Plastic? Fantastic! A Beginner's Guide to the Hows and Whys of 3D Printing

The dawn of 3D printing is revolutionising the worlds of product development and design. Never before has it been simpler to create a prototype model of a new idea that can be seen, felt and even used at the early stages of the development process. Still, all of this can seem a rather remote point of interest if you have not yet been exposed to the uses and benefits of 3D printing for the general public and hobbyists. Read on for a crash course in how 3D printing might have a place in your life, too.

Versatile materials

3D printers typically work with industrial and engineering plastics, with a large number of varieties of different weights and densities depending on the durability needs of your design. Early mock-ups of products can therefore be produced extremely cheaply using less durable plastics and lower resolution prints. 3D printing is a growing industry: simply look around any city and you will find that the number of stores offering 3D printing services is growing exponentially, meaning that help and advice is always at hand as you take your first steps into the industry.

Accessible designs and design packages

A quick online search for existing 3D printing designs will lead you to an endless supply of free-to-use designs for anything from computer cable organisers to bookends, soap dishes and fidget spinners. If you are unable to find something to suit your needs, there are also a number of free 3D design packages such as Google's SketchUp which, paired with an online video tutorial or two, will enable you to create entirely new designs to take to your local 3D printing store.

Need spare parts? Print them!

Some little parts of your household items that go missing can often be quite difficult to source, such as knobs or buttons on your technology, plastic watch clasps or any number of objects with a propensity for breaking or vanishing. With a little experience in 3D modelling, you will never again be at a loss for parts as you will always be able to print your own: a valuable skill, and a fun hobby, too.

Let your imagination run wild

3D printing is still relatively early in its development; however, it is surely here to stay. As the technology continues to advance, the only limits will be found in the imagination of the user. Consider all of the ways that 3D printing can impact your life today: from replacement plastic parts to custom gifts for friends and family, custom props for cosplay events or an entirely new product that could form the basis for a start-up company.