Print your future

3D printing explained

Print your future

Can you imagine a world where you can whip up a prosthetic leg in your living room? Perhaps you need to replace that lost front door key? No problem! With 3D printing technology we have the potential to do it ourselves.

If, like me, you have a bit of a thing for making stuff; anything from cakes to lego to treehouses, then you will undoubtedly get excited about 3D printing. I gave myself a spattering of new wrinkles trying to get my head around how these incredible machines work. I mean the idea that you can pop a picture into a computer, press go and within no time produce a perfect 3D working replica!  And the possibilities are seemingly endless. You could, in theory, 3D print an entire house… Seriously!

3D Printed House built in 24 Hours!!

But how does it work? Just like dressing for the British weather, it is all about layers. First you create a 3D image on your computer using software like Computer-Assisted Design (our architect used CAD when we did some work on our house), The image is then sliced up into tiny thin layers that are reassembled, one by one from bottom to top, on a base plate the moves down as each layer is added. A zippy little robotic arm, carefully pipes molten plastic exactly as the computer tells it to. A bit like piping icing onto a cake.

Most home 3D printers can make objects from plastic. Some inventive types have used sand, concrete and ceramic. In theory you can use anything that melts. How about a chocolate or cheese statue of a loved one to nibble on?

So far people have made beautiful glass bowls from sand and sunlight, a whole range of toys and art, body parts such a replacement hips and working engine parts. In medicine alone the possibilities make my hairs stand on end with excitement. The beauty is that things can be made to be completely unique to you, cheaply and easily. So dentures and valve replacements become personalised. There are also those practical things like that replacement part for your dishwasher that isn’t made anymore – no worries, make it yourself!

Before you join the next industrial revolution by grabbing your very own little beauty there are some things to consider. Buying one is still not cheap with a starting price tag of around £300 up to around £2500 for a bells and whistles home version.  You then need to make sure you can buy the materials to make your treasures and put a bit away for maintenance.

There’s a super cool 3D printing setup just up the road from CB HQ called ThinkSee3D that makes all kinds of weird and wonderful historical and scientific replicas! I have even been in to visit when they had a huge whale jawbone!

I understand that you will never be able to look at your humble inkjet again without a hint of disgust. So start making a list of things you want to make. The only limitations are the size of the printer, the materials you can use and your imagination.


  1. Draw your hand in 3D! Check out this fun video from Handimania with a great hack for drawing in 3D
  2. Challenge: Discover the strangest 3D printing material. If you can melt it, you can make with it so what material would you use, and what would you make? If you want some incredible inspiration take a look at Markus Kayser, who made a solar powered 3D printed in the middle of the desert, then used it to make glass sculptures by melting sand!! There is a mind blowing video here

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