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Eight awesome things to come out of a 3D printer


March 5, 2012

Some of the many and varied items produced using a 3D printer

Some of the many and varied items produced using a 3D printer

Image Gallery (26 images)

For a few years now we've been wondering at all the possibilities that lay in store for 3D printing. Most of what's come out of this brilliant marriage of CAD software and mechanical extruders so far has been lots of small plastic chess pieces and other plastic trinkets, but lately we're starting to see 3D printing pushed to new heights, with some pretty remarkable results. Here's our brief list of some of the coolest items to come out of a 3D printer so far.

The iPhone Phone

The iPhone phone is typical of some simpler 3D printed objects

The iPhone phone can be found on Thingiverse, a community of 3D printable objects and source designs, and is one of the coolest examples I've seen of a very simple printed object - functional, hip and kind of funny. Designed for "The Absurd iPhone Accessory Contest," it's an example of form over function with its creator saying he's unsure how how much sound will be picked up and make it through the case, which covers the speaker and microphone. Although he's added a chamber below the speaker/mic and holes up to the mouth piece so he imagines "something will come out."

A wearable bikini

Designers say the bikini actually becomes more comfortable when wet (Photo: Ariel Efron/Sh...

Who says 3D printer fans don't spend much time at the beach? This printed swimwear works just as well as a bikini produced by more traditional means - in fact its designers say it actually becomes more comfortable to wear in the water. It's not cheap though - a full outfit will set you back a few hundred dollars.

Historical artifacts

The Smithsonian Institute has begun printing replicas of its artifacts like this Thomas Je...

The Smithsonian Institution turned to 3D printing as a means of taking some its priceless historical articles out on the road. The Smithsonian has begun the process of digitizing some of its extensive collections for replication using systems like RedEye on Demand. Funding is scarce for the project, but so far they say they've managed to create a replica of a statue of Thomas Jefferson that is the largest such 3D printed historical copy of its kind.

A working clock

This working clock is made up of several working, printed parts (Image: syvwlch / Thingive...

An old analog clock with tons of gears is a pretty complicated device that relies on precision we once thought required hand-crafting. Today, 3D printing offers such precision it was just a matter of time until someone used this newest of technologies to create a functional object that is truly old school. There's several clock designs out there for 3D printers, but the most intricate seems to be this one from syvwlch in the Thingiverse community.

Human jaw

This titanium printed implant was designed for an 83-year old woman

Prosthetics are an obvious and ideal application for 3D printing, and in one of the most dramatic examples a printed lower jaw implant restored one elderly patient's bite. Replacement hands, limbs and other body parts have also been designed and printed.

PL1Q Vampire quadcopter

The frame of this quadcopter was created with a 3D printer (Photo: swepet/Thingiverse)

If a clock and all its requisite gears can be printed, it's not much of a leap to print a working quadcopter with all the needed rotors. The Swedish designer that created the Vampire printed the entire frame, but the electronics and some of the moving parts came separately.

Urbee hybrid car

The Urbee hybrid was the world's first 3D printed car

This rather strange looking disc of a car was the first that we'd ever heard of that used the 3D printing process to create the frames of its prototypes. 3D printing pioneer Stratasys printed out the chassis using a process called fused deposition modeling. While you won't be able to whip this up with a consumer desktop 3D printer, it's an reminder of the industrial origins of 3D printing.


Inventor Enrico Dino next to a printed structure

Once the 3D printing revolution began it was only a matter of time until we arrived at this point - inventor Enrico Dini's D-shape "3D building system." Essentially, it's a huge 3D printer that uses a combination of extruded liquid adhesive compound on a bed of sand with a solid catalyst mixed in. The huge printer makes a couple of passes to create a solid structure. The whole process takes only a quarter the time of traditional building techniques. Here's a trailer for a documentary about the inventor and invention:

That's just some of the 3D printed items that provide a glimpse at what is possible using this technology that is still in it's relative infancy. If you have some notable examples of items we may have missed or some suggestions for items you'd like to see extruded from a 3D printer we'd love to hear them in the comments.

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets.   All articles by Eric Mack

The iphone phone and the clock look like illistrations not 3D printed units.

The Hoff
5th March, 2012 @ 07:50 pm PST

Very cool list, and it really shows the diversity of what you can create with 3D printing. At Sculpteo, we receive all kind of projects for us to 3D print, from architecture models to sculptures, figurines and more and more tools and final objects.

The increase in the number of materials available lets also think that we will see even more innovations coming from 3D printing in the next months.

Sculpteo Team
6th March, 2012 @ 12:06 am PST

I wonder if it would be possible to air-drop units into a desert of sand that could construct mini oases. I am thinking of a clear dome with a moisture harvesting system and a few seeds to start mini eco systems. Probably too difficult to fuse sand into glass but perhaps a solar powered mechanism could build something that would work. They would probably destroyed by marauders. Dreaming again!

Bruce Hudson
6th March, 2012 @ 03:52 am PST

I would like it to be used to build Klein bottles and impossible structures like the infinite stairs.

Dawar Saify
6th March, 2012 @ 06:26 am PST

I wish there were more manufacturers out there creating full-color 3D printers. Z-Corp's Z Printer 650 is an amazing machine, but it's highly expensive because it has no competition. The concept of the color 3D printer is simple, just lay down the powdered material and spray it with an inkjet printer, yet only one single company is doing it.

We need more full-color 3D printers, and ones that can use a variety of base materials, including clear/transparent ones.

Dave Andrews
6th March, 2012 @ 08:12 am PST

it;s fine if all you want is 'pictures of things' instead of 'the real things'

they can;t print steel

very limited print media

weak plastic


6th March, 2012 @ 10:47 am PST

wle - your post is a typical loser post, just what we all needed. Go get a dose of positive! These are a little more than pictures and is the infant stage of exciting new, (a decade plus) technology. So go post yr loser comments somewhere else please.

I am mostly jealous I do not have access to it ....... yet.

Go you tech boffins - I love you all.

6th March, 2012 @ 05:14 pm PST

print a car then


7th March, 2012 @ 08:06 am PST

I personally think this will have the same effect as electricity, radio, TV and the internet when they first came on the scene, once they prefect the engineering side of this simple process that has a very complicated CAD side to it.

There are two different processes for steel and plastics. On the plastics side, it is moving very fast, the other side there still seem a lot to do. However, the results are the same. I have no doubt that in time all modern processes will use 3D. On the medical front as an example, you could link this into a 3D X-Ray of a patient and any part or mould to the exact dimensions could be made, without opening the patient. This alone will help there recover, as only one operation would be required for the fitting of the implant, all work could be planned and done on the 3D template made of whatever material is required.


7th March, 2012 @ 10:22 am PST

RedEye On Demand was proud to be part of both the Urbee and Thomas Jefferson projects. Both were printed on our large FDM 900mc systems in real ABS thermoplastic. The industry has come a long way and I look forward to being a part of the advancements to creating more "things" from Additive Manufacturing technologies.

RedEye Tim
9th March, 2012 @ 05:45 am PST


They already printed the shell of one, let the technology mature.

11th March, 2012 @ 11:57 pm PDT

How about water filters at the micron level for third world areas

John Joshua Sweet
16th March, 2012 @ 09:24 am PDT

I'm waiting for the next generation--4D.

Guy Macher
1st June, 2012 @ 05:13 am PDT
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