3D printing is still in its infancy but it is definitely here to stay, which means it is about time to look at the uses and benefits of 3D printing. So, what are 3D printers used for?
3D printers are used for hobby applications such as printing miniatures, printing functional parts, and cosplay but also for industrial manufacturing for microbots and metal parts, prototyping, 3D art, organizers, repairs, making custom pieces for the movie industry, and for making prosthetics.
Here is a list of all the applications 3D printers are used for:
- Printing miniatures. It is possible to print highly detailed miniatures with resin 3D printers.
- Printing functional parts. Functional parts often need to be very rigid but nowadays it is pretty easy to print in ABS, ASA, and even Nylon which will be more than strong enough for most functional parts.
- Cosplay. You can print whole Cosplay armor and weapons from your favorite anime, TV show, or Movie.
- PC cases. Not only can you print yourself a complete PC case it will also be much cheaper than buying one and there are plenty of very cheap or even free models available online.
- Metal printing. There are no desktop machines for your home that can print metal yet but there are plenty of industrial machines that are able to print very complex models in metal.
- Robotics. There are several advantages that a 3D printer brings to the table when you are designing and building a robot. In short, a 3D printer will help drastically when designing and building a robot.
- Microbots. There are resin 3D printers that are able to print incredibly small parts for very small, so-called Microbots.
- Prototyping. 3D printing can help iterate quickly over several different designs before deciding on a final design that will work.
- 3D art. 3D art has become a big thing lately. There are 3D-printed sculptures popping up left and right in the art world.
- Decorative models. There are a lot of decorative models that you can print on a 3D printer including sculptures from pop culture, plant pots, poseable models, and more.
- Organizers. There are a lot of different organizers that can be 3D printed. There are whole open-source projects like the Gridfinity system by Zack Freedman.
- 3D printing for repairs. If a specific plastic part breaks then 3D printing can help in repairing. This is especially the case when the broken part is not available to buy.
- Prosthetics. Prosthetics need to be fit to the person which is expensive. But 3D printing can speed up this whole process and make the final prosthetic much cheaper.
- Set building. Building a set for a movie or the theatre is an art form on its own and 3D printing is the perfect tool to help with the whole building process.
- Prop making. Prop making for tv shows and movies is also quite expensive and complicated and yet again, 3D printing can help speed up the whole process significantly.
- Mold making. 3D printing can be used to create molds to cast resin or even metallics.
- Clothing. There are quite a few fashion brands that started utilizing 3D printing for prototyping but also to create final products for the consumer.
3D printing has become very affordable nowadays with decent printers costing around 300 $. So a lot of hobbyists have jumped at the opportunity to use 3D printing for their hobbies.
3D printing has come a long way in the last few years and with the introduction of resin 3D printing, it has become possible to print highly detailed models. This makes it possible to print miniatures for wargaming, terrain, and more.
I have written a detailed article about 3D printing miniatures that you can read right here.
Printing Functional Parts
If you are a hobby crafter then 3D printing can also enable you to create functional parts rather easily.
A lot of consumer 3D printers are able to print ABS, ASA, or even Nylon. This allows for the creation of very sturdy functional parts for all kinds of projects.
I have built a CNC machine from 3D-printed parts and it worked perfectly fine.
It is also possible to print entire cosplay weapons, armor, and accessories for cosplays or LARPs. There are several large-format printers that even allow for printing entire armor pieces, weapons, and helmets in one go without the need of slicing them into smaller pieces.
Printers like the Elegoo Neptune 3 Max, for example, allow for printing large items with a size of up to 420 x 420 x 500 mm.
Just make sure that your components actually fit inside these cases before printing them as most of these cases are made for a specific motherboard or specific build size like ITX.
3D printers are also being used in a lot of industrial fabrics because 3D printers have one very big advantage over other manufacturing methods. 3D printing is additive, meaning the material is added and not removed.
This makes 3D printing often cheaper because not as much material is being wasted when printing something compared to CNC machining something. But it also takes longer to 3D print something.
Metal printing has been around for a couple of years now. This is a process where basically metal substrate is fused together layer by layer until the whole print is done.
