3d printing is still in its infancy but is no longer just for hobbyists. The printers are affordable and many are now plug and play. They also don’t look bad, blending in between your desktop PC and the old HP LaserJet you’ve had forever.
What can you do with a 3d printer? Almost anything really. No, you aren’t going to print an iPhone. But you’ll print an iPhone case!
3d printing is a process called additive manufacturing. Material is added in thin layers to build up an object. There are several methods to doing this. The most popular way is with extrusion. While it may seam complicated, it’s really not. It works a lot like a hot glue gun. A solid goes in one end, gets heated up to a tacky liquid, and then squeezed out of a nozzle. With a 3d printer, the solid used is a form of plastic and the nozzle is really tiny. The smaller the nozzle, the better the resolution or detail of the final print. Most models of printers on sale now have spectacular resolution.
You have a busy life. Kids. House hold. A dog. A job. You probably aren’t going to design and print massive and massively complicated things such as car parts. You’ll be printing much more simple things. Things such as spacers, brackets, and toys.
Need a shower curtain hanger? Print it. Need a door stop? print it. Need to mount your mini blinds but don’t have all the hardware? print it. Want to stack plates with some space between the them? Print it. How about a tooth brush holder? Or a knife blade protector? Change sorter? Fan pull? Print it all.
Car mount for your cell phone? You guessed it, print it.
Toys and decorations? Print them. Want a small F-16 to fly though your living room making fighter jet noises? Print one. I did. Too small? Print it bigger. Your kids want some x-wings and tie fighters? Print them an entire galactic air force. How about a model of your own house? Done. Print it. Add a pool in the back. Print the neighborhood. Watch your renovation come to life before hiring a contractor and spending thousands.
Decorations? Print a snowflake or a menorah. Dradles and Easter bunnies for everyone. Game of Thrones candle holder? It’s yours. Print it.
How do you get the design to print? You have two options. Many people that create printable 3d objects upload them on a number of sites. Makerbot’s own website,
http://www.thingiverse.com has thousands of print ready files. Free for the download. Search there to find what you want and print away. Sketchup has https://sketchfab.com/download and AutoDesk has http://www.123dapp.com/Gallery/content/all. It’s like looking for a picture but instead it will become a usable object.
Another option is to draw your own object. It used to be that 3d design software cost thousands of dollars and required years of training to use. But now there are many free and easy possibilities. Both www.sketchup.com and www.123dapp.com are free to use and remarkably user friendly. Sketchup has a series of videos that take you from beginner to expert in the software. 10 minutes of video and 30 minutes of drawing and you can have a set of chopstick holders that incorporate your initials or anything else you can dream.
Have I convinced you yet? Maybe? Ok. What printer should you get? If you are handy and technical, there are endless possibilities for kits and many instructions to build your own. But if you are like me and just want one that works out of the box, there are many.
Makerbot is leading the pack with easy to use, reliable, plug and play printers. http://store.makerbot.com. They are sold machines, made of metal with hidden electronics, secured moving parts, and work out of the box. Makerbot also maintains their own software that runs the printers. This means you spend less time trying to learn code and settings and more time printing. They just work. Their smallest printer, starts at $1,400. A far cry from the $10,000 machines a few years ago.
Another up and coming printer family that both looks good and will work right out of the box is Ultimaker. https://ultimaker.com/en/products/ultimaker-2-family. They are priced to compete with the Makerbots though are a bit more elusive to buy. Never fear! Amazon has them. Like Makerbot, they program and maintain their own software. They look great as well!
Dremel, the power tool company, has released their own 3d printer. https://3dprinter.dremel.com. You can buy it at a HomeDepot. Again, it is ready to use out of the box. And at only $1,000. The bargain of the bunch.
The power of 3d printing is in how inexpensive it is to create one-off objects. Want to know how something feels in your hand, how it looks in the harsh light of day, or how the proportions appear in real space, 3d print it. Inexpensive and efficient additive manufacturing is the (or one of) the wave of the future. Getting a 3d printer now helps you now and exposes your children to the future.