Common questions about 3D printing

• How does 3D printing work?

Similar to how conventional 2D printers have variations like ink jet, lazer jet and bubble jet, 3D printers also have different methods of creating models, but most adopt a very similar process. 2D “slices” are printed on top of each other and the layers just build up to form the 3D shape.

For an overview of 3D printing, check out A Basic Guide to 3D Printing.

• What is 3D printing used for?

3D printing first became popular as a means of “rapid prototyping” of industrial designs and products. It enables quick and relatively inexpensive production of accurate, high quality models for testing purposes.

3D printing is also being used by artists to create interesting and often complex three-dimensional statues and objects.

For more ways 3D printing is being applied today, check out our list of Useful Things to Print at Home.

• Are cheap home 3D printers available?

Available, yes. Cheap? Well that depends on what you consider cheap.

Currently 3D Systems Up Mini 3D Printer is the most affordable fully assembled home printer on the market.

To compare home printer prices, click here.

• Do I need a printer to have my models printed?

Not at all! There are a number of services available to you online where you can submit a model and have them print and ship it to you. You will get your model delivered to your door – but for me, one of the greatest things about 3D printers is printing things right there in front of you.

For a list of online model printing services, click here.

• How much does it cost?

The cost of printing your 3D model will always come down to two factors; how big your print is and what material you are using to print it. Remember, the size is not the height, it’s the volume of the object.

Tip: A hollow 3D model will use a lot less material and time to print!

Resins are significantly cheaper to print than metals, regardless of what process you use. The average cost to users of online 3D printing service “Shapeways” is usually between $50-$100. Visit the Shapeways website for more pricing information.


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