Printers equipped for 3-D are poised to go mainstream, now that Hewlett-Packard plans to start selling them. The company’s inkjet and laser printers are staples in offices and homes.
The devices, which can crank out three-dimensional plastic models through a process similar to printing text on sheets of paper, have until recently been available only to high-end industrial designers. HP’s devices will be targeted at a broader market of mechanical-design professionals, and will probably cost less than $15,000.
“This is the boldest step we have seen so far in 3-D printing,” says Scott Summit, chief technology officer for Bespoke Innovations, a company that creates 3-D artifacts for medical use. “A lot of people want to do 3-D printing but it is a mysterious world. With HP embracing it, it is likely to demystify the idea to many consumers.”
3-D printers can take blobs of plastic and shape them into almost any object you desire. Now, thanks to open source hardware designs and enthusiastic do-it-yourselfers, these printers are increasingly popular and accessible. People are using them to fabricate iPod docks, plastic bracelets, hair clips and miniature teapots at home.