7 Ways to 3D Print without a 3D Printer

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Have you ever wanted to get your hands on a 3D printer, but didn’t necessarily want to buy one? Maybe you want to try 3D printing first before investing in a machine. Or perhaps you can’t have a 3D printer where you currently live. Maybe you saw a cool 3D printing video on TikTok, but your parents won’t let you have one. No problem, this article is for you.

My name is Ashley and I’m a 3D printing TikToker (@themetal3dprinter) with a popular series on how you might be able to access a 3D printer if you don’t have one. During the height of the pandemic, I couldn’t get to the 3D printing makerspace where I’m a 3D Printing Design Entrepreneur in Residence. I spent hours researching how I could access a machine because I wasn’t allowed to have one where I lived. Now, I’m sharing the complete list in this article.

@themetal3dprinter How to 3D Print Without A 3D Printer #3dprinting #diyprojects #stem #humbled #3dprintingworld #hairtok #3dprintinglife #routine #learnsomethingnew ♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

1. 3D Printing at Your Local Library

The first option is to check your local library. While this might sound strange, your local library might have a 3D printer. My mind was blown by the fact that the library that I’ve been going to my entire life, literately five minutes from my home, not only had a 3D printer, but an entire makerspace with soldering tools, workshops, etc. After doing more research, I learned that many other libraries across the United States have 3D printers, as well! So, be sure to check your local library: there might be a 3D printer you might not be aware of!

Patrons gather in the Central Library MakerSpace on Dec. 7, 2018 to learn the fundamentals of the game Dungeons & Dragons. [Image: Rene Battelle]

2. 3D Printing at Your Local Makerspace

The second option is to check if there is a makerspace around you that has wood shop tools, CNC machines, and possibly a 3D printer. There are a lot of makerspaces in the NJ/NYC area, and they are also commonly found in universities (see step three).

Amazing makerspace at a Connecticut library

3. 3D Printing at Your Local University

Option number three is to check your local university. A decade ago, it wasn’t very common for schools to have 3D printers. However, today, many universities have incorporated the technology into their curricula. Many colleges now have makerspaces with 3D printers or have a 3D printer on campus.

Makerspace at NCSU DH Hill Library.

Now, you might be wondering: what if I’m not a student? Don’t worry. Some universities might work with you regardless of your student status if you’re interested in learning about the technology. There’s no harm in asking, right?

Also, colleges might offer some 3D printing classes or workshops during off-peak seasons for adults and children of all ages. My former professors and co-directors of the MIX 3D Printing Lab at Montclair State University and Emergent Futures Lab, Iain Kerr and Jason Frasca, often host 3D printing and innovation workshops for children, adults, and teachers during the summer. So, look into your local university, college, community college, etc.

4. Your Local 3D Printing Meetup

The fourth option is to look for 3D printing meetups and networking events in your area. Another place where you might be able to access a 3D printer is via Meetup.com or similar apps and websites. In the New York-New Jersey area, there are many 3D printing-related meetup groups and events through local makerspaces, and organizations, where you might be able to find a 3D printer. There are also great organizations like Women in 3D Printing that host monthly meetups around the world. They might not necessarily have a 3D printer at the event; however, there might be people who know how to get your hands on one. Sometimes there’s nothing more powerful than word of mouth.

A Women in 3D Printing meetup. Image courtesy of Women in 3D Printing.

5. 3D Printing at Your Local Museum

The next option is to check your local museum. While this sounds rather odd, many museums today often have Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs, workshops, and camps, usually throughout the summer. For example, Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ, has a makerspace with 3D printers, 3D software, and more for students of all ages. So, it’s worth looking into whether your local museum has a 3D printer.

6. 3D Printing Internships

If you’re a college student, you might be able to access a 3D printer through an internship. For example, many architects use 3D printers, and some firms might even have one. Additive manufacturing is such a hot topic right now, so there are more internships and job opportunities in the field where you might be able to get your hands on a 3D printer. And don’t worry if you don’t have experience with 3D printing. Many internships and jobs will train you on the job.

Even if you still can’t get your hands on a 3D printer with the above tips, that doesn’t mean you can’t 3D print!

7. 3D Printing with a Service Bureau

There are plenty of 3D printing service bureaus that will 3D print your design for you. Some of the most popular 3D printing service bureaus include Shapeways, i.materialise, and Sculpteo. Typically, you can choose from different 3D printing materials, colors, and processes. And don’t worry if you don’t have a 3D model on hand. You can always use websites like Thingiverse to download files and print them. The goal is to just to be able to feel and hold a physical 3D print before investing in a 3D printer. There are also plenty of tutorials online that can teach you how to 3D model using various software.

Shapeways 3D printed parts.

Shapeways has 3D printed over 20 million parts. Image courtesy of Shapeways.

Even if the above options don’t work for you, don’t worry. This list is always expanding as I find more resources. Make sure to follow 3DPrint.com and my TikTok, @themetal3dprinter, for updates.

Feature image courtesy of FabLab Cairo. 

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