3D printing technologies have matured quite a bit in recent years, and the industry is much different than it was 10 years ago, especially when talking about consumer and hobbyist-focused products.
Luckily, marketing and media hype has quieted down in recent years, moving away from claims that it wouldn’t be long until there was a 3D printer in every home and business.
While 3D printing has not upheaved entire industries, it does still provide many benefits.
For me, now seemed like a good time to purchase a 3D printer, as it aligns with a lot of the types of parts I’m seeking to make for various personal and professional needs.
I have been following 3D printing tech for quite a few years, and have also tried to keep tabs on the types of parts and components that could be made on a desktop printer.
While there is still a huge gap between what can be achieved via tech engineered for commercial and industrial users, and more affordable machines better suited for consumer, hobbyist, and individual users, 3D printing appears to be easier and more affordable than ever before.
A 3D printer isn’t the type of tool that you buy and then figure out what to use it for. Well, it can be, but for myself I kept a mental list of all the things I wanted one for. Now, the tech seems easier to use than before, easing my concern that I couldn’t make 3D printed parts without first committing countless hours to 3D printing as a hobby.
I’m still assembling my printer kit, and so it might end up consuming an inordinate amount of time, but I’m optimistic that it won’t.
While 3D printers are still popularly used to create decorative items, there is an increasing library of functional items that you can make, in addition to any custom parts that you might design yourself.
I was tempted to answer the title question about what you can do with a 3D printer by simply republishing one of our past posts on the topic, but it seemed like a better idea to create an updatable post – here – that can be pointed to whenever the question comes up again in the future.
I hope to add to this post in the future, and am also very eager for reader contributions. Judging from recent comments, quite a few readers also own 3D printers and have been designing and printing their own parts for personal and even professional needs.
Here are some prior ToolGuyd posts with examples of what you can do with a 3D printer:
(The first image is of a 3D-printed helping-hands base with modular hose assembly.)
I go through life with a series of trivial things that seem obvious but somehow don’t exist in the market. A lot of the time it has to do with compatibility of competing systems. Benjamin’s designs fill some of these gaps. I want pegboard style hangers for my slatwall, I want to use toughcase organizers for fasteners, I want to use tough system and tstack with Milwaukee tools.
Sometimes it is an issue of affordable items not existing such as a part for a vacuum that inexplicably costs $300.
When covid hit a local group got all their printers together and made face mask parts and ear saver accessories when those were scarce.
Lots of interesting applications if you can figure it out
Who is “Benjamin”?
I bought a Chinese toy (creality ender 3) so I could make my own Chinese toys. It’s so relaxing to watch that little thing go- plus I get moderately useful stuff from it. Can one have too many frogs, octopi, or low profile packout bins?
“it’s not a waste of filiment, I needed to make all those baby yodas to calibrate the printer!”
I love my 3d printer. I do functional prints. I’ve designed so many parts none of which were things I could buy. My first print was to stop the hanging file folders from sliding off the end of the rods in my desk. Done in sketch up and still in use today. Some of my favorite prints are: Magnetic Bit holders, Magnetic Socket Set Holders, Custom designed switch box for where the window replacement people made it impossible to use any standard surface mounted switch, Kerfmaker, Mini Systainers, Push Block, Various Jigs and Adapters, Custom Computer Case and Replacement Keyfob Housing. I just checked my printer and it has 347 Days and 11 Hours of printing on it. Turns out I like 3d design and printing.
Are your designs online where we could look at them? If yes, please post a link. Thanks in advance.
Milwaukee came out with a high speed m12 ratchet recently. Just a heads up
Pretty much all of my 3d prints are functional in design. Mostly holders/storage of various types.
A kid who works here has a $300 3D printer and all he has made is some Milwaukee battery holders.
But then again, I have a $300 Martinez hammer and all I’ve done with it is pound nails.
So to each their own I guess.
I had a self proclaimed nerd type friend that was playing around and found a sundial to print. it was awesome. After a cruise up the Rhine river and visiting various places and seeing all the horizontal sundials, he was going to print me one. Its not a horizontal sundial but still very cool. The friend had found so many jobs, the sundial was always on the back burner.
