3D Printing is the opposite of CNC routing – an additive process, not subtractive like CNCs – but yields something similar: dimensional objects.

3D printers work like inkjet printers, spraying a hotmelt plastic instead of ink, the print table lowering or head rising as the object grows taller. That “plastic” can even be derived from wood or contain wood fibers.

What can you make with them? Prototype parts, casting moulds, lamp shades, toys. Also guitars.Architects are using them to print out scale models of building, including Paul Davis & Partners and McCann Architecture. Manufacturers have used 3D printers to produce jigs. Shapeways.com is a marketplace for 3D printed items, backed by a 25,000-sq.ft. factory packed with 3D printers.

Printers simulate carvings, appliques, corbels and other woodwork embellishments. And as 3D printers come down in price, some wood designers worry that their mouldings could be copied and re-rendered digitally.

Among the big names in 3D technology are Stratasys, 3D Systems, and ExOne, with machines costing thousands of dollars and with sophisticated capabilities and compatible scanning devices.

Among high profile work, printer manufacturer Stratasys used its Objet model to print out a 3D model of Boston’s Fenway Park – an effort that previously might have been cut from wood or plastic on a CNC and assembled by hand. Or not done at all.

A new entrant at under $1,000 – putting it in the hands of many consumers – is the Solidoodle 4. Designed to look comfortable alongside a Mac, it comes fully assembled (some 3D printers do not) for $999. Solidoodle, founded by an aerospace engineer in 2011, has sold more than 7,000 of its printers, which are manufactured in Brooklyn, NY.

The cavity of the printer area is big enough to produce an 8×8×8˝ object, known as “build capability.” Like photo printers, the 3D printer is assessed based on the resolution of its output, and its ability to be calibrated so objects have crisp edges. The Solidoodle 4 claims a heated bed (keeps the material from solidifying too fast) and easy filament installation (that’s the consumable). The enclosure provides for quiet printing. Solidoodle 4 began selling at the Micro Center electronics chain during the 2013 holiday shopping season.

“3D printers are an amazing tool for today’s innovative society,” says Cervantes. “Anyone can bridge the gap between digital and physical.” solidoodle.com

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