Do you remember the first thing you ever printed out? I made a family newsletter, birthday cards and signs on a program called The Print Shop. What made a printer useful at home was self-evident: It made anyone a publisher.
Now we’re entering the era of machines that can fashion ideas into tangible objects.
For industrial uses, 3-D printing’s promise is already well-known. It’s capable of producing custom heart valves and jet-engine parts. But now it’s getting personal: A company called MakerBot just started selling a 3-D printer that’s easy to use and costs less than $1,400.
The 3-D printer has arrived at home—what you’ll print with it isn’t as obvious.
From the digital file to the finished object, a primer on simple, desktop 3-D printing.
Is a 3-D printer like an infinite dollar store on your desktop? (You’ll never have to buy a comb again!) Is it a factory for lost Lego pieces and IKEA parts? I’ve been using two models from MakerBot, including the new entry-level Replicator Mini, on a quest to figure out why anyone might need one.
I printed dozens of plastic doodads—bottle openers, little chains that materialize already linked, even a Mr. Snuffleupagus toy. Yet I haven’t yet found a killer practical application that makes a 3-D printer a must-have household appliance. You’ll be disappointed if you hope to justify the price of a MakerBot Mini with fewer trips to Target.