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3D Printing: Promises, Promises

Does this tech fulfill its role as the future of manufacturing?

3D printing is a maze of tantalizing promises. You can 3D print all kinds of toys and figurines, but you can’t print a pair of shoes (not really, not yet). You can print a bottle opener, but a 3D printed hammer will, I promise you, suck. You can 3D print an Iron Man suit, but the lights, tiny little motors and matching controllers are almost an entirely different hobby on their own. On one hand, yes, it’s absolutely true, 3D printing is the future of making stuff. The possibilities are almost limitless. On the other hand, what limitations do exist are enough to reduce 3D printing to a cute novelty? So which is it? Is 3D printing useful or useless? Is it a serious tool for makers or just a fun waste of time and money? 

I set out to answer these questions three years ago when the pandemic began. With lockdown looming, I thought, “I may never get out of here,” and bought myself a 3D printer to keep myself busy. In particular, I wanted to know if there were any serious applications for this hobby. Would 3D printing become an indispensable part of my life? And also, were there any opportunities for making money with this hobby? Three years later, I’m still struggling with the answers. But here’s what I’ve figured out so far…


For Toys and Figures

The first thing I printed was a bunch of toys and nerdy little figures. I happily 3D printed my entire childhood and didn’t stop until over a year later. I’ve printed Baby Yoda, a Yoda Buddha, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Judge Dredd in rainbow colors, half a dozen Transformers, Totoro, Mario, a chibi tachikoma, a Titanfall titan, Avatar Aang and more nerdy things than you can shake a lightsaber at. My favorite? A Macross Cyclone that transforms from motorcycle to mech.

For Models

While 3D printed models of tanks, planes, or battleships may not come in the shape of a model kit, the idea – if not the experience – is the same. Even free, open source models come with incredible detail. On the top of my list are the Space Battleship Yamato from Star Blazers, and the Swordfish from Cowboy Bebop.

The Verdict So Far

As a hobby, 3D printing is just an insane amount of fun. However, be warned: like a gateway drug, it will lead you to other hobbies. To make my prints look cool, I’ve learned to sand, fill, prime, and paint. My worktable is a mess of paint, brushes and sandpaper, and I’m not stopping there. For electrical projects, I’m going to learn how to solder.

For the House


There is no shortage of lampshades, vases and cookie cutters that you can 3D print, but there is a catch. One, most 3D prints are not durable enough to regularly take a load or any kind of physical force. So printing latches, doorknobs, hooks, screws or anything mechanical can be problematic. Two, you need to use “food safe” plastic in the kitchen. All of that aside, my giant Lego “minifig” toilet paper holder will always hold a special place in my heart (and in our CR).

For Tabletop Gaming

One of the most popular uses for 3D printing is for tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. A resin printer is probably better for things like miniatures, but if you use a small nozzle and calibrate your printer really well, an FDM printer will also do the job well enough. There are so many models available, printing miniatures can easily take up all your printer time. There are even fan-made and bootleg minis for games like Warhammer. They are not as good as the real thing, but they also do not cost a small fortune.

Can You Sell This Stuff? 

If you’re inclined to create models, there is some money to be made by selling miniatures online. Some design studios do this on Lazada and Shopee. But remember, if you are selling someone else’s designs, you will need permission.

For Lithopanes


Using some clever software and light, you can 3D print black and white photographs called lithopanes. It’s pure magic, and worth the price of entry for this alone. Also look up “Hueforge,” a method of painting with your 3D printer.

For Cosplay

I’m no cosplayer but I have printed a Mandalorian helmet, a Japanese fox mask, the mask of Joker from Pesona 5, and three different screen-accurate Harry Potter wands (Harry’s, Voldemort’s and the Elder Wand). If I were a cosplayer, 3D printing would be an absolute game-changer.


3D Printing: The Verdict

Make no mistake about it, 3D printing is the future of making stuff. Is there money to be made in it? The answer depends on you. Some people have found a business model providing printing services, selling their designs, or selling 3D printers and accessories, and who knows, you may find success in your venture. But let’s face it, until 3D prints become more durable, faster, and simpler, 3D printing is stuck being mostly useless. And that’s okay. If you’re a maker, a cosplayer, or a tabletop gamer, that won’t make a difference to you. This is a hobby that delivers on all its promises and so much more.