PRINTING IN OTHER MATERIALS
While almost all consumer 3D printers use plastic materials, largescale professional printers are capable of printing objects in other materials as well. The Shapeways 3D printing factory in New York can print in brass, ceramic, steel and five types of plastic. 3D printers that print metal most commonly use a technique called laser sintering, which uses a high power laser to fuse metal powder into a solid shape. Like plastic 3D printing, the object is then built up in layers. Right now, due to the high cost of 3D printing in metal, it is often more cost-effective to create a 3D printed plastic mold, which can then be used to make metal parts. However, a few key laser sintering patents have just expired this year, and it is possible that laser sintering could soon come to consumer printers.
Some commercial 3D printers, such as 3D Matters in Singapore, use a sandstone material to print. These 3D printers use an inkjet print head that moves across a bed of powder, selectively depositing a liquid binding material that adheres the powder together, slowly building up the object layer by layer. Excess powder is then blown away when the object is complete. Due to the inkjet’s liquid binder, these printers can print in full color and are good for highly detailed objects as they can print in extremely fine resolution.