Three-D printing, a novelty once reserved for science fiction, is going mainstream thanks to cheaper, more accessible technology.
The printers, which now cost as little as $300, use lasers to blast out layer upon layer of plastics or other materials, forming 3-D objects.
And if you don't have the time, money or inclination to invest in a 3-D printer of your own, there are hundreds of websites selling lights, coasters, sculptures, furniture and even wallpaper crafted by 3-D printers.
New York-based Shapeways, for example, allows users to make, buy or sell three-dimensional designs. Products include a delicate, twig-like egg cup for $8 and a lamp that looks like a nuclear mushroom cloud for $1,389.
"We are consistently amazed by the incredible uses our customers find for these materials," says Alex English, owner of the 3-D printing plastics retailer ProtoParadigm.
Just some of the decor items you can buy or build with 3-D printing:
Among the most popular — and dramatic — 3-D products for the home are lights, whether ceiling pendants, table lamps or floor lamps.
Belgium's .MGX by Materialise, a pioneer in 3-D printing, is known for museum-quality, futuristic designs. Among the most popular is the Bloom table lamp (about $2,600), a flower-bud inspired design with joints that you can expand or collapse to release or contain light, says marketing manager Katrien Vandenplas.
Shapeways offers dozens of lamps created by some of the site's more than 11,000 "shop owners," or designers. The honeycomb-inspired Veroni lampshade, for instance, costs as little as $15 and comes in a variety of colours and materials ranging from the standard plastic to raw metal and steel.
Statement pieces for your walls run the gamut in the 3-D printing world.
Shapeways' ethereal "Whales" ($48) lends modern sophistication with its airy rendition of two swimming whales crafted from white plastic. They almost seem to spring off the wall. Florida-based Proton 3D Studio offers a little kitsch with a Pop Art-like plastic Pi symbol ($21) and the word "geek" crafted in orange plastic script lettering ($24).
Sweden's Kredema Design has one of the more "off the wall" home-decor products: a three-dimensional wallpaper that rolls out away from the wall to form shelves, magazine holders and even lampshades. Made from sheets of acrylic and wallpaper, the "Off the Wall" collection is available by special order only.
From picture frames to vases and even planters, you can design or find just about anything home-related using 3-D printing technology.
Shapeways recently added glazed ceramic to its list of materials, making it possible to craft personalized plates, mugs, salt and pepper shakers, and other items for the table.
Blogger and tech consultant Michael Sitver designed some personalized coasters in about 90 minutes using a 3-D CAD software called Autodesk Inventor. He printed them up at Shapeways' website.
"This is a great project for beginners," says Sitver, of Weston, Conn. "because designing it doesn't take too much work, but it helps beginners get acquainted with the tools involved and the process."
He calls his new coasters a "wonderful conversation piece."
It might sound like a tall order, but it's possible to craft tables, chairs and other furnishings with 3-D printers as well.
They're not cheap though, at least not yet.
A day bed crafted from white nylon plastic will run you nearly $20,000 on Shapeways, while .MGX by Materialise offers several chairs, stools and tables that look more like works of art than something to sit on. They also run into the thousands.
But there's a lot that's still possible with this burgeoning technology, especially as it gets cheaper and more accessible.
"When kids are exposed to this technology, they don't even blink an eye when something is printed," Vandenplas says. "When they are older, 3-D printing will fit into their lives much like the Internet and smartphones fit into our lives today."
.MGX by Materialise: www.mgxbymaterialise.com
Proton 3D Studio: www.etsy.com/ca/shop/Proton3D
Kredema Off the Wall line: http://www.kredema.se/offthewallSuggest a correction