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3D printing is a quickly expanding field, with the popularity and uses for 3D printers growing every day.  In this guide, I will attempt to give an introduction to the wide range of technologies in 3D printers, a comparison of the most common 3D printers on the market, an overview of materials that can be used to print, online services and communities that offer 3D models or 3D printing services, and an intro to designing and printing your first model.

3D printing can be used to prototype, create replacement parts, and is even versatile enough to print prostheses and medical implants.  It will have a growing impact on our world, as more and more people gain access to these amazing machines.

Step 1: Technologies

While all 3D printers create objects using additive methods (the opposite of a CNC machine), different approaches exist to actually physically depositing the material.  The most common methods are:

-Fused Deposition Modeling-  A very common method in which the part is printed by extruding molten stings of material that melt together to create the part.  This is usually the cheapest method, but quality can suffer, and materials are limited.  Examples include:  Maker Bot, RepRap, Objet, Cube, Solidoodle, Dimension and many others. 

-Selective Laser Sintering -More common in industrial style prototyping settings,  a laser melts together powdered plastic, ceramic, or other material, then spreads more powder on top, repeating the process to build the part layer by layer.  The main advantage of this is the wide variety of materials that can be printed.  Examples include: SinterStation

-Powder Bed and Binder- Similar to Laser Sintering, an inkjet head distributes binder to the correct location on a bed of powder.  The most notable advantage is the ability to print in many colors.  Examples include: ZCorp

-Stereolithography- Here, an ultraviolet laser hardens resin in a vat layer by layer until the part is built.  It can quickly create high definition parts that can be machined.  However, the resin is fairly expensive compared to other 3D printing materials.  Examples Include: Instructables User RobHopeles's Stereolithography Printer
<p>looking to have a ships figurehead made for our boat that will be in the Caribbean. How would I go about doing this from a Photograph? What do you think would be a reasonable cost for a custom item like this and where do I go to start the process? In Wisconsin now. Also would like to have a small mold made of our ship. Suggestions? Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.</p>
<p>It would completely depend on the size of the object. If you have enough photos, you could look at using 123D Catch to convert photos to a 3D object file, or you could try to model it yourself in a 3D modeling program. There are services that offer 3D modelling, but I have no experience with any. Seems like an interesting project! Good Luck!</p>
Instructables have a $250,000 3D printer?!?
Really ? Crazy !
<p>He wrote it above...</p><p>If I'm correct, I think they have seven of those!</p>
Hi, I've added your project to the &quot;How To: 3D Printing&quot; Collection<br><br>This is the link If you are interested:<br>http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-3D-Printing/<br>
<p>Fixed link: <a href="http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-3D-Printing/" style="">http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-3D-Printing...</a></p>
Instructables have a $250,000 3D printer?!?
<p>This to me is like when the cave man discovered fire. Is wooden feed mixed with adhering agents which will allow application of cuuernt day paints? When do you think 3D printers go furniture production?</p><p>I enjoyed your orientation session. Best regards</p>
<p>Thanks for your thoughts! I doubt 3D printers will be used for mass production of furniture any time soon, but I could definitely see them being used to make individual pieces.</p>
<p>How about on Mars? If we get there, I envisage some kind of device will take raw martian dirt and turn it into things we need. In fact, this should happen before anyone arrives!!</p>
<p>Hi. The info you have provided are quite helpful but am still missing something. Can most 3d printers do 3d photography or are there specific ones for 3d image replica?</p>
<p>Only specific printers have the ability to print in multiple colors, and even fewer can print photo-realisticly. </p>
I can Print it for you in my makerbot 2? If you're still interested.
<p>could u print me something?</p>
weavinh heddle
Do you 3D print? I'm looking for a costume case for my galaxy s3 extended battery phone!
No, sorry, I don't 3D print. You can look at the services I reference and the databases of models to see if you can get your design printed!

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