You may not have heard too much about the 3D printing phenomenon just yet, but you can mark my usually fairly in-the-know words that you’ll be hearing quite a lot about it in the next year or so. Pretty soon 3D printers are going to be the hottest technology item in the market, and everyone’s kids will be asking for one for Christmas. So what exactly is 3D printing and why should you care? I’m glad you asked.
What is 3D printing?
Essentially it is exactly what it sounds like – the ability to print a three-dimensional, physical object. DUH. We are all very familiar with standard printing, which is typically 2D via the use of ink (ie. on flat paper or other surface). Well the next generation of printers are more like robots, which are able to scan 3D objects (and even people) and produce a pretty compelling copy by a continual process of layering material (often plastic or rubber). There are lots of scientific and confusing explanations I could provide for how this works – for example terms like G-code file, injection moulding, selective laser melting, incididenuousing etc (Ok I made that last one up, coined Pring, 2014), but if you really want the finer details I suggest you check out Wikipedia or watch the CNN video below. For now the simple explanation is the ability to print a 3D model of just about anything. ISN’T THAT ENOUGH FOR YOU?
Why it’s the next biggest thing
I’m not really sure I need to explain this one. Why is 3D printing the next big thing? Because it is SO FREAKING COOL. I mean come on – the ability to not just create something you can touch and feel but also use? Think of all the fun you could have with this! Design your own dollhouse and print it for your kids, print out a Tupperware container exactly the right size for your infamous meatloaf, create a phone case for your mobile or even print out some awesome shoes to go with your new outfit. The possibilities are virtually unlimited! UNLIMITED I TELL YOU. And I’m not even overstating it. There is literally an infinite amount of things you could print with a 3D printer.
Soon you won’t be going down to the shop to pick up household items, car parts or that spare liver you really need – you are going to simply download a blueprint or scan an object and have it printed right before your pretty eyes. AMAZING.
How can you get your hands on a 3D printer?
Get your own. Don’t want to wait for the future to catch up with your need to have this right now? You’re in luck! 3D printers are available to purchase for consumers, so you can actually get one for your kids this Christmas. Microsoft Store in the USA sells Makerbot 3D printers starting from $1,375. Check out Engadget’s guide to 3D printers or simply google (or bing) 3D printers.
Get a 3D printing company to print something for you. Don’t have a spare thousand bucks lying around? No problem. Companies like Shapeways and Sculpteo can print a 3D object for you. You can choose a product from their marketplace or create your own 3D model to have printed.
Access 3D printing studios for DIY. Don’t want to buy your own printer, but still want to get hands-on? Look for 3D printing studios nearby – they are popping up all over the place. You might also be able to leverage a local University or other educational institution that has 3D printing facilities available.
So that’s pretty much the 411 on 3D printing. It’s coming your way and you SHOULD get excited. I’m excited. I want a 3D printer, dammit. Santa, take note.