Entrepreneur

3D printing poised on the edge of the mainstream (photo gallery)

SAN MATEO, Calif. — 3D printers haven’t quite made the leap to mainstream — they’re still a bit too finicky, unreliable, and expensive for most consumers — but they’re getting close. Next month, you’ll be able to buy a 3D Systems Cube printer at Staples for about $1,300.

We got a look at the 3D-printed future at Maker Faire Bay Area here.

At least a dozen companies are offering consumer- and hobbyist-friendly 3D printers now. They range in price from about $800 to $3,000 or more. Some, like the earliest models, can only make small plastic objects no larger than a few inches on a side. The biggest can (or will soon be able to) print objects up to two feet on a side out of a variety of materials, including ABS plastic, PLA plastic, nylon, ceramics, Play-Doh, cupcake frosting, and even hot liquids. (The days when you can tell your replicator you’d like a cup of “Earl Grey, hot” — well, that’s not quite here yet, but will be soon.)

And if you’re not ready to make the leap to running your own 3D printer, you can work up 3D printing files on your computer (using software like Autodesk’s 123D app, an easy-to-use 3D design studio) and send them off to service providers like Shapeways.

There are so many makers of 3D printers and 3D-printed gadgets that the organizers of Maker Faire gave them an entire section of the main expo hall. The gallery here is far from an exhaustive look at this budding field — but it should give you a sense of how many options there are for 3D printing enthusiasts today.

Top photo: Makerbot Industries has done more than any other company to kick off the home 3D printing market. Its printers are looking more polished and professional than ever: Instead of the plywood look of the early models, this fourth-generation Makerbot has a black powder-coated steel chassis and decorative purple lighting on the inside that give it a futuristic look. The new MakerBot Replicator 2 can print objects in PLA plastic up to 11.2x6x6.1 inches with a resolution of 0.1mm. It costs $2,199.


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