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Print your own Yoda at home for $499: 3D printers become affordable

Evan Dashevsky | April 29, 2013
Additive manufacturing (or 3D printing) may finally have its moment. The technology has been around for decades, but only recently has it managed to crawl out from behind the curtains of advanced industrial production and bearded basement hobbyists into the awareness of the general public.

Unlike many other desktop 3D models, the Form 1 uses a light-sensitive resin that "freezes" in place when it comes into contact with a laser, which builds its creations from the bottom up, line by line.

Currently the printer can only render monochromatic creations via a house-made clear resin, though the company promises to offer new colors soon.

UP! Mini and UP! Plus+ ($999 and $1549) 

Xobject is the North American distributor for the UP! Mini and UP! Plus+ 3D printers, which can be purchased for $999 and $1549 respectively.

The UP! models are traditional FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling; sometimes referred to as "FFF" or "Fused Filament Fabrication") printers that render objects using either petrolium-based ABS or corn-derived PLA plastics.

Neither the Mini nor the Plus can match the Form 1's detailing capabilities, but they can still render details down to, respectively, 200 and 150 microns. Keep in mind that 200 microns is a fifth of a millimeter, so the detailing is still very impressive.

Sculpteo rapid-prototyping service

The expo also included firms with new business plans built around 3D printing, such as Sculpteo, a French company that allows users to create highly technical objects remotely, objects the company then renders on its premises and ships back to the consumer.

While part of the company's model is built around "rapid prototyping" for creative folks, Sculpteo is also moving into highly specified consumer rendering such as its 3D Printed Case app (available free on iTunes); this app lets users create intricate and personalized smartphone cases, which the company will render and ship for around $25.

Click the next page to see even more affordable 3D printers.

Mbot ($999 to $1199)

China-based Mbot offers a personal 3D printer starting at $999 as well as a slightly larger (and more stylishly designed) transparent version for only $1199.

The Mbot is an FDM model that can print in two colors and uses ABS plastic.

Mcor Technologies rapid-prototype services

Mcor Technologies is another rapid-prototype service, but its full-color rendering technology uses plain ol' printer paper as a medium. Each sheet of paper is sliced by a blade and sealed to the previous layer by a water-based adhesive. Ink is then added layer by layer to render full-color objects.

At present, the company does not offer a consumer desktop model. However, it has just inked a deal with Staples to allow users to upload designs and pick up the resulting products at a local Staples outlet. For now, the project is being tested in northern Europe, but it may expand beyond that.

Makerbot Replicator ($2200 to $2800)

Makerbot is one of the biggest names in 3D printing. The company used the expo to show off its stylishly designed Replicator and Replicator 2 models, which sell for $2200 and $2800, respectively.


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