Updated · Nov 26, 2022
What Can You Make With a 3D Printer? 10 Awesome Ideas
Updated · Oct 16, 2022
3D printers have become affordable common-use devices. People are fascinated by the ability to create physical three-dimensional objects “out of thin air,” аnd rightfully so.
But what can you make with a 3D printer exactly?
Let’s find out:
How Does a 3D Printer Work?
3D printers use computer-aided design (CAD) to turn digital models into physical objects by layering. The material can be resin, plastic, wood compound, or metal.
3D printing is also referred to as additive manufacturing because the components are built layer by layer. Such an innovative building process allows for design freedom and flexibility. Three-dimensional printed items can range in size, color, shape, and rigidity. By changing the computer model and material, you can produce various designs.
Let’s follow the process in three simple steps:
- Computer Model
The first step is building a computer model with 3D printing software. It helps to design components with great precision.
Image credit: Creative Tools (CC BY 2.0)
Once the model is ready, slicing steps in. Unlike humans, 3D printers aren’t aware of the three dimensions concept. That’s why the model must be separated into layers. Slicing software scans each layer and commands the printer how to move.
- 3D Printing
Only now can we proceed with the actual 3D printing. A nozzle with filament moves back and forth to create the shapes layer by layer. It has to wait for the previous level to dry to add the new one. The process can take minutes or hours, depending on the design.
Image credit: kakissel (CC BY 2.0)
How did it all start?
The first 3D printer dates back to 1986, when the American inventor Charles Hull patented the SLA (stereolithography) machine—the 3D printer’s predecessor. He formed a company called 3D Systems and released the SLA-1 in 1988. Hull is also the inventor of digital slicing and the STL file format—crucial elements of contemporary 3D printing.
Benefits of 3D Printing
Since a 3D printer can build complex objects, it’s a game-changer in many industries. Some consider it a revolutionary technology providing irreplaceable advantages. The things you can do with a 3D printing technology are far more complicated and precise than traditional manufacturing.
Image credit: Johann C. Rocholl (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
3D printing helps to produce parts within hours, which makes the prototyping process faster. This speeds up each stage of the manufacturing process. 3D printers can create elements quicker and cheaper compared to machining prototypes.
The traditional manufacturing process is slow and restricted in terms of design flexibility. On the other hand, 3D printing allows for more complex designs and rapid changes.
Depending on design complexity, 3D printers can create objects within hours. That’s faster than machined and molded parts. Saving time in production is a crucial factor for many industries.
Making lighter tailored plastic elements is one of the convenient uses for a 3D printer. Aerospace and automobile companies require lightweight parts to provide fuel efficiency. The details can also have specific properties such as water repellency, heat resistance, and higher strength.
3D printing doesn’t require having different manufacturing machines. A single 3D printer is enough. So the costs of machinery and maintenance are significantly lower.
Material expenses are also lower since you use only the filament needed for the particular project, with little to no waste.
Additionally, once you set up the printer, it’ll do the job without an operator monitoring all the time.
Lower costs and faster speed of production make 3D printing highly competitive. Reduced product life cycles mean businesses can provide a better final result for a shorter period. The cost of prototyping is also significantly lower.
Image credit: CyclopsBricks (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Unlike traditional manufacturing methods, 3D printing uses step-by-step layering technology of a product or part. This ensures better quality prototypes/products and enhanced designs.
Compared to alternative methods, 3D printing is more economical in terms of material. Parts and objects are produced with almost no waste. You’re not only saving resources but also money.
Ease of Access
Everything about 3D printing is easily accessible. The printers and layering materials are affordable. A wide range of people can use such systems compared to traditional manufacturing machines. In addition, the whole setup also costs much less.
Businesses can mitigate their manufacturing risks due to 3D printing. The technology allows for numerous prototypes’ quality verifications before the start of mass production and investing substantial finances.
What Can You Make With a 3D Printer?
3D printing is a modern technology that can find applications in the business and hobby sectors.
Let’s see some things you can make with a 3D printer:
Most plastic parts are produced by injecting the material into a metal mold to take its shape. The process is fast and easy to repeat. However, it takes time to create the molds. Production becomes cost-effective only when you’ve made many items.
3D printing allows for manufacturing small batches, giving more flexibility and control. Moreover, replacement parts for the production line can be 3D printed fast. Thus, costly downtimes are optimized.
A 3D printed architectural model can be a great addition to a building’s computer design. Medical models are helpful before surgery to explain operations to patients and plan them for the particular case.
Rapid prototyping is 3D printing’s widespread application. Digital designs can become a physical reality within hours.
Product designers can review and perfect their ideas by making multiple 3D printed prototypes. Engineers can run numerous tests (heat resistance, impact, strength, etc.) by creating many trial products.
Image credit: Engineering for Change (CC BY-SA 2.0)
It’s convenient to produce the tools to fix something yourself. That’s also one of the widespread 3D printing uses. You can make the instruments to repair your 3D printer or create spare parts.
Tools have multiple applications and can be reused. Manufacturers can develop and test new 3D printed tool ideas fast. Speed and flexibility make the process easier than using other alternatives.
There are also 3D scanners that allow you to scan an already existing part and recreate an exact copy.
Image credit: Creative Tools (CC BY 2.0)
3D printed toys are another tendency in the three-dimensional creation field. Figurines are also among the popular items to print.
