Human ears and eagle beaks: 10 amazing items created by 3D printers

Items created on 3D printers continue to amaze: bionic arms, prosthetics for animals, musical instruments, self-driving cars and more

3d printers intro

3D-printed items that will amaze you

The first thing printed on a 3D printer was rather boring—an eyewash cup printed by the inventor of 3D printing, Chuck Hull, in 1983. Since then, the process has been used to create prosthetics for humans and animals, unique candy designs, musical instruments and even human tissue, such as ears. As you’ll see, people are continually thinking of new and innovative ways to use 3D printing technology. Here are 10 of the coolest.

1. 3d printers prince urn

The Prince Urn—replica of Paisley Park

Paisley Park was Prince’s escape—where he lived, created, performed and invited many to “come to the park and play with us.” It seems fitting, then, that his final resting place is not only at his private estate but in a replica of the building.

Designed by Foreverence, the 3D-printed ceramic urn is a scale model of the artist’s Chanhassen, Minnesota, residence. It’s 14 inches tall and 18 inches long. The white façade features Prince’s iconic “Love Symbol #2” in purple and is adorned with crystals.

When opened, you see a replica of the atrium that includes a tile floor, ornamental doves, a miniature version of Prince’s Yamaha piano, and even working lights. Prince’s ashes are in a front column that is integrated with the building’s exterior.

The urn sits in the foyer of Paisley Park, which recently opened as a museum.

2. 3d printers guitar


For musicians wanting a custom guitar, 3D printers are a convenient option. Odd Guitars’ instruments are made to order. You tell them the color, material, and hardware you want—and any other customization you might like. 

As founder Olaf Diegel says on the company's website, “One of the things that is great about 3D printing is that it allows quite a range of customization by the user without adding much to the cost of the components.” 

If you prefer, you can order one of the guitars designed by the company, such as the pictured American Graffiti model.

ODD Guitars uses 3D printing technology called Selective Laser Sintering (the sPro 230 SLS system) to build the guitar body. Then the neck, bridge, pickups, tuning heads and controls are added.

According to the company’s website, it builds the guitar bodies “by spreading a thin layer of nylon powder that is then fused in the correct locations for that particular slice of the component. The layer is then dropped down a fraction of a millimeter, and another layer of powder is spread on top of the first, and the process is repeated until the component is built. The typical layer thickness is 0.1mm.”

While it might look like you can’t play these guitars, they are indeed playable.

3. 3d printers lawnmower

Robotic lawnmower

Reprap Windturbine’s 3D-printed robotic lawnmower (ardumower) is like a Roomba for your lawn. It drives within a “boundary wire fence.” If it comes close to this, it stops, turns and it goes on mowing your lawn continuously. 

And you build it yourself. You purchase the files and construction manual for printing the chassis and mechanical parts (a common 3D printer will work), building the electronics, and building the boundary wire fence.

You have to buy the metal cutter blade, electronics, batteries and motors separately. 

The ardumower is driven by two 12V geared motors. The cutting device is made from a 12V DC-motor and a cutter disc with a diameter of 220mm. The power comes from rechargeable 12V NiMH or 11,1V LiPo batteries.

Like most things, it also costs less to make it yourself than to buy a commercial robotic mower. If you have the time and a 3D printer—and a small lawn—you can eliminate lawn cutting from your life.

4. 3d printers exii bionic arm

Bionic arm

If you lose an arm in an accident, a prosthetic replacement could cost between $3,000 and $30,000. With 3D printing, however, a bionic prosthetic could cost only a few hundred dollars.

Exii has created such an arm. The HACKberry is a 3D-printable electric prosthetic arm that has a functioning hand. It has a flexible wrist, partially motorized fingers and inexpensive parts (electronics, sensors, battery) housed in a 3D-printed plastic shell. You control the open-source prosthesis with muscle sensors and smartphone technology

“The hand works by detecting when nerve and muscle tissue is stimulated by signals from the brain and sends that data to an onboard microcontroller to translate into hand and arm movements. The system enables users … to open and close the hand and even control individual fingers,” the creators say. 

The arm is an open-source project. The HACKberry software (Arduino sketch) is available under a CC0 1.0 Universal, and the hardware (3D data, etc.) is available under a Creative Commons License BY-SA 4.0 International.

Currently only prototypes have been created. However, once the founders feel the arm is ready for mass adoption and regulations for medical devices have been met, they envision it being a “platform upon which developers and artificial arm users from all over the world can build as they wish.”

5. 3d printers ear

Ears and human tissue

Replacing body parts has gone a step further with 3D bioprinting. Regenerative medicine scientists at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) have created a 3D bioprinter (Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System) that can produce replacement tissue strong enough to endure transplantation. They have used it to print ear, bone and muscle structures.

