One of the features of the just-launched Windows 8.1 is built-in support for 3D printers. Microsoft has added an API (application programming interface) that makes 3D printers work just like ordinary printers: Select Print from the menu, and the object is printed.
The future is here: 3D printers that can build objects on demand are not just available, but also affordable. This emerging area of technology offers a lot of potential, but also many pitfalls. So, what do you need to know, and which 3D printer is the right one for you?
The first thing you will need is patience. 3D printing is an area that’s developing very quickly, but the 3D printers you can buy now are a long way from the replicators of “Star Trek” fame. They print slowly — often taking many hours to produce a single object — and they offer a limited range of materials (most use two types of plastic, called PLA and ABS)
Even the best consumer 3D printers can only build objects up to the size of a loaf of bread, and cheaper models have smaller build areas that usually measure only a few inches on each side. But these printers can create objects of surprising strength, smoothness and clarity that can be very useful around the home, ranging from custom salt-and-pepper shakers to homemade replacements for hard-to-find parts.