3D printers: 10 machines for home manufacturing

The age of being able to print off anything - from washing machine parts to shoes - in your home is approaching.

For years 3D printers, which build solid objects layer by layer using computer models, came with a price tag that made them unaffordable to anyone outside big business.

However in recent years homebrew 3D printer projects such as RepRap in the UK and Fab@Home have demonstrated it's possible to build a 3D printer for about $1,000.

Today, there are a slew of 3D printers aimed at the home market, many of which are based on the open-source RepRap printers. TechRepublic has rounded up 10 machines for fabricating items at home.

3D printing noobs should be aware that not only do many of these machines ship as kits that have to be built by the user, most are more complicated to operate than your standard 2D printer.

Running costs are also not cheap. Most of the printers build objects using filament, typically made of ABS or PLA plastics. A one-kilogram coil of these plastics costs in the region of $70.

If you do pick up a 3D printer and are lacking inspiration, check out the Thingiverse, a collection of free designs for printable objects.

Cube 3D

The Cube 3D, shown above, is a printer designed to make building plastic objects as easy as running off a copy of a document.

The $1,299 device can print items as large as 5.5 inches cubed. It prints in one colour at a time, squeezing molten plastic from its nozzle, and can produce 10 different shades.

The Cube is designed to be easy to use, with cartridges that clip into place and software that turns 3D computer models into a form the printer can understand. The software handles models in the STL format, which is output by most CAD packages.

Designs for objects that can be printed using the Cube are available through its dedicated online store.

Users can tweak ready-made designs for printable objects, such as toys and jewellery, using a selection of apps.

Print time is proportional to the size and complexity of the object being built, but the manufacturer says an iPhone case will take about two to three hours to print.

Each cartridge will print 13 to 15 phone case-sized objects before it needs replacing.

Photo: 3D Systems Corporation

By Nick Heath

Nick Heath is a computer science student and was formerly a journalist at TechRepublic and ZDNet.