Inrō Stereolithography

During the Edo period (1603–1868) Japanese travelers could be found wearing a small carrying case known as inrō. Literally meaning “seal basket” (印籠), inrō were used to store important items like medicine or one’s personal seal for stamping documents. Production of these utilitarian objects of lacquer, wood, or ivory developed into the trade of highly skilled craftsman.

The combination of scale, utility, design, and craftsmanship makes inrō compelling artifacts of Japanese mobility. That they also served to transport small, valuable goods gives the object a kind of special presence along a journey. I thought it would be interesting to create my own version of inrō, drawing from the formal properties of crystal, which also has its own talismanic quality.

I designed the object in CAD software to be printed three dimensionally at NYU’s Advanced Media Studio. This additive manufacturing process involves a computer-controlled laser beam that hardens a liquid polymer as the structure is built up in layers. Here is a wireframe view of the inrō.

When printing is complete, the piece is fragile and needs to be infiltrated with a special epoxy. After infiltrate is applied it can be handled as normal. Two versions of this intial prototype were made. The first is bone white—essentially as it came from the printer—and the second is painted with black enamel.

Applying Black Enamel

What would you keep inside an inrō?

Inryō in Hand