The system uses bio-degradable, plastic-like materials to form the tissue shape and water-based gels that contain the cells. A strong, temporary outer structure is formed is also formed. The printing process does not harm the cells.

The system “can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue of any shape. With further development, this technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., director of  WFIRM and senior author on the study.

6. 3d printers eagle beak
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Eagle beak

It isn’t just humans getting assistance in the form of prosthetics. With the help of 3D printers, dogs are getting legs, ducks are getting feet, turtles are getting jaws, horses are getting hooves, and birds such as Beauty the bald eagle are getting beaks. 

In Beauty’s situation, she was shot in the face by a poacher in Alaska in 2005. Her beak was damaged so badly she couldn’t eat on her own. Animal rescue workers found her and nursed her back to health. 

In 2007, raptor specialist Jane Fink Cantwell brought Beauty to her Birds of Prey Northwest ranch in Idaho. She met Nate Calvin, who at the time worked as a mechanical engineer at Kinetic Engineering Group, during one of her presentations, and soon after they—with a team of scientists, engineers and even a dentist—designed a nylon polymer beak that perfectly fit Beauty. Calvin developed the beak using a 3D modeling program and created it using a 3D printer. 

The beak isn’t secure enough to return Beauty to the wild, but now she can eat and drink on her own.

7. 3d printers bike frame

Titanium bike frame

If you know anyone passionate about bicycling, you know just how seriously they take their bikes. Strength, weight and design are critical. Chris Williams, managing director at Empire Cycles, took all of those into consideration when it designed the first metal 3D-printed bicycle frame. 

The 3D-printed titanium bike, MX6-EVO, was built using Renishaw's additive manufacturing technology. It is 33 percent lighter than the original aluminum bike frame, “extremely strong” and corrosion resistant, according to Renishaw. Plus, it is extremely customizable.

“The design freedom afforded by additive manufacturing is immense and inspiring. … Continual improvements can be made easily. Rapid iterations can be made. There’s flexibility to make design improvements right up to production. And as the component cost is based on volume and not complexity, some complex shapes and ultra-light yet super-strong parts are possible at minimal costs,” Empire Cycles writes on its website.

8. 3d printers drone


Using 3D printers, drone owners can create and modify their drones the way they want them—and do it inexpensively. BonaDrone provides that option with its Mosquito drone. Users can customize the 3D-printed Quadcopter and decide which accessories to use. They can purchase the drone assembled, or they can build it themselves. And as new components are created—via 3D printing—you can adapt your drone. You can also suggest components for the company to make.

9. 3d printers candy


3D printing has made its way into the culinary world. Chefs, mixologists and culinary innovators have discovered their power in making unique creations, such as geometric-shaped candy (pictured). The 3D sugar creations are used on their own, as garnishes on cocktails, and as part of intricate cake designs.

Chef Jet, a food printer from 3D Systems, creates “custom edible geometries” from sugar or milk chocolate. The company has collaborated with the Culinary Institute of America, chef Duff Goldman (of Charm City Cakes) and mixologist Matthew Biancaniello.

10. 3d printers wigo car

Self-driving car

In Dubai, there’s a strong effort to move to autonomous vehicles and to adopt 3D printing. The country hopes to have 25 percent of the vehicles self-driving and 25 percent of buildings 3D printed. UAE-based DigiRobotics embraces both technologies with WiGo, its 3D-printed autonomous vehicle. 

The body of the self-driving car was 3D-printed in Dubaiusing a six-axis, large-scale 3D printer (DG3- print), which DigiRobotics develops locally as well. The chassis of the WiGo is metal. It was built using an electric engine, but it can be equipped with solar panels to charge it—to make it more eco-friendly.

The car, which was unveiled at GITEX in Dubai earlier this year, has two pairs of seats, a large screen and four iPads. Passengers use the iPads to determine where they are going, as well as for entertainment.

The WiGo uses long- and short-range ultrasonic sensors and a GPS tracking system, which allows it to recognize and avoid obstacles and allow it to take a different route.

"WiGo uses a Velodyne 360 LiDAR sensor for real-time localization and mapping, as well as a combination of radar and lidar with vision cameras to provide reliable 360 sensing, surrounding awareness and obstacle avoidance in any weather conditions,” said Rafiq Swash, technical director of DigiRobotics Technologies. “WiGo has an embedded visual engine for standard objects and human detection, which allows it to make the most effective decision in navigation and avoiding obstacles."

For now, the vehicle is only a demonstration model.

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors