What is 3D printing?

We’ve had desktop printers in our houses for years and HP has been on the forefront of this technology. Recently, 3D printers have become popular and moderately accessible for home users but what is 3D printing and how does it work?

There are a variety of very different types of 3D printing technologies, but they all share one core thing in common: they create a three dimensional object creating it layer by successive layer, until the entire object is complete.

Each of these layers is a thinly sliced, horizontal cross-section of the eventual object. Imagine a multi-layer cake, with the baker laying down each layer one at a time until the entire cake is formed. 3D printing is similar, but just a bit more precise than 3D baking. The 3D printer reads a design file, and proceeds to create each layer exactly to specification. As the layers are created, they blend together with no hint of the layering visible, resulting in one three dimensional object.

Recently there is a whole other world of 3D printers: personal and DIY hobbyist models and they are getting cheap, with prices typically in the range of anywhere between R3000 and R20000. There are also a number of programs, many free, that are very easy to learn in order to build 3D printing files. The free version of Google SketchUp, for example, is very popular for its ease of use; and the free Blender program is popular for its advanced features.

In the next few years we’ll be seeing 3D printers in most homes allowing you to print out all sorts of objects. Some print things like jewelry, some print replacement parts for appliances such as their dishwasher, some invent all sorts of original things, some create art, and some make toys for their kids. With the many types of metal, plastic, glass and other materials available (even gold and silver), just about anything can be printed.