3D printing is a pretty cool technology out there nowadays. This technology was typically focused at engineering firms and product development teams, or specialized groups like NASA, but now it is becoming a little bit easier for everyone to use. First off, what is 3D printing? I'll try not to dwell on this question too long, but I'll give you an idea. Before a product can be 3D printed, it has to be drawn up on the computer by an engineer or a designer. This computer file will then be sent to a 3D printer, where the intelligent computer on the printer will recognize the dimensions. The printer will then begin to use ink jet technology to lay down layers of material, sometimes smaller than a fraction of hair. (And I mean the diameter of a hair too) As each layer of material is stacked up, it will be fused together through laser melting technology, or an adhesive chemical. As the layers keep coming down, the machine will continue to fuse the layers together through melting it with a laser or adhesive chemicals. By the time hundreds of layers have come down, a product will be created! That is 3D printing in a nutshell: layer by layer assembly of material, and the fusion of that material in accordance to the 3D design.
Now that all sounds flashy and all, but what can it do? Well, 3D printing has a wide variety of applications in the world. It has been used for prototyping product ideas for quite a while. Very precise parts have been developed for special engineering projects. 3D printing is active in the world of technological advances; for example: it is assisting in the development of paper thin solar strips. 3D Printing is also very active in the medical world - a titanium jaw has been replicated, prosthetics have been developed, and even functional artificial body parts have been made, such as urethras, bladders, and veins. There is no doubt that 3D printing has played a role in the world we know today, but it also targets a very specific demographic of people.
3D artists and gamers have been targeted by 3D printing, as it is an inexpensive way for them to create their creations! 3D software is pretty easy to get ahold of, so almost anyone can at least try to develop products or characters. I want to mention one 'software' in particular. The game Minecraft sticks out to me. If you haven't heard of it, it is a cheesy game in which you are essentially an architect, putting together hundreds of little blocks together of assorted detail, which make a landscape. So basically, it is a game that allows for the creation of massive landscapes with poor graphics. This game is very popular on the internet. Lately, a software known as Mineways has been created to extract the 'landscapes' from this game for 3D prints. So 3D printing services like Kraftwurx, shapeways, or sculpteo will create your Minecraft creations!