Ten Practical Things to Make with a 3D Printer


I must admit, I’ve been a closet 3D printing skeptic. The 3D printing hype machine says it’s going to save the economy, feed the hungry and cure cancer. But for something being touted as The Next Big Thing in manufacturing, it seems like all you can actually make are cheap plastic trinkets. Like dollar store goods, only more expensive. And crappier looking. Yoda heads, anyone?

I went digging on ThingiverseShapeways and Ponoko to see if there was anything I’d actually make, and what I found surprised me. Set aside art and jewelry, if you enjoy making things there are plenty of practical, every-day creations to justify the purchase. Especially when you can get a decent 3D printer for $450.

Now, having done the research, I have to swallow some of my skepticism. I’m buying a 3d printer.

Here are ten practical things I want to make.

iphone case1) iPhone cases
At the Apple store even a bumper is going to cost you $30. With a 3D printer, you could print a new case design every week. And there are a lot of beautiful designs out there.

handle replacement2) Replacement parts
If you like to fix things, a 3D printer is magic. When a small plastic part breaks, you no longer have to throw the whole product away. This guy’s dishwasher had a broken handle, so he printed a new one.

macro lens3) Smartphone accessories
3D printers have come up with innumerable little ways to get more out of your smartphone, various stands, cord wrappers, sound amplifiers and camera attachments like this cheap and effective macro lens.

camera mount

4) Camera gear
Photographers are willing to spend serious money for the right gear, and manufacturers set prices accordingly. From tripod mounts to lens cap holders, camera buffs can 3D print inexpensive accessories made to fit their kit.

mudguard5) Bicycle accessories
Cyclists are already used to tinkering to get their bike perfectly in tune. A 3D printer opens up whole new opportunities. Create clips to attach to the frame, a carrying handle, or even a whole pedal.

anemometer6) Science
From a tray for washing microscope slides to custom lens mounts, you can 3D print whatever tools you need to do science. Good for the grad student on a budget, or for family science projects. You can even print this anemometer.


7) Wallets and purses
It turns out you can make a great wallet or an interesting purse out of plastic. Like the iPhone case, this really changes the way you think about these kinds of accessories. If you are making them yourself you can experiment with designs you might not buy in the store.

clock8) Clocks
A cheap quartz clock movement and a little 3D printing, and you have a beautiful clock. Pick from many styles.

toothbrush holder

9) Containers
Look around your house and you’ll probably find a lot of small plastic containers. You can print those, and tailor them to their purpose, like this toothbrush holder.

legos10) Legos
If you are a Lego fan (and if you are reading this, you probably are), imagine printing any shape you want and just plugging it directly into the Lego universe. I guess you could even print a Lego-compatible Yoda head.

Obviously if you want to mass produce something there are more efficient tools than a desktop 3D printer. The same could be said about printing with ink. If you want to publish a bestselling paperback, you don’t do that at home. But no one doubts the value of an inkjet printer.

All the hype aside, for small plastic parts, when you factor in shipping and customization, a home 3D printer actually makes sense today.

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Please share your thoughts here.
  1. NilsHitze says:

    Make that $ 200 for a Makibox

  2. JeremiahKarl says:

    sure the tech isnt that feasible since were limited to the materials we can use to print but this tech has only been released to the public recently and still has time to develope.In the next 50 years am pretty sure we will b able to dive down into the nano scale and be able to achieve nano-fabrication .that will indeed be a real revolution as we will b able to print just about anything we can think off from the fundamental building blocks of matter!Until then 3D printing seems just like child’s play but albeit the pre alpha stage of what is to come!
    If interested you can watch how nano-fabrication may work in this video i came across on youtube! http://bit.ly/ZmomkK

  3. Fred Rice says:

    Some of these things are very practical and will no doubt have a good purpose. But the majority of things people are printing are purely novel. That said, it’s still an exciting time and I hope to see some really good uses for 3D printers in the near future. In the field of medicine is where it’s most likely to progress since there is a real need for it there such as 3D printing skin and bones for people that have been in accidents.

    Fred @ http://3dprinterxyz.com


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