When I was growing up, I watched a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But, for me, the coolest piece of technology on a show set hundreds of years in the future wasn’t the ship that could indefinitely support thousands of people exploring the universe – it was the replicator, a machine that could create just about anything out of thin air by rearranging molecules.
We’re not quite to the point of being able to manipulate matter at its most basic levels in order to create things like tea, Earl Grey, hot. But printing has quickly become pretty amazing, with 3-D printers making ideas such as “rapid prototyping,” or creating prototypes of certain objects as they’re designed, possible.
There are a lot of amazing things that can be done with 3-D printers even now, and if you’re willing to spend the money on them, they can be yours.
Finding your printer
The trouble with 3-D printers is that they remain expensive. One of the more interesting new entries into the market, BotObject’s upcoming ProDesk3D, is expected to sell for more than $2,400 when it finally becomes available (but it also can bring in color, which is an innovation in the market). Other 3-D printers retail for around $1,000 and up.
They also are not widely available. Amazon includes a 3-D printer store section with a number of options, but other than that, you might have to do some digging.
On the plus side, filaments for 3-D printers – the actual stuff that is turned from nothing into the objects your printer creates – is often easier to come by. Amazon is a good hookup to start with, and this list runs down a number of other distributors of 3D printing filament.
Good ol’ fashioned paper
If 3-D printing sounds like it’s a bit much, you might still be in the market for old-style paper printing. After all, documents, paper craft, presentations – there’s a lot that can be done with the current crop of paper printers, and there’s no end in sight of options. You might start with Best Buy, Target and Walmart, three retailers that carry a few standard printer options and which offer 2 percent Cash Back each.
More specialized options include Office Depot, where you can get 3 percent Cash Back, and stores such as Dell (10 percent Cash Back) and HP (4 percent Cash Back). They might not be as cool as 3-D printers, but these stores offer some pretty big discounts on devices that can handle scanning, faxing and other tasks, too.