3D Printing Inspirations

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A fellow Adobe trainer, whom I met recently in Oslo, told me the following story:

It was New Year’s Eve and he was making mulled wine late in the evening. One of the things he was adding was an orange with cloves. As he was pushing the cloves into the orange, he thought that it would hurt his fingers less if he had a thimble. Discovering there wasn’t one in the house—and shops most certainly closed so late on New Year’s Eve—he did what any self-respecting 3D printer owner would do: he made one! After downloading the 3D image on Thingiverse, he fired up his 3D printer loaded with PLA (polylactic acid, similar to ABS, the material LEGOs are made of), and printed out a thimble. Voilà! Problem solved and the party was a smashing success! (I may have inferred that last part).

That story got me to thinking of all the convenient uses (excuses?) for having a 3D printer. It also put more questions in my head. What do these printers cost? How could I justify owning one? What sorts of material does one ‘print’ with?

A Quick 3D Printing Primer

Generally speaking, 3D Printing is an additive process, where a three-dimensional object is created from a 3D model, either from a source file or via a 3D scan. Material—such as plastics, wax, ceramic, sandstone, steel, or even gold and platinum—is slowly built up layer by layer to create the 3D object.

The scanning process and the 3D printers themselves had, until recently, been cost-prohibitive for the average user. The recent explosion of this as a consumer market is due mainly to the decrease in costs, with consumer printer models available in the $500-$1,000 USD range. Materials can range from a super low-cost investment of $.75/cm3 up to $1700/cm3 (and higher).

Whether you’re looking to create objects to sell or just make your life easier, 3D printers look to become as common a household item as gaming consoles or BluRay players in the near future. And whether your goal is an end product to sell or share, or if you want to distribute the source files, there are several marketplaces to choose from. The most common place for obtaining project ideas and assets are Thingiverse, Shapeways, and Threeding.

Interesting 3D Projects and Ideas

When I first heard the thimble story, I got to thinking of all those times I was missing one little piece to finish a project. A perfect example that came to mind was when I was younger and worked on models. Oh! How I wanted that massive Millennium Falcon! I would often help my brother break all the pieces out and somehow I’d always lose track of one or two. If we had had a 3D printer, we could have just whipped up that missing sensor dish to sit atop the Falcon! I could see a whole market popping up around “lost parts and pieces” for modeling, games, and puzzles.

Although re-creating the famous lead pipe, revolver, rope, and candlestick from the Clue game would most certainly run you afoul of copyright, you could easily create a chess set from your own designs. I’d still be in a gray area because I’d end up making a Doctor Who-inspired set, but those with wilder imaginations could design, print, and maybe even sell a brass chess set of fantasy novel-inspired chessmen.

When looking through the online marketplaces, I saw several utilitarian designs, such as iPad holders. I thought this one was quite fun. How many crafters do you know that could take this idea and run with it?

Don’t have the right camera lens housing? Why not 3D print one?

Jewelry and other accessories—like eyeglass frames—are also no-brainers for the 3D printing market. People are always looking for that unique piece that screams, “This is so me!” I can see the online craft marketplace Etsy exploding with these items. Of benefit to jewelry makers is that fact that you can try out designs in plastic before casting them in metal. In fact, some of the marketplaces are offering wax models that professional artisans can then use to cast final pieces in a variety of metals.

I think prototyping is also going to be a booming market in the 3D printing realm. For anyone who has had a good idea for a new whatchamacallit or thingamajig, being able to try it out without much up-front cost is pretty enticing. In a year or two—when prices have fallen even further—I could see myself having a 3D printer, just to see what I could create. Maybe I’ll get that Millennium Falcon model after all (shhh…don’t tell George Lucas)! Let me know in the comments what sorts of things you might create if you had a 3D printer.

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