Three-dimensional printers made headlines for the wrong reasons this week, with the legal profession scrabbling to work out the implications of make-your-own guns. If you want to sculpt less dangerous items, though, there are a growing list of increasingly affordable options.
The new generation of 3D printers are the closest we have to the vending machines in science fiction movies where you press a button and an object appears, as if by magic. They use a digital model to render practically any shape, including items with moving parts, building it from scratch by slowly layering special plastics.
They have been available since the turn of the century but sales have grown exponentially in the last couple of years as advances such as being able to use more than one colour have combined with decreasing prices to make them a viable purchase. Here is our guide to six of the best.
The CubeX is one of the most user friendly printers on the market today, and also one of the more versatile. It allows you to print items as large as a basketball and construct your creations in up to three colours. It also allows you to use more than one material, meaning the main body of your object can be made from a very tough plastic, while details are added with one better suited to finer work.
3D Touch 3D Printer £2,495 (triple head)
The 3D Touch printer is one of the best-looking on the market. Using various plastics, it allows you to create items in multiple colours. Printing is simple, with a USB thumbstick passing the information to the machine.
UP! 3D Plus £1,020
This desktop 3D printer allows you to create objects using a host of industry standard computer aided design (CAD) software. It prints at 150 microns, which sounds like techno-babble but means you can achieve incredibly precise detail. It is also among the cheapest on the market.
MakerBot Replicator 2 £1,445
The MakerBot Replicator 2 claims to be the quickest, easiest to use 3D printer out there. It prints at a an ultra-high resolution of 100 microns and is one of the better looking alternatives.
Formlabs Form-1 £2,170
Billed as a professional-grade 3D printer, the Form 1 certainly packs a punch. At 300 microns, its resolution isn't the highest included in this round-up (the smaller the number the higher the resolution). However, the level of detail you can achieve, even on very small creations, is impressive. It comes in a decidedly Apple-looking brushed aluminium box and, while it is one of the more expensive 3D printers out there, it is our top choice.
Afinia H-Series £1,050
One of the budget printers, the Afinia H-Series is still a viable option, allowing you to create some detailed objects. It may look a bit like something your grandad kept in his garage but it has a nice do-it-yourself feel to it. It is only able to print in one colour.