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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.

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