Missing parts of toys are among the other things you can do with a 3D printing machine. Since the original is plastic, producing a new part is no trouble.
The world of jewelry making also benefits from 3D printing technologies. Jewelry creators can experiment with different designs, which aren’t possible with the other traditional methods.
Creating jewelry with a 3D printer allows for designing unique custom-made pieces at a lower cost.
The 3D printing technology provides endless opportunities for artists design-wise—intricate, one-of-a-kind models such as sculptures, wall art, designer vases, etc.
Making interior design items is another widespread use of 3D printers. Out of the various home decor pieces, plant pots and vases are some of the most popular.
What Is a 3D Printer Used For?
With 3D printers becoming mainstream, their possible applications are beyond our imagination. They can boost your creativity and find uses in areas like healthcare, construction, aerospace, food, etc.
Believe it or not, you can create 3D printed food! It may look like a futuristic sci-fi movie technology, but pureed ingredients can turn into something fascinating on a 3D printer. You’d have to wait for some time, though—a detailed chocolate bar, for example, might take up to 20 minutes to print.
The layering method is suitable for building houses or different structural components. The innovative technology allows for more accuracy and complexity of the projects. The process is faster and reduces labor costs and wastage.
Image credit: Cdwelly (CC BY-SA 4.0)
3D printed prosthetic limbs are used in the medical field. Such prosthetics are accurately made according to the patient’s measurements. The cost of printing is low, so children can easily get a new prosthetic when they outgrow the old one.
Bioprinting is a form of 3D printing of artificial organs. In the near future, we’ll see livers, kidneys and even hearts created that way!
The technology uses 3D modeling of the patient’s organ and printing a new one combining living cells and polymer gel. That’s a life-changing breakthrough in the medical industry.
Everything about 3D printing is so fascinating that it’s deservedly incorporated into the education system.
3D printers are already installed in schools, universities, and public libraries. It’s especially useful for those studying:
- graphic design
Aeronautics uses 3D printing because the material is lightweight but strong, which is essential in building spacecraft. The manufacturing process is also fast and cost-effective.
The most famous aerospace engine (GE Aviation’s LEAP) uses 25% lighter and five times stronger 3D printed fuel nozzles than the traditional ones. Previously, those were created out of twenty parts - what 3D printers can make is make one whole part.
For many years, automobiles have been utilizing 3D printed parts. This way, companies can shorten production cycles and lower the number of stock because parts can be produced on demand.
Using 3D printing, old car enthusiasts can build out-of-production parts to repair their retro automobiles.
Imagine the things you can make with a 3D printer in the fashion industry!
Making clothing, accessories, and shoes involves creative thinking. Such technology can provide the tool to turn avant-garde ideas into reality.
Although 3D printed garments aren’t as flowy, the models are unique. If you’re looking for an edgy, futuristic out-of-this-world look, go for it.
Whether the entire shoe or only the sole, 3D printed footwear looks super cool, the same goes for bags and glasses.
Image credit: nicknormal (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The cinema industry is also fond of 3D printing technologies. They use it to create spectacular costumes, props, sets, etc.
Now 3D scanners can measure actors’ bodies from head to toe and make costumes that fit them perfectly. The old-school manual measurement taking isn’t considered as reliable as a 3D body scan.
Wildlife preservation is another beneficial use for a 3D printer. Here are some of the applications in nature:
3D printing of artificial corals is one way to apply the technology. This way, damaged coral reefs' replacement is fast, and they look almost real. Interestingly, fish adapt very well.
Prosthetics for animals is another way to help wildlife through 3D printing. There have been cases of making an artificial jaw for a turtle and a new beak for a toucan. Imagine what else we can do for injured animals.
Synthetic pollinizers in 3D printed flowers provide bees with the necessary nectar and pollen without exposing them to harmful pesticides.
We’ve gone a long way since the first 3D printer was invented 36 years ago. With the ability to recreate different body parts, 3D printing has become life-changing for humans and animals.
Manufacturing also benefits from applying 3D printing in production.
Creative spheres like fashion, art, and cinema can pull the maximum from it. The aerospace and automobile industries are also huge supporters of this innovative technology.
The future of 3D printing seems promising. There is more room for expansion, so we’ll see what awaits.
What can 3D printers make?
The list of 3D printers’ applications is long:
- Artificial corals
- Synthetic pollinizers
- Car parts
- Lightweight aerospace elements
- Home decor
- Spare parts
- Artificial organs.
Is it worth to get a 3D printer?
It depends on what a 3D printer is used for.
Home-use 3D printers are affordable, so if you’re passionate about DIY projects, you can get one.
If you want to sell your designs, you should first deal with the technicalities of making computer models. Selling someone else’s ready design might lead to copyright issues.
Can you make anything with a 3D printer?
Although 3D printing is considered cutting-edge technology, you cannot make everything. There are limitations regarding materials.
Paper, wood and fabric are flammable, so they cannot be 3D printed. Rock is too hard to be melted and turned into the desired shape.
Is 3D printing hard?
3D printing isn’t hard if you possess creativity, know math and work with CAD (computer-aided design) software. Then, what you can make with a 3D printer depends on your skills and experience.
Velina describes herself as passionate media savvy and a versatile individual with numerous different interests, most a result of her Media & Communications BA. She has also developed a keen interest in Digital Marketing and Advertising. Her never-ending desire to constantly learn new things and enrich herself and her ultimate dream to go around the globe before 45 are her driving forces.
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