The term 3D Printing is misleading, as it makes you think of 3D movies or 3D pictures in magazines. But a 3D printer does not print an image that appears to be 3D, it creates an actual physical object. For example, it doesn't create a 3D image of a cup, it creates an actual cup that you can use to drink your coffee.
So the term 3D Sculptor would probably be more fitting. In fact, some artists have begun to create sculptures with their 3D printers:
A sculpture that was designed on the computer and then sculpted as a physical object using a 3D printer.
NASA uses 3D printing technology to create complicated high-tech devices for their space missions. And even Jay Leno uses a 3D printer to create rare spare parts for his antique car collection:
There was a time when a VCR cost over $1000. Nowadays you can get a VCR for less than $30. In fact you can get the technology that replaced VCRs, a DVD player, for less than $30 these days. And even the technology that replaced DVDs, Blu-Ray players, can now be bought for about $30.
3D printers are still pretty expensive right now. But their price will continue to drop, and one day in the not too distant future, having a 3D printer in your home will be as normal as having a computer or a conventional printer is today.
People used to go to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video to rent a VHS or DVD movie. Then they started ordering movies online from Netflix, and the DVD was mailed to their home. Then sites like Netflix and Vudu began to stream digital copies of movies over the Internet.
3D printers could revolutionize online shopping in a similar way as Netflix and Vudu revolutionized the process of renting movies. People used to go to a store like Walmart to buy things. Then they started to buy things online from Walmart.com or Amazon.com instead, that were mailed to their home.
With 3D printers, it will soon be possible to buy all sorts of physical objects online and have them streamed to your home over the Internet, the same way movies and books can already be digitally streamed online. For example, instead of waiting for Amazon.com to ship a pair of shoes to you, you will be able to download 3D blueprints for the shoes. Once your computer has download the 3D blueprint, your printer will be able to create the shoes directly in your home. Various websites, like Thingiverse.com already offer free 3D blueprints that allow you to create glasses, shoes or toys at home.
MakerBot Replicator 2 3D Printer, and a toy tractor that was created with it.
3D printing technology will have a tremendously positive impact on society. Life will never be the same once every household and every medical office has a 3D printer.
3D printed medical prosthetic
But there is a dark side, too: It is possible to "print" or scupt actual working guns with a 3D printer. People will be able to create deadly firearms at home, bypassing gun control laws. Defcad.org specializes in 3D blueprints for items such as guns, that have been banned on other 3D printing websites.
World's first 3D printed gun