This story was originally written for the Daily Star, found here.
3D printing is technology that sounds both simple and really complex – but we have the info how it works, the cool things it can make and how to try it out.
The idea of making nearly any object I wanted had me mostly excited to make tiny figurines of video game characters but to buy a printer of my own a few years ago would have set me back thousands of pounds – way too risky for someone like me with a casual interest.
So I was delighted to explore the 3D Print Show, a convention about 3D printing hosted by Adobe, demonstrating how much more accessible the tech has become for the average Joe.
If 3D Printing still sounds a bit mystical to you, it’s more straightforward than you might think.
Where ordinary 2D printers put ink to paper line-by-line, 3D printers melt down a material to use like printer ink – building a shape layer-by-layer.
Most 3D printers use different plastics for the ‘ink’, but massive industrial machines can even print in gold or titanium!
The only limits to what you can print are the size of your machine and the bounds of your imagination.
What was on show at the event ranged from printing jewellery in steel to printable cookies and an entire floor dedicated to experimental fashion.
The event that really got me excited was the booth for My3Dtwin. They invited convention-goers to step into a mysterious-looking booth, have their body scanned and receive a full-colour figurine of themselves (usually in about a week).
Charlotte Lewis, who runs the My3Dtwin print shop in central London, absolutely swept me off my feet with her charismatic sales pitch and before I knew it I was getting scanned.
The booth is actually a rig of eight light boxes and 64 cameras, arranged to capture you from every angle. They then use these snaps your pint-sized replica.
This incredibly vain treat isn’t cheap, however. The smallest model, at 6 inches tall, goes for £120, and their ultra-sized figurine (10 inches) will set you back £250.
Cosplayers at sci-fi conventions can’t get enough either, especially since Charlotte attends in a Princess Leia outfit of her own.
When I finally got my mini-me, I was astounded with the level of detail. I wasn’t able to wear my glasses inside the booth, it was unmistakably me – dorky fashion sense and all.
The details on the head are much finer than lower down – the pinstripe trousers I was wearing came out a solid grey but it was otherwise scarily accurate. I now leave it on the desk at home to scare my housemates.
I’m definitely excited to someday soon by a 3D printer of my own, and if you’re having similar yearnings I have good news, they’re cheaper than they’ve ever been.
Connected to your PC or Mac by USB or WiFi, the Robox will automatically detect the type of plastic you’re using, so setup is minimal. It’s even small enough to fit on your desk… if you don’t mind the smell of melting plastic.
If you prefer think big, the Cube Pro printer series are all monster machines (they can print things over double the size of the tiny CEL Robox), and use that extra heft to print smoother and finer shapes. But with a minimum cost of £2,000, it’s for die-hard enthusiasts only.
If you’re not willing to throw down that amount of money but still want to try your hand at 3D printing, there are services that will print your model to order and mail it to you.
Leopoly.com offers a series of apps to let you toy with premade designs on your computer or tablet, then send them off to print. Their current range is a little narrow, but they’re creating apps for new models over time.
i.materialise.com will print model blueprints you send them in a surprisingly wide range of materials, even in metal. They also offer advice and tutorials on beginner 3D modelling software if you’re not sure where to start.
If all of this sounds terrifying and you want to start with the very basics, why not try a 3Doodler pen? At £99 from firebox.com it won’t break the bank, and it’s startlingly fun to draw shapes in the air, with a little patience and practice.