Surprising printing

3d printing objects
You might have heard that 3D printing allows you to print your own toys, product prototypes and even a gun, but did you know that 3D printers can also churn out all sorts of other things, like a human liver or a prosthetic hand?

From dinosaur skeletons and plastic fetuses to sporting equipment and bikinis, 3D printing brings the miraculous, the useful and the flat-out bizarre to life.

Human body parts

3d printed objects
Credit: Lindsay France/Cornell University Photography
You might not be able to sign up for a 3D-printed liver just yet, but scientists are taking steps to make it possible soon.

Organovo, a San Diego-based startup specializing in the development of 3D-printed biological materials, prints functioning human liver tissue, and the company believes that it will one day use this tissue to create an entire working organ.

Researchers successfully transplanted 3D-printed ovaries to a mouse that later gave birth to healthy offspring. This is believed to be the next step for helping human mothers with damaged ovaries give birth.

Internal organs aren't the only body parts getting a boost from 3D printing technology. Researchers at Cornell University recently used a 3D printer to create a human ear that could one day be implanted in a human being.

Prosthetics for people and pets

3d printed object
Credit: Bespoke Innovations
The Lake Placid company Create Orthotics and Prosthetics is the first company to manufacture medical-grade 3D-printed prosthetics. The company creates custom limbs that it makes and fits with the customers so they can personalize them.

Enabling the Future is a nonprofit organization that connects people with volunteers who can 3D print prosthetic hands for children in need. The part plans are free to download.

There are even 3D-printed prosthetics for pets. Take Buttercup, a duck born with a backward foot. Thanks to 3D-printing company NovaCopy, Buttercup now has two fully functioning feet and the chance to lead a normal, web-footed life.

Dinosaurs and giant fish

3d printing
Credit: Drexel University
Creating a 3D-printed foot is possible, but what about an entire 3D-printed dinosaur skeleton? Scientists at Drexel University in Philadelphia have developed a way to 3D print scaled-down prehistoric skeletons based on scans of real dinosaur bones.

Paleontologists hold together the miniaturized skeletons with artificial muscles and tendons, creating movable dinosaur robots. The scientists use these "robosaurs" to study the ways dinosaurs moved – research that would have been impossible using the life-size bones of an 80-ton dinosaur.

Marine biologists are also using 3D printing to study deep-water fishes, elusive animals that are difficult to observe in a lab. Replicas of dragonfish – a mysterious deep-sea predator – can be 3D printed and studied in a lab without the need for high-pressure tanks or utter darkness.

Dead people

3d printed objects
Credit: Loughborough University
If you're going to 3D print extinct animals, you might as well print out a few dead people too, right? That's what scientists at Loughborough University in the U.K. are doing. They've printed a full 3D replica of a man who has been dead since 1485: King Richard III.

The British royal isn't the only one to be resurrected by 3D printing. Materialise, a 3D-manufacturing firm headquartered in Belgium, has created a full-scale 3D clone of King Tut, the young pharaoh who's been mummified since 1323 B.C.


3d printed objects
Credit: Dan Cohen
Kids not eating their vegetables? Why not transform those vitamin-rich broccoli and carrots into fun shapes? Researchers at the University of Foggia in Italy suggest 3D printers could be used to get kids to eat more vegetables if they're printed to look like their favorite animals and other shapes. A professor at University College Cork also experimented with 3D-printed cheese in the kitchen and how it would work with future machines that can print whole meals.

The 3D-printed meal is on the horizon for you. Researchers at NASA and other institutions are currently perfecting the art of 3D printing all kinds of food. 3D printing in space would provide astronauts the necessary nutrients for them to make long journeys. Even the Army is experimenting with 3D printing food to feed soldiers on the battlefield.

Drug paraphernalia

3d printed objects
Credit: Thingiverse
Got the munchies? Perhaps you do if you have a 3D-printed bong. Thingiverse, MakerBot's digital community for sharing 3D designs, currently features dozens of files for DIY bongs, bubblers, hand grinders and dugouts – all standard tools of the smoker's trade.

And 3D-printed bongs aren't exclusively available to members of the maker community. Smokers can also buy a 3D-printed bong and other paraphernalia on Shapeways, a virtual 3D marketplace.

