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Until recently, 3D printers were used mostly in specialty applications by businesses and manufacturers or as toys by the wealthy. Today, however, they've become affordable enough to tempt many consumers. Still think they seem frivolous? Here's a look at 19 inexpensive and functional things you can make with a 3D printer instead of having to buy them. (The cost of production varies depending on the printer, software, and materials.)
BOOMERANG BOTTLE OPENER
Designed for a material like PLA, a plastic commonly used in 3D printing, this bottle opener design won first prize at a 3D print exhibition in Rome. The boomerang version features a one-piece design, while the single-arm version consists of two parts.
HUMAN PORTAL BOOKENDS
Keep your in-home library from tumbling with bookends, which are printed as individual pieces and then snapped and glued together. The end result makes it look like an animated man is teleporting through your books. The design was created with Google Sketchbook, and you can use painting portals to create custom colors. Scale up the 12-centimeter design for bigger, heavier hardcovers.
This design allows 3D printer users to turn Mason jars -- or any jars -- into mugs by adding a handle. The idea comes from Pittsburgh's Project RE, which looks for ways to upcycle objects that would otherwise end up in landfills.
Struggling with chopsticks? Practice or just cheat with a hinge unifier that turns two chopsticks into one utensil. Users have achieved good results with PLA.
Do you have a perfectly good bag that's been rendered inoperable by a zipper pull that broke off? Instead of buying a new bag, print a replacement zipper pull. It's composed of two pieces: a clip that's threaded through the zipper and a pull tab that locks in place.
LABELED DRAWER HANDLE
Replace drawer knobs with printed handles that accommodate labels to see at a glance what's inside. This print can be a bit difficult, the designer warns. The trick is to print slowly.
Extend the reach of your faucet with an attachable waterslide, which projects water farther toward the front of the sink. Children will appreciate this print (and perhaps be more likely to wash their hands).
A relaxing massage is one easy print away with this project. It comprises two rollers with different raised massaging elements, two handles, and a flat roller. The design also calls for screws and nuts to attach the rollers to the handles.
TOOTHPASTE TUBE SQUEEZER
Squeeze every last drop out of that tube of toothpaste with a printable, rollable squeezer. It prints in three parts, and the latest version incorporates a lock to keep the tube from unrolling again.
Secure loose cords -- and anything else that needs securing -- with printed zip ties. Although you can get away with PLA, you'll likely do better with a more malleable material like ABS.
SODA CAN HOLDER
Organize your fridge with a soda can holder that accommodates 10 drinks. It's made up of 14 pieces, which are printed individually and assembled afterward. Stiff PLA has proved to work well, but more flexible ABS also may be a suitable material.
3D MEASURING CUPS
Printing measuring cups saves money you would have spent buying them at the store, and these are not your average measuring cups. They feature "floating" 3D stencils that rise from the bottom of the cup, letting you see the measurement even after the cup is filled. There are designs for five different sizes: 1 cup, three-quarters cup, half cup, third cup, and quarter cup.
With a printed soap holder, you won't have to buy one at the store, and you may do less cleaning. The washable, detachable design prevents soap from gumming up the ledge of the tub or the edge of the sink and creating a mess.
Put the squeeze on citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits with a printed juicer. There are two designs: a solid version and a hollow one with internal ribs. Keep in mind that the default settings are probably too large for all but the biggest grapefruits, so be sure to adjust as needed.