3D Printing - No Glasses Required

3D Printer

Have you heard of a 3D printer? No, it’s not a regular printer that creates blue and red images that you need glasses to view properly. Instead, a 3D printer can seem like a machine straight out of Star Trek to many. If you want a physical, 3-dimensional object, you now have the ability to print it at home.

3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing. The process of making a 3D object isn’t that dissimilar to the 2D printing you’re familiar with. The main difference is that instead of just printing along the X and Y axis, a 3D printer adds in the Z axis. You also use different materials with a 3D printer. The most common materials you’ll find in home use printers is ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or PLA (polylactic acid). Both of these are types of plastic. ABS is used in most consumer goods such as LEGO. PLA is made from corn, tapioca, or sugar cane and is biodegradable. While home printers mainly use plastics there are industrial printers using chocolate, metal, concrete, and even human cells!

The first step in getting your object from idea to something you can hold is to create a 3D model. This can be done using any number of free modeling programs such as 3DTin, Blender, OpenSCAD, Tinkercad, or SketchUp. The programs do take some time to learn, but once you get the hang of it you’re only limited by your imagination. For beginners, you might want to browse the files at Thingiverse. There you can find thousands of items created by the 3D printing community. Need a new paper towel rack, print it! What about a new bracelet to match your favorite outfit, print it!

Once you have a 3D model created you’ll need to slice the file. Most printers come with their own slicing software, or you can use one of the many free options such as Slic3r or ReplicatorG. Slicing tells the printer how to print each layer of the object.

Now that your object has been modeled and sliced, it’s time to get printing. Consumer printers use a few different methods for creating objects. One of the most common is using a spool of plastic which is fed through to an extrusion nozzle. The tip of the nozzle gets hot and melts the plastic. Thanks to slicing, the printer sees the object as a series of stackable layers. When you add all the layers together you get a 3-dimensional object.

3D printers have been used commercially for many years, but are finally making their way into people’s homes and libraries across the world. Many people have leveraged their 3D printers to start their own businesses, selling jewelry online or manufacturing parts for their latest tech gadget. One teen at a library in Kansas even printed a prosthetic hand for his younger neighbor. You too can flex your design muscles and try creating your own 3D printed object.

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