You won't believe these things were 3D-printed

Industrial 3D printers are good for much more than making plastic toys and spare parts.

You made what with a 3D printer?

When I hear “3D printing,” my mind always jumps to TechHive’s 3D printing lab, where we’re constantly cranking out toys, gadget accessories, and spare parts for other equipment—all using either PLA or ABS plastic filament. But industrial 3D printers can create objects out of all sorts of materials, including steel, other metals, nylon, sugar, paper, and even stem cells. (Stem cells!)

3D printing has yielded groundbreaking medical developments, awe-inspiring art pieces, futuristic automobiles, and more—much more than the plastic trinkets that people usually associate with this technology. Here, we’ll highlight an array of 3D-printed innovations that are sure to surprise you. Did that really come from a 3D printer?

Sheila Munro's dragon claw bracelet

Shapeways is a treasure-trove of cool 3D printed items, as their printers work with a wide range of materials besides PLA plastic filament. This dragon-claw bracelet isn’t plastic painted with a shiny finish: It’s metal, and you can order it in silver, gold, bronze, brass, or stainless steel.

Fasotec model fetus

Okay, this is a little on the strange side. Expectant mothers can ask for a 3D printed, scaled-down model of their unborn child. Fasotec and Hiroo Ladies Clinic in Japan offers this service, which they call “Shape of an Angel.” First, they make a digital model of the mother’s torso based on CT or MRI scans. Then they print that model, using a technique called Bio-Texture, which prints with two resins simultaneously. Afterward, mothers are presented with a model of their child-to-be encased inside a crystal-clear replica of their abdomen.

Sugar cake toppers

Edible 3D printed snacks are popping up all over the place (hey food trucks, you'd better get on that), but this sugar sculpture is by far the prettiest. The Sugar Lab uses a printer that extrudes sugar to create yummy toppers for cakes.

Open3DPrinted DSLR camera

Clearly, 3D printing can be used for more than art and toys. The Open3DPrinted Camera is a working single-lens reflex camera, and with some help from a custom mount ring, it can work with any SLR lens you might have. It doesn't require any special materials: It was printed in about 15 hours with ABS plastic. What makes this camera special is that its files are publicly available through Thingiverse, thanks to its creator, Instructables member Bozardeux.

Gothic art replicas

From far away, this room looks like part of a Gothic sculpture, but computer-rendering algorithms created these medieval-inspired forms. Spearheaded by designers Benjamin Dillenburger and Michael Hansmeyer, the Digital Grotesque project is the world’s first 3D-printed room. Its designers used a process that repeats shapes into complex and bizarre patterns, and a 3D printer fabricated each piece from sandstone. The artists also gilded the large (3.2 meters high, with a floor area of 16 square meters) room in gold-colored paint.

Engagement ring

The diamond on this engagement ring wasn’t printed, but the band design is a custom print job—and you can fit your own gems into its setting. The ring starts with a plastic base, which is then frosted with a metal coating of silver or gold. Though plastic may not scream "You are precious to me," the customization options enable you to create a unique design.

Park bench

Oakland, California, is home to Emerging Objects, an art studio dedicated to cutting-edge arts and crafts. This bench, called the Slug Seat, is a hollow structure composed of 230 individual 3D-printed concrete slabs fastened together with nuts and bolts. It wouldn’t look out of place at a San Francisco parklet.


Meet Urbee, a two-seat car with three-wheels that happens to have a 3D printed body. The Urbee team used traditional CAD software to design the car and then broke it down into 20 components that were later pieced together. Under its colored shell is ABS plastic—a common filament that many at-home 3D printers use. After printing the parts, the makers sanded, primed, and painted the exterior, and gave it a gel coating for a glossy, new-car finish. Though small, this car packs a punch: It's a hybrid that runs on electricity from a rechargeable battery and on bio-fuel.

Stem cells

Perhaps the most impressive and interesting forms of 3D printing are those occurring the medical field. A research team at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, built a 3D-printer that emits live embryonic human stem cells gently enough that the cells remain intact. The printer itself is a modified computer-controlled machining tool that releases droplets of cells that are uniform in size. The cells then clump together and begin replicating, and (because they're stem cells) they have the potential to develop into any type of cell in the human body. The goal is to print entire organs for transplants, eliminating the need for human donors.

Replica dinosaur bones

Is Jurassic Park finally a reality? Not quite, but a team at Drexel University in Philadelphia have printed replica dinosaur bones to get a sense of how dinosaurs moved through simulation. They take scans of actual fossils, create 3D printed mockups, and then combine them with robotics to study movement. Eventually, the team will have a functioning dinosaur limb.

Medical prosthetics

Eric Moger’s story is amazing. Four years ago, Moger had a tennis ball–size tumor surgically removed from his cheek, leaving a gaping hole in the left side of his face. But 3D printing helped repair the damage: His new prosthetic was printed out of nylon plastic. Dr. Andrew Dawood, a Sydney, Australia–based implant specialist, used CT and facial scanning to map what Moger’s face should look like, and then used a 3D printer to create a perfectly fitted facial prosthetic.

Before the prosthetic, Moger had to eat and drink through tubes that led directly to his stomach. Now, because the piece fits so well, he can drink normally without any leaks. Dr. Dawood’s next step is to attempt silicone printing for even more lifelike results.


This sailplane is a hobbyist's dream: It self-stabilizes, operates by remote control, and lands by itself. Though it does require a traditionally built motor, its body is entirely composed of 3D printed pieces, and its light weight helps make it fast and maneuverable. You can print this item at home using standard ABS or PLA plastic filament.

Acoustic guitar

Scott Summit’s acoustic guitar is not your average Gibson. He designed and printed the instrument on a 3D Systems SinsterStation Pro printer designed for big projects, using a combination of stainless steel and sterling silver. His company, Bespoke Innovations, makes custom-fitted guitars for customers who don’t require exotic woods. Plus, the designs can incorporate intricate details for beautifully finished products.

Artwork for your living room

Another design available for purchase through Shapeways is this jellyfish lampshade. Though the material used for the shade resembles translucent cloth, it’s actually flexible nylon plastic, and will fit over most standard lamp bases (the one shown here is from Ikea).

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors