Now that you're aware of common 3-D printing technologies and how different industries are employing them, you might be wondering how soon you can start printing a custom-designed computer mouse, toy trucks for the kids or the perfect toolbox from your home office. As we've seen, 3-D printing is expensive, both in terms of machinery and materials. Products like V-Flash however, are paving the way to affordable 3-D printing at home. The V-Flash Personal 3-D Printer weighs under 150 pounds, builds objects up to 9 inches by 6 and three-fourths inches by 8 inches (228 millimeters by 171 millimeters by 203 millimeters) and is small enough to sit on a table in your office [source: 3D Systems, "V-Flash"]. V-Flash is available from 3D Systems for $9,900, making it more affordable than other 3-D printers currently on the market. The building material for V-Flash is a durable plastic called film transfer resin (FTI); a 1.8 kg cartridge can be purchased for $850. In addition to the material, you'll need the build pads that the machine uses as the starting surface on which to print the first layer. These pads cost about $95 for a set of 20. [source: ProParts]
If the cost of V-Flash is out of reach for your home use, you have a few other options available to you. Some enthusiastic makers and do-it-yourself enthusiasts have come up with their own solutions. For example, physicist and blogger Windell Oskay built his own 3-D printer in 2007 that fabricates objects from sugar using a sintering approach [source: Oskay]. The project, called CandyFab, has a dedicated Web site at CandyFab.org.
For a more professional approach, you can purchase 3-D printing services instead. These services allow you to send in your own CAD files and get back a high-quality production of your object or objects created by an industrial 3-D printer. Online companies that offer 3-D printing services include Shapeways and Ponoko. These sites also give you the option of setting up an online store, allowing you to make money when others purchase 3-D prints of your design. [source: Shapeways, Ponoko]
3-D printing continues to develop and grow and is becoming an increasingly popular and more affordable way to produce prototypes and finished products. In the near future, a kid could be using 3-D printers in school to build miniature replicas of Mount Rushmore -- and you could be printing your own copies of your house key rather than making a trip to the hardware store.
For lots more information about 3-D printing, head on over to the next page.