Sex toys

3d printed objects, Freud, sex toy
Credit: MakerLove
In case bongs aren't scandalous enough for you, here's a 3D-printed creation that will really get your blood flowing: the sex toy. MakerLove, a website where 3D-printer owners can download their preferred erotic toy designs, is just one of many sites that demonstrate the free spirit of the 3D-printing industry.


3d printed objects
Credit: Kor Ecologic
A more traditional application for 3D printing is in automobile manufacturing. Many car and motorcycle makers use 3D printing – also called additive or digital manufacturing – to produce some of the finished parts they use in their cars.

Divergent 3D is a company that manufactures the Blade Supercar. It's made with 3D-printed notes connected by tubing, which makes it easy and quick to assemble.

And now 3D printers are being used to create an entire vehicle, the URBEE by Kor Ecologic. This futuristic electric car is designed to use as little energy as possible and can get more than 200 miles per gallon on the highway. The entire interior and exterior of the URBEE is 3D printed.


3d printed objects
Credit: Southampton University
3D printing is taking to the skies as well. The University of Southampton in the U.K. is home to the first 3D-printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone.

The Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (SULSA) can be assembled in 10 minutes once it's printed and doesn't require any screws or traditional fasteners. The SULSA can fly on autopilot or via remote control for around 30 minutes and reach speeds of 90 mph.

The military is also deploying 3D-printed drones for different missions. The Navy has been testing tiny 3D-printed drones called Close-in Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (CICADAs) that can glide into regions and create ad hoc networks for ground forces.


3D printed house
Credit: Apis Cor
You might not have any need for a drone, but what about a 3D-printed house? Tech startup Apis Cor successfully constructed a 3D-printed home in less than a day. The 400-square-foot structure is stable, and it cost under $11,000 to make. The printer itself is mobile and able to build homes in a variety of shapes.

A company in Shanghai called WinSun also boasts an inexpensive 3D printing method for building houses. The layered structure of the houses allows plumbing, electrical lines and insulation to be easily installed.

Wearable tech

3d printed objects
Credit: Shapeways
One of the most widespread applications of additive manufacturing thus far has been in the fashion industry. Purses, cellphone cases and jewelry are all being 3D printed. But there are still a few wearable 3D-printed items that novelty seekers will love.

The N12 3D-printed bikini is composed of nylon discs held together in a pattern resembling futuristic chainmail. The bikini, which is sold in parts, is available on Shapeways.

And what better accompanies a 3D-printed bikini than a 3D-printed pair of sunglasses? Boulton Eyewear sells frames custom-fit to your face that are printed to order. Or you can slip into some 3D-printed kicks, including these beauties from Adidas.

Human masks

3d printed objects
Credit: Heather Dewey-Hagborg
A 3D printer can spit out more than just your outfit: With a little help from DNA sequencing, one Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist is using a 3D printer to create eerily lifelike sculptures of human faces.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg, a Ph.D. student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., collects pieces of garbage like cigarette butts and chewing gum. She then extracts DNA samples from these bits of trash, sends the samples to be sequenced in a lab, and enters the information she receives into a computer program that creates a 3D image of the anonymous DNA donor's face. She hits print, and voila: 3D-printed human masks.

An unborn child

3d printed objects
You might not want to 3D print a stranger's face, but what about the face of your unborn child? Tecnologia Humana 3D, a Brazilian orthotics company, uses 3D technology to print tiny plastic replicas of fetuses still in utero. Japanese company Fasotec offers a similar product for expecting parents. It's 3D fetuses sell for over $1,000 and are meant to be used as desk ornaments.


3D printed board
Credit: Proto3000
The traditional method of making surfboards is complex and prone to human error, so 3D printing company Proto3000 set out to replicate the process to make it automated and customized to individual surfers.

Printable skateboards are also a reality, with talented printers from SD3D shredding on homemade decks, bearings, trucks and wheels.

Bikes are an inexpensive way to get around town. If you're a 3D-printer owner who's interested in making your own, Thingiverse is home to several plans for making your own bike frame.

Mars Colony

3d printed space tools
Credit: Amanda Morris
The dream of human life on Mars takes more steps to becoming reality as new technology is developed, and 3D printing will no doubt be part of that endeavor. Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois are developing a 3D printing method to create tools and structures out of Martian dust. The team of scientists is devising a way to convert the alien dirt into a rubber-like material for building. It will save space explorers time and money from shipping building material from Earth to Mars.

Imagine if this method could be automated so that future colonists could arrive on the red planet with their colony already built and waiting for them.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Peterson.