Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
It’s hard not to get excited about 3D printing. The idea transforming on-screen 3D models to things you can hold in your hand sounds like science fiction. Back in August 2011, we had to ask: is 3D printing a sci-fi myth, or is it reality? Exactly one year later, when it became clear it isn’t just a passing fad, we took a good look into exactly how it works. And today, two years later, you can already buy an affordable 3D printer for your home.
So it’s real, we know how it works, and you can get one. What’s next? Let’s say you had a 3D printer set up next to your computer right now, what could you realistically make with it today? Here are some ideas.
Make Small Repairs
One of the most annoying things about many gadgets and appliances is that they are made to break after some time, something known as planned obsolescence. Often, moving parts are the ones to break first: A closing latch on a dishwasher, a tiny hinge, or even just a knob. In the past, that meant sending your machine in for repairs, and if it’s out of warranty, probably buying a new one. Today, you can just print whatever broke:
What you see above is a replacement gear for the HP C5280 all-in-one printer. That’s not some theoretical use case — that’s a part you could download and print right now, making it possible for you to fix that printer at home. It’s just one part, but 3D part warehouse Thingiverse has an entire category for replacement parts. And even if the part you need isn’t on there, it may be possible for you to measure what broke, and make a new one of your own.
Replace Board Game Pieces
Board game pieces are notoriously easy to lose. If you have small kids, you surely also have a bunch of old games sitting in a cupboard, with odds and ends missing. In the past, we used to substitute random items for lost pieces, so a bottle cap could become a checkers piece. Today, you could just make a checkers piece. In fact, here is a whole chess set you could go ahead and print right now:
You don’t have to lose pieces in order to replace them, though: You could take a working Rubik’s cube and convert it into a cube for the blind – a version of the game which can be played based on only tactile feedback, with no colors at all. This is a fascinating use of 3D printing, to make games more accessible and mash-up existing objects with novel twists.
Create Entirely New Games and Puzzles
Traditional manufacturing requires a large market, so the games with the widest appeal get made. But what if your tastes are more esoteric? Take hexaflexagons for example. This ingenious geometric toy/brain teaser is usually made with paper — it’s a neat trick, but it seems like it’s too niche to make a plastic version… unless you print it yourself, that is.
Perhaps calling the hexaflexagon “entirely new” is not accurate, seeing as how it was first discovered in 1939, but it’s certainly new in that you can now get a durable plastic version of it made.
Print Out Models of Loved People, Pets, and Characters
Having a miniature version of yourself or your wife sitting on the shelf is borderline creepy (okay, maybe it’s a tad past that borderline really), but you could do it if you wanted to: 3D printing is not limited to rigid geometric shapes. Take Sarah for example:
Creating such a model involves another technology called 3D scanning — something we’ve seen the Smithsonian museum do to preserve ancient artifacts. 3D scanners are becoming increasingly affordable and available, right alongside printers. With a scanner at hand, you could immortalize your loved ones and produce disturbing little printed sculptures of them. Charming!
Model Home Renovations And Room Layouts
Let’s say you were considering building a home, or renovating an existing one. These days there are even iOS apps for designing floorplans, making architecture more accessible than ever before. But looking at a 2D floor plan, or even a 3D render, isn’t the same as actually printing out the house of your dreams and holding it in your hand:
This particular house is actually a Sears Modern Home kit, The Lorain, sold between 1909 and 1940. The model linked lets you print the whole house in several modules and then take it a part to get a sense for the inner layout and the flow of the rooms:
Video quality aside, this level of interaction is simply not possible with a 3D model.
Create Custom Boxes and Containers
Here’s a battery box:
That’s just one example, of course, but the point is clear: If you have an existing object (a battery, a pair of eyeglasses), you can custom-make a container that would be just perfect for it. Check out this little gadget made specifically to hold iPhone earbuds:
You could measure whatever you wanted to store, and make a case or holder that would offer a perfect fit.
This post isn’t about what may become possible some day: All of the objects shown above are available today and you could just go ahead and print them right now. But the real magic of 3D printing at home is in your head, not on some website. The coolest gadgets are those that haven’t been made yet — the ones still waiting to happen.
Go ahead, make something cool.
Image Credits: Creative Tools Via Flickr