How 3D Printing Could Provide a Huge Boost to the Digital Design Industry

Editor’s Note: At our digital design department, we do our best to keep abreast of new trends which are very likely to impact the entire graphic design industry in the near future. We invite people to contribute to our blog and tell the world about new developments in the domain of our expertise. This guest post is about the emerging 3D printing technology and how it will change lives of both designers and people who have nothing to do with digital design.

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing, or rapid prototyping as it is also known, is a truly incredible form of technology that has been around for 30 years, but has only recently caught the public imagination. It uses additive layer manufacturing to ‘print’ three dimensional objects in a matter of hours. Additive layer manufacturing is the process of gradually adding microns-thin layers to each other. Each individual layer is slightly different to the previous one and the next. Over time the layers build up to form complete objects. Imagine it like making a three dimensional object by placing thousands of pieces of paper on top of each other, each piece having been cut to match the design.

Objet Connex500 3D printer
Objet Connex500 3D printer from one of the leading brands

This process is used for a wide range of applications from simply creating accurate, detailed product prototypes to creating highly precision parts.

It’s only in the past year and a half 3D printing has really taken off, despite its long history as rapid prototyping. The large amount of internet buzz and media attention has led to a massive increase in interest in 3D printing as a service. Prices have steadily decreased since the very early rapid prototyping machines and it is now much more affordable, as well as being more efficient and accurate.

So, What Does this Mean for the Digital Design Industry?

Well, a lot actually. Everything that is made on a 3D printer has to be designed as a digital 3D model. These digital models are designed on computers using specialist software called Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. In simplest terms; the more 3D printers are used, the more 3D designs needed. As mentioned above; it is only in the last 18 months that 3D printing has gained momentum and the attention of the public, leading to a lot of coverage in the media. This has already triggered an increase in work for digital designers and those who use CAD software. A lot of models are highly complex and detailed, and the only people who can create them digitally are highly trained specialists. But the potential of 3D printing for the design industry doesn’t necessarily stop there.

3d printing, printed model

There is a group of scientists and technology experts who believe that in the near future there will be a 3D printer in every home, just like there is a computer and television, which also once seemed crazy to picture in most homes. ‘Why?’ I hear you asking. Well imagine this:

A panel falls off your washing machine. Usually you would have to call out an expert and they would order in the part and fit it. Now introduce 3D printers to the equation. The washing machine has been specially designed for easy replacement of parts. You visit the manufacturers’ website, download the design of the part for a small fee and print it. You then fit the part a few hours later when it has finished printing. No call out. No waiting around. If this does become the norm, the amount of work for designers will go through the roof.

3d printed object, printed wheel

It may seem unimaginable now but people once said it was absurd to imagine a world with a television in most homes or a telephone that you can carry around in your pocket.

Conclusion

The rise of 3D printing is certainly great news for the digital/graphic design industry. It means there will be a lot more work for designers out there, as well as some great opportunities to specialise in a growing section of the market. There are also some great opportunities for those companies that create design software. 3D printing has come along was since its roots in rapid prototyping machinery in the 80’s and who knows where it could go? Many have big plans for 3D printers, involving the medical, motor and defence sectors – three of the biggest and richest industries there are. There is a lot of research being carried out and the technology is constantly evolving and developing to incorporate new materials, processes and applications. Now might be a good time to start learning how to make digital models for 3D printing purposes if you’re a designer.

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