The 3D Printing Revolution Leaps Ever Closer to Consumer Level

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3d printing3D printers have been a reality for some time now, but if we’re honest the majority of them are – let’s say – for hobbyists. Although it’s very impressive and meta to say that one RepRap printer can print off 40% of the parts for another, those parts still need a delicate hand and a good amount of geekery to produce another machine.

Until now, these things have very much been out of the hands of consumers like you or me. A few more recent developments however, have brought the 3D printing revolution very much closer to reality for consumers at large. Let me take you on a journey to the future!

The Consumer 3D Printer: The Cube

Cubify understands the problem with geeky, DIY, hard to build and calibrate printers; and their Cube aims to solve this. Currently on pre-order and due for release on 25th May, the device is about as consumer level as you can get.

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At $1,299, it costs as much as a new desktop PC (and considerably less than the other leading consumer level 3D printer – the Makerbot Replicator) – but like all printers, they’ll get you on the cartridges! Yes, you heard me right – the Cube eschews traditional standardised filament rolls in favor of device-specific filament cartridges, with a variety of garish colors available for $50 each. The simplified loading process means switching out colors or loading a new cartridges is easy.

Here’s a video of the Cube in action – skip forward to 1:05

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The device even works over wifi (wifi only, in fact); and comes with 25 interesting 3D objects to get you started, as well as simplified software for designing and printing objects.

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Whether the device will be successful in the long term – or if it will even ship on time – still remains to be seen. However, it does offer a glimpse into the future of 3D printers for the home, and may push some other larger manufacturers to try their hand at making consumer grade units.

Don’t Want A Printer? No Problem

If you don’t want the expense of an entire 3D printer, you can have items custom printed and mailed to you using one of the new we print it for you start-ups. The best I’ve seen so far is Shapeways.

With Shapeways, you can upload your own 3D designs and have them properly checked over for printing viability – and made in a variety of materials instead of the ABS hard plastic that most DIY 3D printers are limited to. A gold plated model of your head? No problem.

Alternatively, you can choose from the huge archive of ready-made and unique 3D objects uploaded by other artists and designers; including fantastic full color pieces like this Catan tile:

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Getting The Models

The most comprehensive directory to grab 3D models from so far is the Thingiverse, a community-driven site built by MakerBot Industries. All the objects are free to download, and many can be used to produce derivatives; that is, customized versions of the original.

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There are some copyright issues of course; especially when it comes to existing businesses that make their money producing little bits of plastic (here’s looking at you, Games Workshop). Good ol’ torrents to save the day – The Pirate Bay now has an official a 3D objects category, curiously entitled Physibles (link for UK users, via pirateparty proxy). It’s still a little thin on content, but it’s good to know they’ll always be a haven for 3D objects that others would rather monetize. In fact, a few high profile Cease and Desist cases have already emerged regarding 3D printable movie props.

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The 3D printing revolution has come a long way in the last year, and consumer level devices like the Cube have the chance to really bring this into the homes of people like you and I. While the music industry is still fuming over pirated music, manufacturers of little plastic thingies the world over might want to consider adjusting their long term business plans, because 3D printing is going to be big. What we’ve seen today represents the first baby steps in the consumer arena; but there will be more to come.

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If a sub-$1,000 consumer 3D printer were available – would you get one? If not, what’s holding you back? Would it still be too cost prohibitive, or do you just not see the point of owning one beyond the initial wow factor?

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