Start here: Everything you need to know about 3D printing and its impact on your business While the press release listed the questions, used them to illustrate the size of the market and commented that 3D printing had experienced substantial growth, it did not attempt to answer the questions. That’s where this article comes in. We’re going to do a lightning round where we answer all the questions in order of popularity, each in a few paragraphs. Ready? Set. Go! Also: Best cheap 3D printer: Beginner picks under $500 This is different from other manufacturing processes, which are often subtractive. Those remove material to create an object. CNCs are subtractive, cutting away wood, plastic, or metal to leave a finished object. Pricing is often determined by how big the machine is, how robust the machine is (whether it’s built out of steel or plastic) and the features that accompany the machine. Some of the slightly more expensive ones include Wi-Fi, a camera, and various printing conveniences like automatic bed leveling. SLA printers work differently. These use a vat of resin with a transparent bottom. Under the vat is a light source. Usually, an LCD display like you’d find on your smartphone or tablet. Certain pixels light up, exposing the resin and causing the exposed resin to harden. As each exposure takes place, a gantry lifts the exposed resin off the vat’s transparent bottom, and the next layer is exposed. Additional 3D printing technologies involve the use of fused powders, sand, and a wide variety of other approaches, but those are mostly limited to heavier industrial use. But let’s talk more practically about things you might make with a sub-$1,000 printer. Resin printers produce amazing detail and are heavily used by tabletop gamers for creating miniatures and model railroaders for creating tiny model trains and accessories. They’re also used to prototype products and create physical mockups. FDM printers don’t produce the tiny detail as well, but they make a lot of useful objects. I use them to make brackets, stands, and supports for filming videos. My wife makes doll stands. Automobile companies use them to create jigs and fixtures right on the factory floor. Naval vessels use them to make spare parts. Schools make scale models of dinosaur skeletons to teach about ancient history. Look, there’s no way I can cover all this in a few paragraphs. But if you want a good idea, take a look at two 3D model repositories, Thingiverse and Printables. You’ll see so many things you can print. That said, it doesn’t do well out in the sun (ask me how I know that), it can be a bit brittle (ask me how I know that), and while it’s fairly strong, it’s not nearly as strong as nylons or even ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), another common plastic. Legos are made from ABS, for example. Overall, PLA is a good, general-purpose printing filament, available for a relatively low price and in a wide variety of colors and variations. I use PLA whenever possible. It’s my go-to material. Objects printed with resin printing start life as a liquid, moderately noxious resin. Light (particularly certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light), not heating and cooling, causes the resin to harden. A really excellent article on the history of 3D printing is available on the website All3DP. Justin Haines, the article’s author, goes all the way back to a science fiction story from 1945 by Murray Leinster that described something that was a pretty good prediction of what 3D printing would become. If you want to know more about the history of 3D printing, I recommend giving Haines’ article a read. Other materials are also used in 3D printing. 3D printed houses are being made with concrete that hardens in the air after being pushed out of a moving gantry system. Metal objects have been made by 3D printers that take metallic dust (think sawdust but from metal) that’s either heated to form a bond or mixed with a glue-like agent to hold it all together. There are even 3D printers that extrude chocolate and other food items to make 3D-printed food. Expect a lot of innovation when it comes to 3D printing materials. This is a big growth area, especially as metal 3D printing becomes more practical, affordable, and common. Personally, I use Tinkercad for my quick, simple designs. It’s very fast and easy to learn and use, and if I’m creating an object that’s relatively simple and I want to make it quickly, Tinkercad (which is free) is a great way to go.  When I’m designing something more complex, I gravitate to Fusion 360. Not only is it more powerful, but it uses something called “parametric design.” This is a feature that allows you to assign variables to dimensions, and by changing the number assigned to the variable, the entire design resizes. So powerful.

What are you going to make?

I’ve been making incredibly useful custom objects for the past six or seven years, and as I look around my house/studio/workshop/lab, I can see so many custom helper items I designed and printed with 3D printing. What are you going to make? Let us know in the comments below. Most people I encounter who learn I do a lot of 3D printing think it’s some sort of magic. They think I can walk up to my 3D printer, say the equivalent of “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” and it’ll produce whatever I want, like a replicator on Star Trek. 3D printing is far from magic. Every object has to be built up from a series of shapes. You can’t just shake up an artist’s paint set and get Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring or Picasso’s Guernica. Like painting, 3D printing requires some level of design and effort. Also, like painting, you have to keep the medium in mind. With molten plastic, you can’t create large open areas, or the plastic will simply droop. Instead, you have to design in “supports” or other ways to manage the material properties of the plastic. 3D printing is used for rapid prototyping, product design, small volume manufacturing, hobby projects, making things to help around the house, studio brackets, and so much more. It excels at creating low-cost custom solutions. But to get a 3D printed object, you either have to buy or download one that’s already been created, or you have to design it in a CAD program yourself. You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at, on Instagram at, and on YouTube at