Technology Explained

6 Ways To Make Use Of A 3D Printer At Home

Erez Zukerman 26-12-2013

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? Ultimate Beginner's Guide to 3D Printing 3D printing was supposed to be the new "Industrial Revolution." It hasn't taken over the world yet, but I'm here to talk you through everything you need to know to get started. Read More 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 What Is 3D Printing And How Exactly Does It Work? Imagine if you could print out three-dimensional objects straight from a printer in your home. When I was a kid in primary school, I thought it would be awesome if I could print pizzas out... Read More . And today, two years later, you can already buy an affordable 3D printer 4 Affordable 3D Printers You Can Buy For Your Home Read More 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 Thou Shalt Consume: The Story of Consumer Electronics [Feature] Every year, exhibitions around the world present new high tech devices; expensive toys that come with many promises. They aim to make our lives easier, more fun, super connected, and of course they are status... Read More . 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 The Smithsonian's X 3D Project Brings Rare Artifacts To Life, In Your Browser Enter the Smithsonian with an ambitious project that showcases incredibly accurate 3D scans of many of its artifacts, so that we can all experience them for free from the comfort of our homes. Read More 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 Make Easy Accurate Floorplans With MagicPlan [iOS] MagicPlan is one of those rare apps that makes you realise how incredible technology is. In short, you take pictures of your room, and it gives you a floorplan. It's remarkably easy to throw something... Read More , 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.

Surprise Yourself

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

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  1. ileon9
    April 14, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    actually i remember hearing about this at a tech spot in my neighborhood you can for some 3D printers use plastic you just need the right plastic and you can create your own filament i don't remember what kind but imagine if it was just plastic bottles you need clean them out toss them in the recycler out come filament perhaps even colored

  2. Yalqadi
    December 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    it is not about what you can make with it, it is about how much it is going to cost you!
    the Filament alone starts with $30! ($299.00 for the cheapest printer!!) if it was big enough to make thousands of things then yes it is a good idea, but if it can make only a couple of pieces for a chess set then isn't it cheaper to buy new chess set?
    I think $30 for Filament is too much! when the price drops to $3 then it will be fantastic.

    • Erez Z
      December 28, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      Yup - it's definitely in the early adopter stage, and filament cost is a big factor. Personally, I am hoping we'd get to see lots of filament recycling gear - imagine being able to turn used coke bottles into new creations!

  3. Guy M
    December 27, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Everytime I read about 3D printers, I just want one that much more. Good article and resources, Erez!

    • Erez Z
      December 28, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      Thank you! :) I'm glad you liked it.