The resulting 3D print is a solid metal piece that can be used in all kinds of applications.
3D printing allows for the creation of 3D pieces that would not normally be possible with CNC machining.
Robotics is a field where a lot of prototyping is needed to make a functional part that works as intended.
3D printing can help here because it enables rapid prototyping and can even be used for the final robot if necessary.
This makes it much cheaper and faster to develop complicated parts for robots.
Microbots are bots that are very small and are often used for one singular task. Microbots are used in medicine, for example.
But they are so small that it is very hard to build parts for them by hand or even with a CNC machine. Instead, a resin 3D printer with a laser is used to create extremely small parts out of resin.
These parts are then used to assemble the microrobot.
One major use case of a 3D printer is rapid prototyping.
3D printing has two major downsides which are the quality of the printed piece and the time it takes to produce one 3d printed piece.
But if you are prototyping with a 3D printer then you can quickly iterate over multiple different designs before deciding on the final design. You can do tests with the 3D-printed parts and see flaws before starting mass production.
3D Printing Art Pieces
The art world always jumps on new technologies to create new interesting pieces of art. 3D printing was no exception.
There are 3D-printed dioramas, moving sculptures, impossible forms, clothing, and more. If you are creative enough then you can create amazing art pieces with the help of a 3D printer.
3D Printed Clothing
This started out as an idea but recently the technology has advanced quite a bit to the point where it is actually possible to 3D print entire clothes, shoes, and hats that can be worn.
It is also possible to print flexible filament on fabrics to create unique t-shirts and shoes.
3D Printing Decorative Models
You can download and print everything from pop culture icons, to plant pots, lamps, and more. The market for decorative models is truly gigantic.
Organizers for Home, Garden, and Workshops
There are a ton of organizers and organizing systems that you can 3D print. This ranges from very specific organizers to very broad organizing systems.
One of my personal favorite organizing systems is the Gridfinity System from Zack Freedman. This system allows you to organize your drawers with a modular grid system.
There are also organizers for tools, tool boxes, wall organizers, and more.
Using 3D Printed Parts for Repairs
Another huge application for 3D printing is repairing. Let’s say you don´t have a replacement part for something because it is not being sold on the open market or it is simply not made anymore today.
Well, then you can simply model and 3D print it yourself.
Only cars often have the huge issue that parts for the cars are no longer being made.
So they often have to be made manually by a skilled mechanic and that is usually not cheap.
But you could also simply design and 3D print the part. Most plastic car parts are made out of ABS anyway so why not print the part then?
Bikes, Toys, Household Items, and More
The same applies to all other types of household items, toys, or vehicles. If something brakes and you can´t get a replacement item then you can simply 3D print the item.
This is often much cheaper than getting a replacement item and is pretty much the best choice if there are no replacements for sale at all.a
Making Custom Pieces
Another very big advantage of 3D printing is, that it is quite easy and fast to make custom pieces.
Prosthetics are one of those things that need to be specially made for each person. Because everyone is different and you need the prosthetic to fit perfectly.
With traditional manufacturing methods, this can often be very time-consuming and costly but 3D printing allows for cheaper and faster creation of custom prosthetics.
Adapters for Various Things
Adapters for vacuums, water, or other systems are often easy to find but specific adapters are a whole other story. So instead of searching through the internet to find adapters that might fit you can simply 3D print a adapter that will definitely fit.
Set Building for Theme Parks, Theatre, and Movies
Set building is often a very creative process that requires the creation of often unique items, especially for sci-fi and fantasy sets.
3D printing can help in creating unique-looking items that will enable the set builders to create fantastic sets for theme parks, theatres, and movies.
Making Props for Movies and Theme Parks
Props are also a very important part of theme parks and movies. They need to look amazing and need to have a lot of fine details.
And yet again, 3D printing can enable the creative team to make unique items faster and cheaper than without 3D printing.
And finally, mold making.
There is software that will allow you to 3D print molds. Most of these molds will only work with silicone but you can also 3D print a sculpture and then make a mold from that sculpture to mass produce it or to cast it in solid resin.
I have a full guide on how to make molds if you are interested.