When you hear “printer,” you think of that machine that spits out paper and photos. Three-D printers are completely different devices that create three-dimensional objects.
Consumer Reports tested three, costing from 800 dollars to almost three thousand, to see what they can do.
On YouTube, you can see people using 3D printers to make all kinds of stuff, from drink coasters to figurines of Star Wars characters.
Consumer Reports just tested out 3D printers from MakerBot, 3DSystems, and Solidoodle.
And it turns out they’re pretty cool!
“You feed them a blueprint that you’ve designed, and out comes a three-dimensional object.” said Carol Mangis of Consumer Reports.
But what if you don’t know how to design a blueprint on the computer?
Mangis said, “If you don’t know how to do that, it’s OK. There’s a lot of free designs, right on the Web. You can go to thingyverse or cubify.com and look for thousands of designs right there.”
You’ll find ready-to-download designs for everything from roses to garden toads. Once you’ve downloaded the blueprint and set up the printer with a roll of plastic, you’re good to go.
“You do need a little bit of patience if you’re going to print with a 3D printer, because what happens is you’re feeding a roll of plastic or some other material, and it extrudes that material, layer by layer, to build your object.” Said Mangis.
So even building something small can take hours.
Carol Mangis of Consumer Reports said, “I would say for now, the machines that you can purchase are really for hobbyists, DIY enthusiasts, people who are really captivated by this idea and want to play with it. They’re not super-practical yet. I think that they will be, and probably pretty quickly, but right now they’re a little bit too much money to be a household item.”
But when prices drop, you too can build almost anything — even your own chess set — right in your own home.
While Consumer Reports says it might be a while before 3D printers go mainstream, many industries are already using them. For example, General Electric just created a model jet engine out of metal, using advanced 3D printing techniques.
Car companies are making prototypes of engine parts and dentists are making things like retainers and mouth guards — all with 3D printers.