A few decades ago, printing documents from the computer onto paper was a new innovation. At first, only offices were equipped with printers, as they were extremely expensive at that time. As the technology behind printing became more common, smaller printers were developed for home offices and personal use. The lower costs of these kinds of printers made them more accessible to the masses.
The techniques of printing have developed rapidly over the past decades. From printers that operated very slowly, producing only black and white images, to full colour very fast printers printing sharp colour images, like photos. Where all of these printers have been a big innovation at some point in time, the newest printing technique is already waiting to be embraced by us: the 3D-printers.
Where printing today is associated with paper, cartridges and text documents, the first printers producing 3D-objects are already a fact. The techniques behind this are still being developed, but the first key chains, plates and action figures have already be printed by 3D-printers.
The technique behind 3D-printers is actually not that complicated. The printer builds a tangible object based on a 3-dimensional computer drawing, layer by layer. These layers are extremely thin and vary from 0.3 millimetres to 16 micrometers. Instead of ink, these printers use a sort of powder or liquid.
The first 3D-printers are already available for domestic use, but they are still quite expensive and not optimized. Also, these kinds of printers are still rather premature. Just as with the good old ink printer, it will take time before it becomes commonplace to print our own furniture and clothes, like printing our own documents is totally normal today.