What is 3D Printing Good For?


I know we always hear the same answer to the question ‘what can you make with a 3D printer?’ The answer we usually hear is ‘Anything!’ or ‘Practically anything!’. And while we know that answer is true, most of us still only think 3D printers are good for making trinkets, replacement parts for our washing machines, custom cases for our Raspberry Pi’s and smart phones. These are all good things, but 3D printers really are capable of printing many, many more things. Especially if you have enough creativity, talent, time, patience, and money.


There’s a website on the Internet called www.instructables.com. In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s a site in which the site guests create the content. Each guest has the option of creating as many “Instructables” as the wish. Each instructable is a set of instructions, with optional pictures and video, on how to make, repair or do something. The instructables range of topics is limitless, but mostly, so far the content has been about making things. One look at these instructables leads you to believe there are some very creative and talented people on this planet and I think most of them have gravitated to this site. Browsing their 3D printing topic will quickly convince you there is a whole lot more to 3D printing then you ever expected. I guarantee you not only will be impressed with the range of things you can build with a 3D printer, but the quality will impress you, as well.


I could just end this blog now by saying ‘go to Instructable.com and check out their 3D Printing topic.’ But then I wouldn’t have a chance to talk about some of the awesome things people are making with their 3D printers. Besides, you may not have the time to check the site out right now and forget later. Also, I possibly might not have convinced you yet why you should check out the site.


I mentioned creativity being important to what you can make with a 3D printer, well, creativity isn’t a requirement. It’s only really important if you want to create original prints. If you’re considering owning a 3D printer, but don’t feel particularly creative, you can still find plenty of things on the Internet to print.


Let me tell you, creativity is not a talent you’re born with. Sure, a person can be a naturally inclined to be more creative than other people, the same as you can with many skills, but a knack for creativity can be developed in almost anyone, just the same as other skills can be. Creativity by definition is (according to the Oxford Online Dictionary) ‘the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.’ You can’t say ‘some people just have no imagination!’ Well okay, I’ve said it many times, but we know while we were saying it, it’s an exaggeration. Everyone is born with imagination, it’s just that some people have let theirs wither or die. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be reborn or nourished back to health. All it takes is practice. Practice imagining. And as much as I hate using catch phrases, ‘Practice thinking outside the box.’ I could do a whole blog just on creativity, but not now and I’m not claiming to be an expert on creativity. I know there are many ways to develop a creative mind.


Maybe you do or don’t have a flair for the creative, but what about your eye for detail? Does your patience match your perfectionism? An abundance of or lack of patience can’t affect what you print, but it can affect the level of your print detail. Only your own desires crossed with your lack or knack of patience will determine the level of features in your print. The following are two (2) good examples of the quantity of detail. The first is a very nice and simple example of a formula racecar by prince_ko, at https://www.instructables.com/id/Drag-Reduction-System/. It’s a 3D printed formula 1 racecar in every way. It’s printed in 3 colors with each color representing a different part of the car, but keep in mind that even if it was printed all in one color, it would still be a formula 1 racecar and just as playable.

On the other hand, in the second example of a formula 1 racecar by brettt3, this formula 1 racecar clearly has a higher level of detail than the first one. The second is also printed in multiple colors, but the color breaks represent the “paint” scheme rather than parts. Among some of the many other differences are, the second racecar’s printed parts are shaped more realistically and decorated with decals. The second racecar is built using multiple materials and non-printed parts.

The both racecars could have been printed in one color and painted in their current color schemes, but that would be extra work. Does your level of commitment to the work match your level of the desired outcome? Boy, did that sound like something said in motivational seminar? Clearly the second racecar was a lot more work than the first racecar. If you want the second car, you’ll have to put in the work. The word “work” is a scary word to most people, so keep in mind that the 3D printer will do most of the actual work, after the design stage.


The bad news: money and how much you have to spend, has a direct correlation on what you can print and the quality of your prints. And the good news… you can make up for this with a little extra work, creativity and patience. If you need to print something bigger than your print bed will allow, you can print things in pieces and glue the pieces together. Just a note: if you do expect to glue pieces together, it’s would be a good idea to include registration pins or notches in your prints. This way then can only Align Properly and go together one way.


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Darren Hughes

Darren is a Nerd/Jock hybrid. In fact, he maybe the original nerd. In the '60's, he and his Sister were certainly among the first Trekkies, having pretended to be the crew of Enterprise at night (after watching the original series during it's inaugural run) and playing little league in the day. Darren holds a few college degrees. One of them for Engineering and another for Computer Networking. He's always been a fan of learning and technology. Darren has only been 3D printing for a couple years and still considers himself a novice. It is his hope for this blog site to share what he learns as he goes with other beginners, to save them time and hassle finding the best 3D printing and avoiding the worst.