3D printing is pretty much what it says on the tin; the means of producing a 3D object by printing it layer on top of layer. This amazing technology has actually been around for some time, but in recent years the technology has become cheap enough for it to go mainstream.
As 3D printing has become more affordable the technology has started to become extremely popular with people who need to create accurate 3D models quickly and cheaply. Product designers, for instance, can use 3D printers to quickly produce models allowing them to easily test look and feel of concept designs in real world situations. Architects can easily create precision scale models of buildings, rather than spending days building them by hand. And vehicle manufacturers can develop and tweak new car designs quicker and cheaper than ever before.
Consumer websites, such as 3D Creation Lab, already exist; allowing customers to design their own 3D models online, get them ‘printed’ and have them posted directly to you. Many even believe that, in the future, we will actually be able to design and ‘print’ out own furniture and perhaps even entire buildings.
The technology behind 3D printing is not massively different to traditional inkjet printers except, instead of ink, 3D printer heads ‘print’ layers of plastic, resin, powder, paper, metal or even food. Yes, you read that last one correctly, there has even been a 3D printer created that uses chocolate.
The process starts by creating a 3D model using special software. This can be done manually, or by using a state-of-art 3D scanner. These advanced 3D scanners work by capturing hundreds of images of an object every minute, using a geometric grid system to collect the 3D data. The data is then stitched back together by the scanner software, although human input is often required to tidy up the finished 3D image, removing noise, adding texture and color and filling in missing data.
The final image is then transmitted to the 3D printer which ‘prints’ the image in much the same way a normal inkjet prints on paper, whilst also adding an additional 3rd axis in order to make the finished item three dimensional.
Credit: Creative Tools
3D model of Dewalt saw created with a 3D printer
With such amazing technology so readily available, you would imagine then that copyright infringement will soon be rife. Criminals around the world must be rubbing their hands at the thought of being able to simply point a scanner at an object and then create an exact replica. Well, maybe one day, but not just yet. Whilst 3D printing technology does indeed make it possible to replicate almost anything, that’s pretty much what you get – a replica. For starters different 3D printers work in different ways and so inputting the same information into each machine will produce several different results. Not only that but currently 3D printers are only available with a limited number of substrates, so for instance a scan of a piece of gold jewellery will be accurately replicated, but only in a limited number of materials. The unique quality of gold itself, much like many other materials, cannot yet be accurately reproduced.
So whilst Scotland Yard can rest easy for now, who knows what the future will bring. As 3D printing technology continues to develop and more and more materials become available to print with, who knows where this technology will take us. Maybe we will indeed one day be able to print our own house or even create exact replicas of anything and everything.
This was a guest article written by print experts, PrinterInks.com – UK suppliers of HP, Dell, Kodak, Epson and Canon ink cartridges, as well as printing products from other leading brands.