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3-D printing expands design possibilities

The Fractal.MGX coffee table by WertelOberfell, made from a brown epoxy resin, was designed after the growth patterns of trees. (Associated Press)
The Fractal.MGX coffee table by WertelOberfell, made from a brown epoxy resin, was designed after the growth patterns of trees. (Associated Press)
Sarah Wolfe Associated Press

Looking for that perfect light for your home office? A new chair or coffee table? You might try making it yourself, at home, with just the click of a button.

Three-dimensional printing, a novelty once reserved for science fiction, is going mainstream thanks to cheaper, more accessible technology.

The printers, which now cost as little as $300, use lasers to blast out layer upon layer of plastics or other materials, forming 3-D objects.

And if you don’t have the time, money or inclination to invest in a 3-D printer of your own, there are hundreds of websites selling lights, coasters, sculptures, furniture and even wallpaper crafted by 3-D printers.

New York-based Shapeways, for example, allows users to make, buy or sell three-dimensional designs. Products include a delicate, twig-like egg cup for $8 and a lamp that looks like a nuclear mushroom cloud for $1,389.

“We are consistently amazed by the incredible uses our customers find for these materials,” says Alex English, owner of the 3-D printing plastics retailer ProtoParadigm.

Just some of the decor items you can buy or build with 3-D printing:

LIGHTING. Among the most popular – and dramatic – 3-D products for the home are lights, whether ceiling pendants, table lamps or floor lamps.

Belgium’s .MGX by Materialise, a pioneer in 3-D printing, is known for museum-quality, futuristic designs. Among the most popular is the Bloom table lamp (about $2,600), a flower-bud inspired design with joints that you can expand or collapse to release or contain light, says marketing manager Katrien Vandenplas.

Shapeways offers dozens of lamps created by some of the site’s more than 11,000 “shop owners,” or designers. The honeycomb-inspired Veroni lampshade, for instance, costs as little as $15 and comes in a variety of colors and materials ranging from the standard plastic to raw metal and steel.

WALL HANGINGS. Statement pieces for your walls run the gamut in the 3-D printing world.

Shapeways’ ethereal “Whales” ($48) lends modern sophistication with its airy rendition of two swimming whales crafted from white plastic. Florida-based Proton 3D Studio offers a little kitsch with a Pop Art-like plastic Pi symbol ($21) and the word “geek” crafted in orange plastic script lettering ($24).

Sweden’s Kredema Design has one of the more “off the wall” home-decor products: a three-dimensional wallpaper that rolls out away from the wall to form shelves, magazine holders and even lampshades.

ACCESSORIES. From picture frames to vases and even planters, you can design or find just about anything home-related using 3-D printing technology.

Shapeways recently added glazed ceramic to its list of materials, making it possible to craft personalized plates, mugs, salt and pepper shakers, and other items for the table.

Blogger and tech consultant Michael Sitver designed some personalized coasters in about 90 minutes using a 3-D CAD software called Autodesk Inventor. He printed them up at Shapeways’ website.

“This is a great project for beginners,” says Sitver, “because designing it doesn’t take too much work, but it helps beginners get acquainted with the tools involved and the process.”

He calls his new coasters a “wonderful conversation piece.”

FURNITURE. It might sound like a tall order, but it’s possible to craft tables, chairs and other furnishings with 3-D printers as well.

They’re not cheap though, at least not yet.

A day bed crafted from white nylon plastic will run you nearly $20,000 on Shapeways, while .MGX by Materialise offers several chairs, stools and tables that look more like works of art than something to sit on. They also run into the thousands.

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