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3D Printing: It's not just for engineers

3D printers are amazing—capable of printing everything from prototypes of new inventions to annoying fidget spinners, and yes, even jewelry. The materials used for 3D printing vary from more traditional plastic, metal, and glass to chocolate, bio-ink, and bone.

Now, some libraries even have 3D printers to print your own creations—much like how Xerox copiers were a novelty back in the 70s.

My son is our little inventor/engineer. He likes to figure out how things work—mostly by taking them apart and putting them back together. Last year, he became really interested in 3D Printing.

To support his curiosity, I found a class for preteens at Marquette University that taught him how to use a 3D printer. Of course, that simply fueled the fire. The next logical step was to figure out how to get a 3D printer.

The cost of 3D printers ranges from around $299 to thousands of dollars. We were obviously looking for something in the lower price range or maybe we could even figure out how to make one out of parts. 

Each year around Thanksgiving, our local Makerspace holds an open house. This year, we were able to visit and quickly found our way over to the 3D printing area. The helpful makers at the space were a wealth of knowledge and we left with the name and model of the best low-cost 3D printer for our budget. At Christmas, that 3D printer found its way under the tree. 

Once you have a printer, the question then becomes “How do you make all of the cool stuff with the printer?”

There is a growing community and marketplace of websites that offer 3D printable designs. Some projects are offered are free, while some project designers charge a fee. A couple of the websites that we have found success with are Thingiverse.com and  Pinshape.com. Both offer fun, basic jewelry designs for beginners. (As with any free downloads, be aware of viruses!)

In keeping with the superhero theme of this month's Design Challenge, here are links to a few pop culture-themed designs.

If you want to create your own designs, you need CAD (Computer Aided Design) software. There are several programs available at varying levels from beginner to professional. Autodesk offers a free browser-based 3D design and modeling tool called Tinkercad. It is perfect for beginners to use to start creating 3D designs.

I really encourage you to experiment with this emerging technology, especially if you have a curious kid who wants to share in the experience! We've had a wonderful time learning together. 

FIND MORE: rings , earrings , mixed-media

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