As their name implies, 3-D printers are a revolutionary new way of printing objects. They can create anything from toys to guns to replacement parts for a dishwasher.
The printers use a process called additive manufacturing to make 3-D objects from a digital model by laying down successive layers of material. Until recently such printers have been employed mostly for quickly whipping up prototypes in the worlds of engineering and manufacturing. However, 3-D printer makers are now offering increasingly cheap, easy-to-use models. As the technology comes down in price, it approaches possible mass market deployment. A time could be coming when people will shop on the Internet and then print out their purchases in the privacy of their home.
Here’s a 15-image look at this amazing technology.
1. Jenny Agutter Prints Her Own Action Figure
Actress Jenny Agutter holds a miniature version of herself created using 3-D printing at the London Science Museum on Oct. 4, 2013, just prior to the opening of the show "3-D: Printing the Future."
2. One Van Gogh To-Go, Please
At right, Dutch Princess Anita Theodora of Orange-Nassau unveils a “Relievo,” a three-dimensional reproduction of “The Sunflowers” by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh during a presentation at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport in The Netherlands on Dec. 12, 2013. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, in cooperation with Fujifilm, makes reproductions by scanning the original work of art with a multi-dimensional scanner and printing in high resolution.
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3. Printing 3-D Happiness in London
Camila Batmanghelidjh, left, founder and chief executive of Kids Company, and Jason Bradbury, presenter of the Gadget Show, attend the launch of Print Happiness, a pop-up store in London’s Soho, which will be printing 3-D toys for vulnerable children this Christmas.
4. Junior (3-D) Achievement
Top photo: From left, Jonathan Thomas, Elliot Miller, and Shivam Tickoo work on building a 3-D printer during a GR Makers gathering near downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., on Feb. 26. GR Makers is an open community lab incorporating elements of a machine shop, a workshop, and a design studio. This group is a free social gathering to build and collaborate together every week. The Forest Hills Eastern students come after school to work on the printer.
Bottom Photo: GR Makers co-founder Casey DuBois holds a sign made from a 3-D printer during a GR Makers gathering.
5. 3-D Print Expo, Moscow
In the top photo, visitors check out an exhibition stand for producers of personal and industrial 3-D printers at the 3-D Print Expo in Moscow on Feb. 13. Innovative equipment using 3-D printers to turn computer data into physical objects was on display. In the other photos, various items manufactured using 3-D printers were displayed at the expo.
6. 3-D Printing at the Jitter Hackathon, Warsaw
A 3-D printer is presented during the Jitter Hackathon as part of the Mobile Central Europe conference for developers of mobile applications at the Robotics Laboratory of Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw, Poland, on Dec. 10, 2013. Jitter Hackathons are technology workshops with programming sessions of revolutionary technological devices and gadgets.
7. 3-D Parallel Printing in China
A technician works beside a 3-D-printing parallel robot at the Chongqing Institute of Green and Intelligent Technology of Chinese Academy of Sciences in southwest China on Dec. 3, 2013. The 3-D-printing parallel robot developed by CIGIT is the first one of its kind in China. Parallel robots used in 3-D printing, as compared to serial robots, have higher accuracy, faster speed, and lower cost.
8. 3-D Search Engine for the Blind, Tokyo
Yahoo Japan Corp. President Manabu Miyasaka, left, unveils a machine during an event in Tokyo on Sept. 17, 2013, that uses a 3-D printer to produce search results as three-dimensional figures so that blind people can touch them.
9. Ultrasound in 3-D
Based on ultrasound scans, Fasotec Co. in Chiba, Japan, created an actual-size 3-D model of the face of a fetus in the womb seen in this Aug. 8, 2013, photo.
10. But Can It Fix Baldness?
In the top photo, Xu Ming'en, the principal for developing the biomaterial 3-D printer "Regenovo," shows the living tissues printed by the 3-D printer in the laboratory of Hangzhou Dianzi University in Hangzhou, China, on Aug. 7, 2013. Researchers at the university invented Regenovo, which can print out human tissues in smaller proportions. In the bottom photo, Ming'en shows a close-up of the living tissues printed by the Regenovo.
11. A Replicator a la Star Trek
Top photo: A scanner takes a three-dimensional scan of a toy in the ThingSmiths shop on Feb. 28, 2014. The scan will then be fed to a MakerBot Replicator 3-D printer in order to replicate the item.
Middle photo: Owen Tien of ThingSmiths adjusts a reel on the back of a 3-D printer in the shop.
Bottom photo: Tien holds a piece he printed using the MakerBot 3-D printer.
12. The Cube, a Personal 3-D Printer
Upper photo: The Cube, a personal 3-D printer by 3D Systems, prints an item while on display at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show, a trade show of consumer electronics in Las Vegas on Jan. 9.
Middle photo: A booth assistant holds a shoe printed with The Cube 3-D printer at the show.
Bottom photo: A doll house is filled with items printed on a Cube 3-D printer.
13. The World’s First 3-D Printed Metal Gun
In November 2013, Solid Concepts announced the successful test-firing of a 3-D printed metal reproduction of a 1911-model pistol, the first of its kind.
Solid Concepts claims to have fired 50 rounds with the gun. The company, which says it is one of the world leaders in 3-D printing services, manufactured the firearm using a laser sintering process and powdered metals. It is composed of 33 17-4 Stainless Steel and Inconel 625 components, and decked with a Selective Laser Sintered carbon-fiber filled nylon hand grip. The successful production and functionality of the 1911 3-D printed metal gun suggests the viability of 3-D printing for commercial applications.
14. Foodini, the Food Magician
Upper photo: The Foodini 3-D food printer (top photo), can print a pizza (middle photo), seen here before cooking, and cheeseburgers made with pork meat, beef, parmiggiano, walnut, red berry jam, salt, and pepper (bottom photo).
Foodini is operated by a touch-screen mini tablet embedded on the front of the device that functions as the user interface. You prepare the fresh ingredients (with the help of a blender, food processor, or prepared by hand), load them into Foodini's food capsules, and watch it print your chosen recipe.
15. Nailed It
Nail salons could become a thing of the past if these futuristic 3-D-printed nails catch on. Decorating your fingers is now a matter of pressing a button on a 3-D printer and wearing the freshly-printed designs. The idea is the brainchild of the New York-based Laser Girls, a duo who wanted to bring high-tech solutions to the catwalk. Digital artists Sarah C. Awad, 22, and Dhemerae Ford, 23, were influenced by the boom in nail art.
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