Have you ever scoured the shelves of your local IKEA searching for the perfect lamp shade to complement your living room’s design scheme? Or searched the far reaches of the internet for an accent vase that matches the image in your head? Welcome to the next era of home decor! With 3D-printers, almost anything you can imagine can be customized to your desired colors, patterns, or design.
There are two ways to get into 3D printing. You can either DIY pieces yourself, or you can buy a 3D creation from an artist, similar to how you’d buy a hand-thrown piece of pottery from Etsy. In fact, many professional printers sell their pieces there exclusively. DIYing pieces is as hard or as difficult as you want to make it. There are many community sites online where you can either purchase (or in some cases, download for free) pre-made models. Your printer then reads these, as long as it has compatible software installed.
However, if you’re hoping to create 3D models from scratch, you’ll have a little bit of a learning curve ahead of you—especially if you’ve never dabbled in these kinds of programs before. That’s not to say that it can’t be done! It’s just that most hobbyists prefer to use plans derived from other creators, so this guide won’t delve into custom modeling.
Buying Printed Goods from a Shop
If you’re more interested in a 3D printer as a supporter, rather than as a hobbyist, you can buy pre-printed goods from various stores and individual artists across the internet. First, let’s take a look at some of the 3D printed items available for purchase so you can get a sense of the wide range of goods out there:
- Geometric Housewares: Vases and other decorative items—like this one from Etsy user AqC3DDesign—are popular goods, available across the internet on sites like Etsy, Amazon, and Shapeways. Futuristic geometric shapes—which are difficult to produce with precision in conventional manufacturing—are frequently sold by 3D shops.
- Decorative Latticework: 3D printers give makers the opportunity to create more complicated, elaborate designs. Latticework pieces—which are structurally sound and beautiful, like these forks from EnvisionTec—are commonly found for everything from kitchen goods to lamp shades.
- Playful Items: Why should a kitchen have to be serious? 3D printing lets designers out to play, with fun, whimsical items, like this eggcup from Shapeways.
When you decide to purchase one of these 3D printed items, your designer will often let you select the color of your choice or even add on design elements. That way, your design will truly be one of a kind!
And it’s not just tiny shops that are getting in on the 3D printing trend. Even large companies have begun to leverage this powerful technology. For instance, American Standard recently announced its new line of printed faucets. They have tiny nodes that push water through the lattice lines so that it seems as though it appears out of nowhere! You can expect printed goods to be more widely available as printing gains ground in the home goods industry.
3D Printing for DIYers
Of course, not all of us are content to let another maker do our work for us. If you want to get in on the action yourself and get your hands dirty, you’ll have to purchase a printer and software. And that means first deciding which model best fits your needs.
While professional printers can cost tens of thousands of dollars, amateur printing enthusiasts can purchase a printer fit for a hobbyist for somewhere between $150 to $800. Since 3D printing is fairly new, there are a lot of models out there to choose from. However, some that new makers endorse include those from Reprap.org, Makerbot Industries, Ultimaker, and Fab@Home.
Software will be your next concern—Google SketchUp, 3Dtin and Tinkercad are reportedly some of the easier programs to use. You’ll need to take time to practice using the software and loading models in order to design your own projects.
Next, there’s the filament, or the “ink” in your printer. Plastics and nylons are the most popularly used materials. Plastic is the most widely available, and it can be purchased in three different types:
- ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) Plastic: This common filament material is used to make a wide number of plastic goods. Its high heat resistance makes it the ideal material for kitchen wares. It’s also one of the cheaper materials on the market.
- PLA (Polylactic Acid) Plastic: The major appeal of PLA plastics is that they are derived from natural sources, like cornstarch, sugar cane, tapioca roots, or even potato starch. However, they can melt in high-heat situations, and are slightly more brittle than ABS plastic.
- PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) Plastic: PVA is the solution for items that need to be water soluble. In the manufacturing industry, it’s used in hygiene items, or as a packaging film.
The right type of ink will depend on what you’re making, as well as your priorities when it comes to printing.
Make Learning Easier with a Printing Community
Unless you’re familiar with printing and modeling, it helps to use information from those who have gone before you—namely, their printing models and plans—to start producing your first home objects. For many hobbyists, that means joining a printing community. There, you’ll find models that can be shared and downloaded, often for free, as well as the opportunity to get your printing questions answered and communicate with other 3D printers working around the globe.
There are tons of communities around the internet, each with their own different set of ins and outs, but some of the most popular ones are the following:
- Shapeways: Shapeways features a community hub with forums, as well as a pretty well-developed tutorials section. You can also buy products for other makers there, as well!
- i.Materialise: This design-heavy community lets you set up your own shop, as well as browse through prototypes, and offers expert advice for sellers and amateurs alike.
- Thingiverse: Community site for Makerbot products, Thingiverse has easy-to-understand lessons available in their Thingiversity, for those just starting out in 3D printing.
These sites allow you to learn the ropes of printing. Most also provide access to 3D printing models so that you don’t have to start totally from scratch. Plus, they usually have forums where you can ask questions from more experienced printers. That information is invaluable, since it can help you feel your way through the initial learning curve, and get your questions answered when you run into a problem. Thingiverse even offers printers and supplies through their own Makerbot brand, to make the process of choosing a printer a lot more streamlined, as well.
Once you get in the groove with 3D printing, you can transform everyday housewares into something very uniquely your own. Or just search the internet for some really neat models to try out—your imagination is truly the limit!