The Life-Sized Magic of 3D Printing

On The Big Bang Theory, Howard creates an action figure replication of himself.

On Grey's Anatomy, Doctors Yang and Grey create veins and human hearts.

 In Jurassic Park III, Billy makes a prototype of a resonating chamber (basically the vocal box—or the part that goes “RAWR!”) of a velociraptor.

They did it all with the magic of 3D printing.

Even though these stories are fictional, 3D printing is very real. Lifelike, actually. And we have 2 MakerBot Replicators (3D printers) at the Library you can witness in action.

So, let’s learn a little more about it and how to do it.

What is 3D printing?

We’re all familiar with the term ‘printing’, so let’s start with the 3D part of 3D printing. 3D is short for 3-dimensional.

Where a printer in your home may print text or images on a flat piece of paper in a 2-dimensional replication, 3D printers use a printer and a computer-generated design to create 3D physical objects, such as a cup or a phone case.

How to: 3D design

In order to print an object, you’ll need a file of a 3D model containing your design.

There are 2 ways to obtain a 3D model file for printing.

  1. Visit a free website, like Thingiverse, opens a new window, and download a design that another user has uploaded for others to print.
  2. Foster your creativity and use your imagination to create your own design. There are lots of free sites available online for 3D design, including Tinkercad, opens a new window and SketchUp, opens a new window. If you’re just getting started with 3D design, both of these sites also have great tutorials for beginners and experts alike.

Once you have your 3D design, you can move on to printing your object.

How to: 3D print

Most 3D printers use a material called PLA (polylactic acid) to print objects. PLA is a biodegradable, renewable plastic which is wrapped on a spool. This plastic is heated by the 3D printer which then produces the design. The object is constructed on the plate, layer by layer, from the bottom up, until complete.

Although most 3D printers use plastics, 3D printers have also evolved to print with lots of other materials including metals, cement, and foods such as chocolate or pancake batter.

An object’s printing time depends on its size, but can take anywhere from minutes to days to complete.

Check out What’s On at the Library

Now that you understand the basics of 3D printing, bring your 3D self to the Library to see 3D printing and other great technologies in person!

Check out these awesome upcoming Technology programs, where you may catch a glimpse of our 3D printers in action. Fortunately (or unfortunately?!), you won't find any velociraptors here.

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