3D Printing: If You Can Imagine It, You Can Make It

0-3D Printing: If You Can Imagine It, You Can Make It
1-The MakerBot Replicator 2
2-MakerBot Digitizer 3D Scanner
3-Microsoft Windows 8.1 Backs Desktop 3D Printing
4-The Radiant Fabrication Lionhead Printer
5-Speed and Ease of Use
6-The Formlabs Form 1
7-Forget the Plastic Spools
8-Starting From Liquid
9-Form 1's Stereolithography Technology
10-The Shapeways Model
11-Shapeways Shops
12-Giving Rise to Small Businesses
13-3D Printing Goes Mainstream
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3D Printing: If You Can Imagine It, You Can Make It

By Michelle Maisto

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The MakerBot Replicator 2

The Replicator 2 ($2,199) is the second generation of desktop 3D printers from Brooklyn-based MakerBot. "We like to keep it simple, bold," says CEO Bre Pettis. "We have a 'you can have it in any color as long as it's black' kind of style," Pettis grinned about the MakerBot lineup at a Sept. 20 event.

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MakerBot Digitizer 3D Scanner

On Sept. 20, MakerBot introduced the Digitizer, a $1,400 complement to its Replicators. In 12 minutes, the Digitizer can scan an object and create a digital model that a user can print or begin designing from. "The world would be so different if I'd had a 3D printer at age 10," said Pettis, when asked about the impact of the technologies. "I would have gotten so much farther in life faster and learned to make things so much more quickly."

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Microsoft Windows 8.1 Backs Desktop 3D Printing

Early this summer, Microsoft previewed Windows 8.1, the first operating system to feature built-in support for 3D printing. Microsoft has partnered with a number of companies, including MakerBot and 3D Systems, which makes the Cube, shown here. The printer, which comes in a choice of five colors, can be purchased at Staples for $1,299.99

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The Radiant Fabrication Lionhead Printer

On Sept. 3, Wisconsin-based Radiant Fabrication introduced the Lionhead, calling it the "first consumer-level 3D printer to incorporate printing and 3D scanning into a single device packaged with Radiant Li, an intuitive and powerful 3D modeling software." A beta version, called the Lionhead Bunny, is priced at $1,649.

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Speed and Ease of Use

The Lionhead features four printheads, to speed up printing. Radiant's primary message, though, is that its printer—whose software interface was inspired by the controls for videos games like Minecraft—should be very, very easy to use. It tested the Lionhead Beta with school kids and found that most could create digital models within five minutes. Here, a close-up of the Lionhead Bunny.

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The Formlabs Form 1

Formlabs spun off from the MIT Media Lab in 2011 and on Sept. 13, 2013, announced that it had shipped its first 712 Form 1 ($3,299) 3D printers.

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Forget the Plastic Spools

The Form 1 uses stereolithography (SL) technology, which Formlabs says "approaches the highest resolution available in 3D printing" and blows away the performance of plastic extrusion printers, like MakerBot's. DreamWorks animator Robert Vignone uses the Form 1 to create physical sculptures (shown here) of his digital designs.

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Starting From Liquid

Extrusion printers heat up a solid material, usually a plastic filament, and squirt it out of a tip (almost like a glue gun) to print. The Form 1 instead uses liquid resin, which the user pours into a tray. The printer works by pointing a high-precision laser at certain points, which solidify, while the build platform rises in time for the next solid layer to form.

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Form 1's Stereolithography Technology

Here, an image from an animation on the Formlabs site, showing how SL technology works. The printer automatically creates a light structure that adheres the printed item to the top of the build platform, which rises out of the resin. The two are easily separated.

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The Shapeways Model

In Queens, N.Y., Shapeways houses industrial 3D printers and accepts orders from consumers and small and large businesses alike. Shapeways can print in a variety of materials, from plastic to gold plating, silver and ceramics. This espresso cup was printed by Shapeways.

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Shapeways Shops

Shapeways hosts shops for more than 11,000 designers, whose Etsy-style stores are featured on the Shapeways Website. When an item is ordered from a store, Shapeways prints it, packages it and ships it. Pricing depends on the size of an object, not how detailed it is. Shapeways PR manager Elisa Richardson says it's often less expensive to print something than to buy it in a traditional shop.

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Giving Rise to Small Businesses

Shapeways' Richardson says the company has a lot of customers who have quit their jobs to focus full time on their Shapeways Shops. "They have no inventory, no stock, and they're able to focus on designing," she told eWEEK. Regarding how exposure to the technology has changed her thinking, she said, "Now, I literally rethink everything in my life." (Here, iPhone cases from the Vibe Shapeways Shop.)

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3D Printing Goes Mainstream

As large enterprises are discovering the benefits of desktop printers—Ford, for example, plans to put one on the desk of each of its engineers—consumers are also becoming familiar with the technology's possibilities. In July, eBay introduced eBay Exact, an iPhone app that lets users choose and customize a product, which is then printed and shipped by one of three partners: MakerBot, Hot Pop Factory or Sculpteo.

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