CES 2013 proved to be something of a coming out party for consumer-facing 3D printers. Sure MakerBot earned a fair amount of attention at last year's show with the announcement of the Replicator, which snagged its share of awards from various press outlets. This year, however, saw a relative deluge in 3D-printing representation, with strong showings from 3D Systems, FormLabs, MakerBot and the cloud-based 3D printer, Sculpteo. Even with so many companies rising to prominence, the dream of truly mainstream 3D printing still feels a ways off -- if that is indeed where we're inevitably heading.
These nascent days are an exciting time, with a diverse array of companies and organizations vying to be the first to bring the technology to our homes. In a sense, many roads lead back to RepRap, the open-source, community-fueled project aimed at creating a self-replicating machine. As such, the same basic technology underlies many of these devices. At their core, these 3D printers are not unlike their 2D counterparts, offering a way to translate images on computer screens into real-world analogs -- only in this case they're objects you can hold in your hand.
Most of these work by melting plastic (largely Lego-like ABS or biodegradable PLA) and squirting it out through extruder heads. The heads operate along the X and Y axes, while the build platform (generally heated in the case of ABS and unheated for PLA) moves downward, allowing the glue gun-like extruders to build up the thin layers of plastic. Some printers rely on other technologies, many of which are rooted in the world of rapid prototyping, a category of fabrication that has been around for decades and used by companies like Boeing and Ford to created scale models of concepts.
There are a surprising number of companies and organizations currently invested in the space, be it through pre-fabricated models, kits or open-source, downloadable plans. We pulled together a list of some of the most prominent, which you can check out after the break.