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What 3-D Printing Could Mean for Small Businesses

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This story appears in the February 2013 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
In formation: The olloclip lens and Shapeways products.
In formation: The olloclip lens and Shapeways products.
Photo© Ben Alsop

A ball. A cup. A gear. Even an electric car. 3-D printers can't print money, but they can produce prototypes for almost anything else. And as prices for the desktop devices drop, entrepreneurs are seeing them kick out something more: tangible business results.

, also known as additive , uses born of paper printing. But rather than outputting two-dimensional renderings, it makes actual physical objects. There are a few methods. Fused deposition modeling printers push heated material through a tube (much like inkjets), "printing" objects in three dimensions, one layer at a time. Selective laser sintering (SLS) units, meanwhile, operate like laser printers, shining a high-powered beam of light onto a bed of powdered resin, turning it into a hardened material. And stereolithography works similarly to SLS, but with liquid resin.

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