3D Printing 101: Outlining the Basics

By Dzhingarov

Movies and televisions are not the only things that are be swept away by the 3D craze. In fact, there is a whole other industry that has made leaps and bounds in adding another dimension to what we are used to seeing and experiencing. The world of 3D printing is one that is exploding with progress and potential. Current trends are leading to the direction in which consumers are able to purchase 3D printers for home use. The possibilities are limitless and could be the gateway for creating items at our house that were previously unthinkable.

While manufacturers have been using 3D printing technology on a large scale for years, it has not been until recently that this technology has been scaled down for possible home use. Essentially, 3D printing involves the layering of a certain type of material. Plastic, for instance, is a common material in the consumer market. The printer relies upon computer software to generate a 3D map of the object’s structure to begin the process. Most consumer 3D printers contain a wide-range of cartridges, each containing the material (usually a plastic) with a different color. Depending on the printer, there may be some sort of set-up involved to help optimize the manufacturing process. Lastly, there are numerous forms of technology involved in the actual creation of the products, but a thin layering of plastic followed with a bonding process is typically the simple way of explaining how the items are created by the printer. Since the layering process is a very intricate process, most creations take a considerable amount of time until they are completed. Most objects will take at least an hour until finished.

3D Printing
By Creative Tools under CC BY 2.0

Depending on the printer, there is a wide-range of items that can made. Toys, figurines, accessories, clothing items, and cellphone cases are common creations; however, it is good to keep in mind that most 3D printers marketed towards consumers have considerable size limitations.  The technology, however, is improving exponentially, and it is reasonable to assume that prices will continue to fall, while the size of the output product will increase, as 3D printers become less of a novelty and more of common household item. While plastic is the dominant material in 3D printing right now, it is not unreasonable to expect other materials to be available for consumers. In fact, a great deal of research and resources are going into 3D printing with different types of metals, which could take this field to a whole different level at all levels.

So what can consumers expect in the future? Well, it certainly is not unreasonable to think that there will be a day in which you will be able to design a shoe on your computer, email the 3D file to your friend, who could then print off that shoe on their 3D printer and wear it the next morning! While we may not be there quite yet, creating a cool little toy for Fido or your child is certainly something that can be done. Like the technology, the artistic possibilities are limitless!

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