The beauty of a 3D printer…I have had a pad under my dehumidifier to cut down on vibration noise but about once a week it had to be picked up and aligned because one of more wheels would roll off. So this week I designed cups that would hold the wheels out of TPU. Less than 10 mins to design then slice it, 90 mins to print all four. Issue is permanent solved.
I’ve designed stuff for Packout, and made a specialized clamp, stuff for my wire shelves, a desktop vice, etc. Buying alternatives, whether they be metal or 3D printed would be well over $200 and I’ve only gone through a little more than two rolls of filament, and I’ve had it less than two months. My Ender 3V2 cost me $230 then I added $20 of upgrades. So I’ve pretty much already broke even.
I’ve got the same printer. I tried tinkercad and grew frustrated. What design software are you using?
I had a little adapter printed which allows my Festool hose to connect with my Kreg jig.
My first exposure to FDM extrusion printing was courtesy of the reprap community in 2010. I’ve been following it somewhat closely ever since, and didn’t get a printer of my own until 2020. I didn’t want another hobby, I wanted a tool.
So, I think we’ve hit sort of a sweet spot in price/performance. You can actually get a printer for $300 and just use it as a tool, without it having to spend most of your time tuning it and fixing it. That’s a tipping point, IMHO. There were plug-and-play printers before but they were much, much more expensive.
Being mindful of the strength and precision limitations, it’s possible to make all sorts of functional stuff. My first “serious” print was a mount and focuser assembly for a microscope head, and I just completed a nice lithium battery box that has several features you don’t find in commercial offerings. I’ve also made a handful of other brackets and adapters for things, partly for design practice but they’re all genuinely useful in their own right.
They’re developing Graphite and Conductive fillaments, as well as Bioplastics and a few other nifty high-end stuff. Once perfected, a large enough 3D Printer may well be capable of printing an entire product, electronics, servos, and all, and have it up and running a few minutes after it’s done printing.
It really doesn’t take a lot of imagination to get to the point of reversing the question all together. What CAN’T a 3D printer do? RIGHT NOW? Can’t do anything there’s no fillament for making.
There’s a few University Hospitals that have hacked a Makerbot or two to print Human Cellular Matrix, and DNA-Based blank cells. Once a specific kind of cloned cell is introduced to the printed object, it becomes a fully-functional organ, ready for implantation. Obviously no human trials are scheduled yet, until they can prove some things won’t instantly die, or develop the identical problems the cells were cloned from. But it’s quite a bit of progress!
Can you imagine a first aid kit that was just a syringe for extracting local cells, and then a bottle of blank cellular matrix hooked up to a small printer? Just inject the cells into the matrix bottle, shake it a bit, watch it print a perfect match for the skin or muscle area that needs repair. Instant-Heal Band-Aids made of your own cells!
Okay, that’s a little far-fetched, but the idea that you could scan your car keys and key fob, and print it, in its entirety, as an exact duplicate of the original for emergencies… It’s pretty close to existing. And… of course… Also printing FAKE ones to act as decoys for criminals… Also interesting and fun to ponder!
I know it would revive some old Jewellery techniques, and put them in the home.
Rambling… Sorry… Just one of those things that I ponder a great deal.
There’s still a big disconnect between what professional and consumer 3D printers can do.
I bought a small Delkin Juggler hard drive, and it came with a custom 1/4″-threaded mount that appears to be 3D printed. If it is indeed 3D printed, it seems far too rigid, flexible, and perfect to have been made on a consumer-class device.
Indeed! Advancements are being made in both divisions though. So, I wouldn’t expect people at HOME to be printing out hearts or spare organs any time soon. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if they DID start printing casting trees for jewellery designs, using a wax-like low-melt temperature filament as the starting point.
The line between Industry and Home usage can pretty easily get blurred. There will always be things too difficult to regulate at home, and that will still be an INDUSTRIAL level printer. As time goes on, what is possible for the nozzles and the filament to do will inevitably upgrade. While Graphite, Rubber, and a few other, higher temperature, printing nozzles may well be stuck in the Industrial scale now, there’s nothing to say at least a couple of those items may well develop down to the Consumer level. Graphite, I think, will become one of the first to jump the gap. With devices like the Palette (My apologies if I’m harping… I’m REALLY stoked about this thing… The company, Mozaic, is located across town from my Nephew.) the potential for the user space to begin making more refined finished products for themselves becomes a greater incentive. The nozzle on your CURRENT printer may well end up getting replaced with a more advanced one, capable of adjusting to more complex materials quickly.
