Inkjets? Bah! Let’s build a future with 3-D printers

Now that robots have their own app stores, it’s about time we humans gained some cool new tech. And if I had to pick it, I’d say it’s 3-D printing. Oh, don’t worry, Angry Birds: I’m looking forward to your eventual line of furniture with haptic feedback so I can feel every breaking of wood, ice and rock on my bottom. I just think 3-D printing is a little more useful.

Cubify is positioned to bring such a printer to the home market, although it’s not exactly cheap at $1,299. And if you do buy a Cube 3-D Printer, you won’t be complaining about overpriced inkjet cartridges any longer: Expect to shell out $50 for each colored cartridge for the printer. That may sound like a big price to pay, but the beauty of a 3-D printer is that you’re actually creating a physical, usable object.

Here’s a high-level explanation. Instead of printing a two-dimensional image using ink on paper, a 3-D printer “prints” thin layers of plastic. Each layer is printed on successive layers, building a physical object. In the case of the Cube 3-D printer, that object can be as big as 5.5-inches square.

That means if you can design an object in a format recognized by the 3-D printer, you can actually create it. Or you can design something, upload the plans and Cubify will print the object and send it to you for a fee.

Here’s a short video example from last month’s Consumer Electronics Show, demonstrating how the Cube 3-D Printer can print out a wearable iPod Nano wristband. (No, you can’t yet print a working iPod Nano.)

Once you understand the concept of 3-D printing, you can start to imagine the usefulness it can bring. Lost a key from your computer keyboard? Print one. Stripped a screw in a project? Print one. Broke the flag on your mailbox. Print … well, you get the idea.

It may not be cost-effective to replicate small physical objects yet, but as with most technology, expect the prices to drop for supplies and printers over time. And then get printing!

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