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An easier 3D printing experience

If you're an inventor or crafter, perhaps you've used a 3D printer to bring your ideas or artwork to life. For the rest of us, the concept might sound kind of far out. But a world where 3D printing is as commonplace as laser printing is close enough to touch.

3D printers extrude, sinter, glue or deposit a filament, layer by layer, until it produces a finished object - a bracelet, an iPhone case, a wrench or an ant farm - following the instructions of a digital model.

Already 3D printing has advanced science and medicine, among other industries. NASA is printing Mars-bound rocket parts. 3D-printed prostheses offer mobility, and 3D-printed transplant tissues may soon save lives.

For experimenting at home, there are printers the size of a coffeemaker, starting at around $500. If your computer-aided design skills are rusty, download free designs from Thingiverse. Then wait for your creation to take form before your eyes.

Or more likely, prepare for some head-on-desk pounding as you fiddle with clogged nozzles, grease-thirsty parts and filaments warping or failing to stick to the platform.

Girl testing 3D printing software

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