3D Printing (often
is a manufacturing process that allows computer generated
3D Arc Models to
be transformed into a physical objects through a layered printing process. The
techniques were initially devised in the 90s as a means to produce relatively
inexpensive prototype parts for industrial and automotive design work, however
as costs begin to fall, 3D printing is finding its way into an expanding variety
Because of its cost-effectiveness and versatility, the advent of
additive manufacturing ultimately has the potential to be as important and
game-changing as the introduction of the assembly line a hundred years ago.
How does 3D printing work?
Although there are a handful of different 3D printing
methods, the basic procedure
is relatively consistent from one to the next. In additive manufacturing,
three-dimensional objects are created from a raw material in either liquid
or particle form.
Using the digital model as a guide, a 3D printer deposits microscopically
thin layers of the raw material, and the print gradually materializes as the
layers are built up step by step by step. The amount of detail possible in a
3D print is determined by the thinness of the layers, and the raw material
can be anything from synthetic resin, to ceramic powder, metal, or even
The 3D printing process is actually quite involved. If you're interested in
a more in depth examination of the procedure take a look here.
We'll also look at the different types of 3D printers, some of the companies
that make them, and explore the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Can I Have My Own Models Printed?
In a word, yes! Perhaps the greatest advantage of 3D printing
compared to traditional manufacturing techniques (like injection molding) is
that the cost per unit is the same whether you print one copy or one thousand.
Because of this, there are a growing number of online vendors who are willing to
print your models on demand, without any need for minimum quantities.
How much does it cost?
That all depends on how large a print is
desired, and the type of material that it's printed in—resins are going to
be significantly cheaper than metals in every case. Shapeways reports
that the average price on one of their orders is usually between $50
and $100 dollars.
One way to drastically reduce the price of your print is to
make sure the model has been properly prepared
for the 3D printing process.
This means making sure that the model will print hollow rather than solid.
Obviously, a solid model will use a lot more material than a
hollow one—on their website, Shapeways estimates the price of a solid 2cm x
2cm cube to be approximately, while a hollow cube of the same size would
only cost. Instructions are provided for creating a hollow model on the
Is it worth it?
When it comes down to it, only you can
answer that question, but I will say this: One of the best gifts anyone ever
gave me was a small (approximately 2 inch) printout of one of my 3D
character models. Two inches may sound small, but an astounding amount of
detail can be resolved even at that scale.
The largest (and probably the most impressive) 3D print I've
seen in person was a quarter-scale model of Iron
Man, on display at the 2009 SIGGRAPH computer
graphics conference in New Orleans—it was unbelievable to look at. Unless
you've got an awful lot of money, it's cost prohibitive to print anything
that large, but any one of the vendors mentioned above can print your models
on a smaller scale.
In my opinion, it's definitely worth the money to see a model
that you're particularly proud of transformed into a real-world object. It's
a wonderful feeling to actually be able to hold your work in your hand, and
I recommend trying it at least once or twice.
Now, if you're wondering whether it'd be worth it to have
larger quantities of your models printed with a commercial purpose in mind,
that's a whole different ballgame. Obviously, costs vs. potential income
would have to be weighed and examined. The notion is becoming more and more
feasible every day, but keep in mind that even a small figurine is still
relatively expensive. Unlike virtually any other manufacturing process, 3D
printing is actually most cost-effective at smaller quantities.
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