WSJ: 3-D Printing Comes Home.

WSJ:  MakerBot Replicator Mini

For industrial uses, 3-D printing’s promise is already well-known. It’s capable of producing custom heart valves and jet-engine parts. But now it’s getting personal: A company called MakerBot just started selling a 3-D printer that’s easy to use and costs less than $1,400.

The 3-D printer has arrived at home—what you’ll print with it isn’t as obvious.

Is a 3-D printer like an infinite dollar store on your desktop? (You’ll never have to buy a comb again!) Is it a factory for lost Lego pieces and IKEA parts? I’ve been using two models from MakerBot, including the new entry-level Replicator Mini, on a quest to figure out why anyone might need one.

I printed dozens of plastic doodads—bottle openers, little chains that materialize already linked, even a Mr. Snuffleupagus toy. Yet I haven’t yet found a killer practical application that makes a 3-D printer a must-have household appliance. You’ll be disappointed if you hope to justify the price of a MakerBot Mini with fewer trips to Target.

But what the Replicator Mini has going for it is a combination of hardware and software that makes 3-D remarkably accessible. MakerBot wisely realized that few of us have 3-D design expertise. So it augments its printer with an iTunes-like store for downloading printable objects, an app—also called PrintShop—to design your own items and an active community that keeps giving you reasons to make things.

A number of other upstart companies are starting to sell inexpensive 3-D printers, including 3D Systems’ $1,000 Cube 3 and XYZprinting’s $500 da Vinci. But MakerBot’s Replicator Mini is 3-D printing’s biggest step yet into the mainstream because it succeeds in enabling pretty much anyone—tinkerers, children and parents playing Bill Nye—to create.

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