What is 3D Printing?

Imagine the Eiffel Tower. A 2D printer will print a flat picture of the monument onto paper—in super high resolution, if that's your thing. But a 3D printer can print an actual Eiffel Tower, as a solid, standing object with height, width, and depth. THAT's 3D printing.

The details are complicated, but the basic idea is simple: 3D printers add material, layer by layer, to build an object. The printer starts at the bottom and works its way up, fractions of a millimeter at a time, constructing new layers in a process called additive manufacturing.

Plastic is the most common material used in consumer-grade 3D printers. But more advanced, and expensive, 3D printers can build objects out of metal, ceramic, sandstone, sugar—yep, even chocolate.

The technology is 25 years old, but the potential for new ideas is huge.

How can you start creating?

Do what we did: begin at the beginning. Read articles and books about 3D printing. Check out the companies who make and sell 3D printers. Browse theonline marketplacesfor 3D-printed objects and digital files. Take a class, or try one of the many free tutorials on the web. Whatever you do, start making somethingAnything.

What does 3D printing mean for you, us, and the world? Possibilities. New, better ideas. Shopping at a store, or even online, feels outdated when you can download an object—or design one—and print it yourself.

Want to start making stuff? Check out the free guides available on our blog. Rather get your mitts on some shiny, 3D-printed creations? Stop by our online shop.

Photo by Brandon George

Why would anyone use this?

Good question. Chuck Hall invented 3D printing technology (aka "stereolithography") back in 1984. Since then, people have used 3D printing in a wide variety of industries: aerospace, architecture, automotive—and that's just the A's.

Thanks to companies like Makerbot, Cube, Printrbot and others, 3D printing technology is more affordable and easy-to-use than ever before. Now, 3D printers are in homes, classrooms, and offices around the world.

People are making anything they can dream up and design. Jewelry, apparel, art, food, musical instruments, tools, utensils, machine parts, prosthetic limbs, robots, even human tissue.

A crucial piece breaks on your baby's stroller? Download and print a replacement. Want a statement necklace for tonight's party? Design and print a new one. The possibilities are limitless if your creativity is, too.