When students at the University of Southern California return to classes this fall, they will have the option of earning a minor in 3D printing. The USC Roski School of Fine Arts is adding it to its offerings for undergraduate students.

While students are well versed in visual communication, translating ideas into tangible objects can be problematic, Haven Lin-Kirk, Associate Professor of the Practice of Fine Arts, said.

"Oftentimes a designer doesn't know how to produce something, they just have a great idea," she said. "That's one of the reasons we realized that we needed 3D instruction. Doing things in dimensions is quite different."

Because the 3D design minor includes a focus on the creation of items like packaging, product prototypes, signage and installations, it has wide-ranging real world applications.

Therefore the curriculum includes courses cross-listed with the USC Marshall School of Business, the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, among others.

Topics from typography to motion graphics and advertising enable students to focus on particular aspects of 3D design relevant to their fields of study.

Professionals working in a wide range of fields are exploring the untapped potential of 3D design and printing. Architects are creating elaborate models, anthropologists are reconstructing fossils and bioengineers are customizing robotic exoskeletons, which provide additional movement capabilities for children with underdeveloped limbs.

Ann Page, Director of Curriculum and Undergraduate Studies and Associate Professor of the Practice of Fine Arts at USC, said the 3D printer is following a route similar to computers – with sleeker, smaller and increasingly inexpensive versions evolving for personal use.

USC students pursuing a minor in 3D printing will have access to a state of the art lab furnished with several rapid prototype printers, enabling students to visualize and execute their designs. The opportunity for hands on creativity should prove invaluable for students trying gain insight into printing materials, their capabilities and limits.

The intersection of the conceptual and the practical is a hallmark of the USC Roski School of Fine Arts, which offers classical fine arts training alongside digital media. Instructors believe fluency in handmade and analog techniques empowers designers to articulate the aesthetic potential of innovative technologies like 3D printing.

Lin-Kirk said the interdisciplinary nature of the new 3D minor is a huge advantage for students.

"At most schools, there's a separation between design and fine arts," she said. "We're trying to produce the leaders in industry, decision-makers and influencers," she said. "At USC, being in a community of not just designers and artists, but people from other fields, means lots of opportunities."