.21.5 times longer than the typical nozzles used for PLA or
ABS. In addition, the heating device is placed close to the
nozzle to minimize heat loss.
The printing of multimaterial components is a key factor
for the 4D printing of structures with adaptability and desired
functionalities. Multimaterial printers may allow printed
structures to have colors, shapes, or electronic properties that
change in response to UV rays, light, heat, or water. Multimaterial printers can print bimaterial structures or functionally graded structures by mixing two or three different
materials within one printed structure. Several printers have
already been developed for multimaterial printing. Lopes
et al. performed discrete multimaterial fabrication and produced functional electroactive polymer actuators via nonheated ME. Lopes et al. also produced biomedical scaffolds
and 3D structural electronics via a hybrid manufacturing system that integrated SL and direct print (DP) technologies to
fabricate 3D structures with embedded electronic circuits.42,43
A hybrid SL/DP system was designed and developed using a
3D Systems SL 250/50 machine and an nScrypt microdispensing pump integrated with the SL machine via orthogonally aligned linear translation stages.
A corresponding manufacturing process was also developed
using this system to fabricate 2D and 3D monolithic structures
with embedded electronic circuits. The process involved part
design, process planning, integrated manufacturing (including
multiple starts and stops of both SL and DP and multiple
intermediate processes), and postprocessing. SL provided
substrate/mechanical structure manufacturing, and interconnections were achieved using DP of conductive inks. Simple
functional demonstrations involving 2D and 3D circuit de-


signs were accomplished.44 Espalin et al. introduced the use

of professional-grade ME systems for discrete multimaterial
fabrication.24 A multimaterial, multitechnology ME system
was developed and constructed to enable the production of
parts using either discrete multimaterials or build process
variations (variable layer thickness and road width). Two
legacy ME machines were modified and installed onto a single
manufacturing system to allow strategic, spatially controlled
thermoplastic deposition of multiple materials with multiple
extrusion nozzles during the same build. This automated
process was enabled by a build platform attached to a pneumatic slide that moved the platform between the two ME
systems, an overall control system, a central PC, a custom
program (FDMotion), and a graphic user interface. Contour
and raster road widths are parameters that can be selected
from a certain range using the ME part preparation software,
and these road widths are controlled by the ME machine
during the manufacturing process by feeding more or less
material through the nozzle for a given extrusion head speed.
Summary and Perspective

The rapid development of materials, design, and printers

for 3D printing gave birth to the 4D printing concept. Recently, 4D printing has been gaining attention because 4D
printed structures have the capability to change in form or
function over time in response to stimuli such as pressure,
temperature, wind, water, and light. 4D printing technology,
which uses smart materials, designs to forecast change
processes, and smart printing, can be applied to various
fields from simple changes to bioprintings for organisms.45
The U.S. Army has already tried to adapt this technology to
produce camouflage textiles that help soldiers hide in certain environments by bending the light reflected from the
clothing.46 4D printing can also be used to create systems
for the International Space Station that can be transported
easier than existing systems produced with conventional
Because 4D printing and 3D printing are different from
conventional manufacturing technology, these new technologies can reduce the manufacturing time and human labor
required to assemble machines or goods. Furthermore, 4D
printing can reduce the time and labor required for logistics,
transportation charges, and the volume of goods that must be
transported. Finally, 4D printing can address the consumer
need for personal designs or options on consumer goods
items such as smart phones or watches.

This work was supported by a Korea Institute of Science

and Technology internal project. The authors acknowledge
support from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and
the Korea Creative Content Agency in the Culture Technology Research & Development Program. The authors also
acknowledge support from the Center for Advanced MetaMaterials (CAMM) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT,
and Future Planning as a Global Frontier Project (CAMMNo. 2014063701).
Author Disclosure Statement

No competing financial interests exist.


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Address correspondence to:

Myoung-Woon Moon
3D Printing Group
Computational Science Center
Korea Institute of Science and Technology
Hwarangno 14-gil 5, Seongbuk-gu
136-791 Seoul
Republic of Korea