I can very easily say that there are certain things I would love to just print, instead of constantly buy. And there are TONS of times I would love to be able to just print out the holder/housing/mount point I need to use for whatever project I’ve got going. So, when you ask “What Can a 3D printer Make?” I see much greater potential in the future models, and attachments. And yeah… I don’t exclude the Biomedical field in this. If they had been ready for production of human kidneys in 2017, chances are actually good that my Father would still be here with us. That difference makes me quite a happy camper, to think that the future of Biomedical 3D Printers may well include home bandaging kits made from your own skin, or to provide hundreds, if not thousands, more Human Organs ready for transplant every day. What CAN’T a 3D printer do for us, really?
I’m likely never going to own one of these and produce a bunch of stuff, but a few ideas here and there would be fun/productive to chase.
Is there a recommended path to get into this without sucking up a lot of time & money and creating frustration, and being confident that what’s intended is what results?
I’d like to avoid a learning curve so steep that I too-quickly abandon my efforts…
That’s my hope for the Prusa. I don’t want to become a 3D printer hobbyist where the tool itself becomes a time-consuming focus..
That’s a legitimate concern, but more often than not, it’s simply due to people’s desire to tinker and not a problem with the product. I wish I had a nickel for every noob, that modified their first printer before even trying the stock configuration! Still others succeed, but would rather mod their printer than print.
When I first bought (and returned a printer) a few years ago, it couldn’t get through the calibration print, and no amount of troubleshooting worked.
I’ve seen others’ accounts with cheap entry-level printers, with parts breaking, difficult calibration, and fiddly settings that had to be constantly adjusted and tweaked.
Tinkering with a printer to try new filament brands or material styles is one thing, having to constantly tinker to get anything done is another.
I think the integrated ecosystems help (e.g. Prusa and Ultimaker create the printer, create the software (PrusaSlicer, Cura), make/sell filament with profiles for their printers, etc).
I think Prusa is in something of a sweet spot – professional level ecosystem, but with a prosumer price (Ultimaker has gone professional, mostly >$3K), but still flexible. You can go all Prusa: Mini or Mk3, use PrusaSlicer, and Prusament filament, and it should work smoothly. Or you can modify your Prusa (e.g. Zaribo, Bear), use Cura, and use your favorite filament.
My Prusa experiences have been pretty good, including using some more unusual filaments (wood, PVA, T-Glase) with more coming. My only problems have been breaking the motor mount (my fault), and clogging a nozzle (also my fault; I let wood filament sit in the nozzle too long, both cold and hot).
Another I like about Prusa is that they do real R&D, pushing the start of the art; as far as I know, the Mk3 was the first mainstream printer with features like magnetic build plates, textured PEI build plates, filament sensor, and restart after power loss. Here’s example of a software feature they’ve added to PrusaSlicer: https://blog.prusaprinters.org/make-top-surfaces-super-smooth-ironing-prusaslicer-2-3-beta_41506/
The answer is just about anything. I’m trying to spool up low volume production of automotive repair components right now using LCD resin printers and engineering grade resin.
I’ve been looking at printers for a good six months and finally settled on a Qidi x-plus as I wanted an enclosed print area for better high temp material prints and plug and play essentially out of the box. It will be here in 2ish weeks. We have 3 prusa’s at work and they seem to need a lot of tinkering or maybe the users aren’t doing it right.
Do you have a link to the yellow ring in the top picture? I would like to print that out. Thanks!
Thingiverse Part: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2512756
Benjamen’s postings here and MW’s lack of care to make PackOut truly shine, are what prompted me to dive into the world of 3d printing.
It has been a bit of a rough road, setting up and calibrating a machine and raspberry pi control box without proper instructions, as well as seeing designs – which a person shares to give back to the community for the greater good – sold for profit on different retail sites … sigh … but I tell you what: I smile every time I open my packout storage boxes that have anywhere from 4 to 20 different items neatly sorted in them. It is great fun to have an idea in your mind, take some measurements, design it and then hit print … and however many printing minutes later: there it is!
It really makes the practical setup struggles and learning curves worth it.