Tuesday, September 3, 2013

3D Print My Loves: Why 3D Printers Are A Not Too Distant Geeky Savior

Recently, I have been tossing through different 3D printer models, and communities - even though I don't own a 3D printer yet (despite desperately wanting one for a few years now). The catalyst for my parousing? The Friday Makerbot Mystery Builds, from the gang at Tested. The Loaded Dice crew have also been talking about geeking on a budget, our most evergreen topic, since we are a bunch of dudes who will sometimes break the bank for our nerdy passions. This reminded me of some thoughts I had months ago about the future of toys, and gaming.
So I try to be a stickler when it comes to keeping all of the tiny plastic pieces of my board games together. Though it seems inevitable that some Napoleonic soldier from Risk always goes AWOL, or a Ticket To Ride train never makes it's way the final destination, Boxville. Every time it happens I wish I could replace that runaway piece. That's when I started thinking "Well damn, a 3D printer would be awesome for that. Too bad I don't have the cheddar to won one." Then I thought about how so many small board game companies have to opt to spend a lot of money on manufacturing game pieces, or use generic ones for economic reasons. From there I began my dive into the 3D printed nexus, and holy crap is there a lot of brilliant stuff out there. Like this Catan board, these Star Wars: X-Wing minis bases, or this set of freaking rad Torn Dice. Trouble is the printers still go for a high price - the cheapest being more than $1,000 (Well out of my price range). You also have to pay for the raw plastic to print which adds up.

So what's the up side?

Well, I'm happy to say that the $1,000 price is way cheaper than a few years ago, when the low end printers went for a bit over $3,000. But, how do we turn this into a legit future for entrepreneur gamers, and hobbyists? Well, one project that started a few years back is RepRap, who based their idea around the self replication. That's right, you use a 3D printer to print a 3D printer! Granted you can't print every piece you need, but this does lower the price tag significantly - somewhere around $300-500. If you aren't up to the task of building a printer, but still want to make a prototype for your game pieces, or toy, Shapeways might be an option. It's like a combination of a 3D Kinkos, and Etsy; since you can sell your products on the sight in addition to making them. Though it might not be cost effective enough on a large scale, or depending on your budget. What I really want to see come into reality is a some kind of 3D printing Co-Op, printer sharing, or even rentals - something like ZipCar for 3D printer. Sadly not much like that really exists, except for this start-up Thinkklip, but from the looks of it they haven't gotten to far off the ground yet, which sucks, because I want them to soar like eagles.

(Bonus Update: Commenter - TheColonel - kindly hit me with a "You know nothing, John Snow" moment, and this sweet link for 3D Hubs. Which is essentially a networking site for 3D printing. I suggest you check it out, and find someone who won't mind you making D&D minis with their sweet ass machine.)

Personally I can't wait for 3D printing to become more accessible to the ordinary consumer, and DIY gaming community, because it's a damn Star Trek replicator (not a very high tech one, but baby steps people, baby steps), and that is cool as hell. Now while I can't sip hot earl grey tea with Patrick Stewart yet (or better yet a Marijuana. Cigarette. Tightly Rolled.), I would settle for a Die. 20 Sided. Red. At least to save me a few bones, so I can at least buy some tea with my favorite captain.

So what geeky trinket would you like to print?
And as always, leave us a comment. 
We like talking with you.
Especially if you have any advice, knowledge, or passion concerning 3D Printing.


  1. Public access 3D printers are further along than you think! Good regional hackerspaces should be considering them heavily, or you can "borrow" someone's private printer:


    Libraries are considering them too:



    1. Thank you for those links. None of that showed up on my radar when I've searched.

      3D Hubs is awesome by the way, and right in line with what I've been trying to find (so I will add it to the article).

      I also love libraries (the scent of books is something to be cherished in this touchscreen world), so it is great to read that some are getting equipped with this awesome tech - sadly none near me.