Anyone who’s visited a print trade show in recent years will probably have seen a desktop 3D printer, typically producing small plastic figurines, and you might have wondered how this could relate to the printing industry. In truth, there is little crossover between 3D printing and graphics printing, but then again there isn’t any reason why printing companies should be limited to graphics applications. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that wide format printers in particular are moving into industrial applications such as home decor and even clothing. And 3D printing makes perfect sense when seen as another industrial print application.
The basic idea behind all 3D printing is that objects can be designed and sliced into layers in a CAD file, so that a 3D printer can then physically lay each successive layer on top of the previous layer to create that object. There are around a dozen different approaches, each offering their own blend of cost, quality and productivity and each suitable for its own range of materials, which can include a wide variety of plastics and metal alloys, and even electronic circuits.
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