3D-Printed Yoda headShould you get a 3D printer for Christmas? The answer, unless you’re really tech-savvy, is a resounding “no.”

The dirty little secret of 3D printing is that the best stuff you can make, at least in the beginning, is the stuff that comes preloaded on the printer, which isn’t very creative.  We saw Star Wars “Yoda” heads and oddly shaped vases. When you start trying to create stuff on your own, good luck. The user forums are filled with exasperated customers. We like Tony Hoffman’s comment in PC Magazine. For gifts, he gave his children the stuff he printed in 3D. “Can we have a real present?” they asked.

After ten months, Hoffman finally made a plastic dinosaur claw from a Museum of Natural History template, and his kids loved it. But it took lots of trial and error. He went on from there to make plastic birdhouses for his neighbors. When he made a custom roof rack shovel mount for his truck, a guy immediately ordered one from him. He also started making light bars for kayaks for people who wanted to fish at night. He used the XYZ Printing DaVinci Jr for $386 from Amazon. That’s the cheapest; most others run around $500. There’s also “3D Doodler,” a pen that spews out plastic into shapes, but it gets a ton of complaints about clogged plastic.

The “Rever” is a yet-to-come 3D printer for kids that is still raising money on Kickstarter. Their claim is it can make high heels, princess accessories and space-age toys. It’s never clear whether a Kickstarter project will really result in a product. Some have collected a million dollars only to fold later. So buyer beware.

The other downside if these things take off, is it’s going to mean still more plastic in the environment. We read about a 16 year-old Dutch kid who figured out a way to gather up the plastic in our oceans. (Plastic junk covers 40 percent of the surface, over 5.25 trillion pieces, not counting the microscopic junk.) The kid is now 22 and they’re just now putting his idea into practice. It’s a giant boom, 1.2 miles long, that sweeps the stuff into piles. Seems simple enough. Next, a really big vacuum cleaner.

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