Science fiction fans will remember watching episodes of Star Trek and being amazed that in the fictionalized future computers will have the ability to create various objects upon request. Well, the truth is fiction is not that far removed from fact. With the thirty-year-old technology known as 3-D printing, engineers have been able to manufacture everything from automobiles to prosthetic limbs and even firearms.

The real world application of 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has revolutionized the fields of architecture, construction, medicine, and industrial design, and now the digital-to-practical creative process is changing the art world as well.

A few weeks ago at the South By Southwest Festival 2013 in Austin, Texas, 3-D printing company Makerbot presented its 3-D scanner. The scanner has the ability to capture an image using a laser light and a camera and then a 3-D printer can produce a plastic replica up to 8 by 8 inches. The real kicker? The 3-D scanner (due out this fall) is expected to be reasonably priced like Makerbot’s $2,199 “Replicator 2” 3-D printer.

This means the same way that low cost of digital cameras opened up the art of photography to vast number of potential photographers, 3-D printing may give sculpting and jewelry making a wider appeal as well.

3-D printers are already being integrated into many middle schools, high schools, and colleges as young designers and artisans are learning how to take the abstract ideas in their heads and transform them into physical objects that previously would have been to complex to create with traditional mediums like clay, wood, wax, and stone.

At the moment there are still advantages to using the long-standing models. For one, 3-D printing limits the artists to only create using plastic, and it requires an understanding of computer programming as well as design.

As the technology continues to advance it may not be long before these obstacles may no longer hinder all artists from the freedom to produce works that previously were considered figments of the imagination.

Check out video of Co-founder and CEO of Digital Forming, Lisa Harouni, discussing 3-D printing at the TED Conference in 2011:

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