3D printing is a lousy term for a whole range of technologies that people are playing with, from additive manufacturing (the real 3D printers), CNC routers and shopbots, to all kinds of hardware that have one thing in common: They take a digital vision and make it a physical reality. Five years ago I called in downloadable design:
It is like the music for our iPod; dematerialized bits and bytes put together again where we need it, without the waste of a physical intermediary. In a world where we watch our carbon as closely as our waistline we don't want to be driving to stores; in a world where everything can be digitized, why move material when we are interested in ideas, creativity and talent?
At the time, the best way I knew to demonstrate the principle was with papercraft, where you fold 2D paper into 3D shapes. The Japanese have been doing it for centuries, but the computer made it possible to pick a design from anywhere in the world, print it out and fold it into your 3D object. I showed robots and iPhone stands and more.
As Ponoko and Shapeways and Makerbot came on the scene we left our papercraft behind, but it's deja vu all over again with Foldify, an incredibly cool little app that lets you design your own little model on your iPad or iPhone from cut-out templates, colour it up and then send to a printer, ready to cut out, fold and glue.
You are also joining a community of designers who are sharing their lovely little models. It's a babystep into the world of downloadable design, of 3D printing, accessible to anyone, all for $ 1.99. Soon we will be doing everything this way. Foldify, found on Core77