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What 3-D Printing Could Mean for Small Businesses How the additive manufacturing trend could help you grow your business.

By John Patrick Pullen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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.

3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, uses technology 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.