The age of 3D printing is upon us. Just check out the shelves at your local Staples and OfficeMax. But is it ready for the “common man?”

If you are looking to print an artificial limb or a small plastic robot on a 2D budget, fugedaboudit! But, if you can afford a decent 3D rig and a scanner or digitizer, the heavens will open and a whole new world of playing with plastic will be yours to explore.

The folks at Dynamism sent us an Ultimaker 2 ($2,499) to play with and, although we weren’t able to accomplish very much without the use of a digitizer ($579 to $799), we became masters at the creation of small plastic robots and other kitschy items using designs we downloaded from various websites.

The toughest, and most time-consuming, part of using the Ultimaker 2 was the initial set up, where we needed to attach various parts, string plastic filament and actually use super glue to prepare for our first print. But, once all that was done, all we had to do was download our designs to an SD memory card, pop it into a slot in the printer and print.

The result of our first print was a small, plastic robot, the design for which came with the printer. We were able to find tons of other designs – – – ranging from plastic cups to ear rings – – –  on the Internet, most of which required a small payment to their creators.

The Ultimaker 2 uses a process known as fused deposition modeling (FDM) that uses a coil of plastic filament to create these plastic objects. This is basically an extrusion process, where the plastic flows through a nozzle that moves horizontally and vertically to create an object.

Also, a bit of caution – – – and common sense – – – is required when using one of these printers. The objects, once they are created, and the printer can become extremely hot due to the fact that the printer has to use heat to melt the plastic. So, allow a bit of time for everything to cool down before removing the creation or touching any of the printer’s components.

There are a few less expensive 3D printers out there – – – some are even able to print using two or three plastic filaments at the same time. Unfortunately we weren’t able to obtain any of them to compare their features with the Ultimaker 2, but we did discover that the price for this Dynamism printer was about midway from the least expensive ($349 for “entry level”) to extremely expensive ($6,500).

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