Your Art Room Needs a 3D Printer

My 3d printer in my workspace
Do you have a 3d printer in your art room? I’m beginning to think this is a must-have tool for the contemporary K12 art educator. I know a few of you are thinking, “What the what?! I don’t even have a kiln. I can’t afford clay! And, now I’m expected to have a 3d printer?! Stop.”
Yeah. I’m telling you – you need a 3d printer. Yes, you the elementary art teacher, you the middle school art teacher, and you the high school art teacher; y’all all need 3d printers.
3d printing is changing the landscape of our world. People can print 3d casts for broken bones in lieu of plaster casts. Where once you went weeks without a good shower in order to wear a plaster cast, you go about your life pretty much as usual with a 3d cast. Recently, a college student made his own braces to straighten his teeth (and they worked!). Kids in need of artificial limbs can upload images and measurements of their limbs, and people all over the world are designing and shipping 3d printed limbs to them. Designers, makers, and tinkers the world over are 3d fabricating tools to use in artworks, mechanics, and innovations. Our students are growing up in this landscape. I imagine when they are older, they won’t need to run to the store to buy that one screw that is 4mm in diameter; they’ll just print it.
Why would we leave the only exposure and/or education students have regarding 3d printing to television, home life, or that one cool science class? Why would we miss the opportunity to show students how creativity can take fundamental 3d printing to unbelievable heights?  
Up until now there have two major arguments against the inclusion of 3d printing into art classrooms:
1)      The cost of printers, materials, and software
2)      Educator lack of experience (that often manifests as fear)
3D Printers Can be Inexpensive
The cost of 3d printers and filament (the material used to actually print) has gone down drastically in recent years. A few months ago I purchased my first 3d printer. After some research, I bought a Monoprice Mini for $220 on Amazon. The Monoprice Mini has a build plate that is only 130 mm long, wide, and tall (roughly about five inches). The dimensions of the build plate means you won’t be building any huge structures on the Monoprice Mini, but you can still build all sorts of cool stuff. It is a tiny little workhorse; the whole printer is about 10 in wide by 12 in tall. After telling people of the low cost of the Monoprice Mini the next question is, “Yeah, but how much does the print material cost? I bet that goes fast!” Well, I bought one spool of PLA filament to use with the Monoprice Mini for $20. Since you’re unable to build large projects on the Monoprice Mini, you keep designs small and the filament goes a very long way.  So, major argument against 3D printing is moot: You can begin 3D printing in your classroom for about $250.
Monoprice Mini
But, Like, HOW does it work?
I love using a glue gun; they’re easy and work efficiently. 3d printers are basically a sophisticated glue gun. A plastic-feeling filament is fed into a tube that touches the “hot bed” where there is a needle extruder (like the tip of your glue gun). As the hot bed heats the extruder, the filament melts and extrudes out. The 3d printer tells the hot bed to move in a specific pattern while extruding filament; that’s how you get your 3d print. Totally like a fancy glue gun. 
3D Printing Is Not Hard; Don’t be Afraid
I ordered my 3D printer, it arrived, I was excited . . . And, I let it sit in the box for a few days because I was scared. I had no experience with 3D printers. What if I broke it? I had no idea how the machine worked. I let the fear get the best of me. Then, I realized that surely many other people have had the same experience. And maybe, they’d had the same experience with the same printer. I went to YouTube and typed in “Monoprice Mini” and there they were: HUNDREDS of videos of people talking about how to use, repair, and do all sorts of cool things with the same exact printer as me. I read the directions on how to set up the Monoprice Mini (they are great directions), but I’m a visual learner and not everything immediately made since in text form. I found a YouTube video of someone “unboxing” (opening for the first time) their Monoprice Mini. I watched the video, took notes, and then played –and stopped as needed- the video as I unboxed my printer. It worked! I set up my printer. I felt confident, so I followed the steps in the directions to make a test print. It worked! After that, I realized that using a 3d printer is just like tackling any new media: It’s always a little intimidating at first. Then, you realize you just have to play a little and things will start to make sense.
Printing away!
When exploring 3d printing for the first time Google is your friend. Anytime I encountered language or abbreviations I didn’t understand, I asked Google. It seems obvious, but I see a lot of people asking questions (about all manner of stuff) on Facebook and Instagram that Google could quickly answer. There are so many tutorials, tips, tricks, and ideas out there; people are eager to share. I also found a few people online to be extremely helpful and inspirational. Christopher Sweeney is literally taking 3d printing in education to new heights, Shana Gutterman has a nuanced and brilliant approach to 3d printing with very young students, and Alice Gentili integrates classroom 3D printing in interesting and very rigorous manners.
My first print: a keychain
But, What About Software?
Every piece of software I have used to design and 3d print has been free! It has also been web-based, meaning I don’t need to download anything to my computer. The most direct and simple way to start designing in 3d is to use Tinkercad. Again, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of video tutorials to get you started. Honestly, the program is very straightforward and intuitive. I love it. 
And, now? Well, I find myself 3d printing anything and everything. Some of it is for practice, and a lot of it is for fun. Remember when you buy a new drill and suddenly everything in your house needs a hole? Well, I have a new toy, and I need to make a lot of stuff with it.
I can’t wait to share ideas and lessons with you.
Do you have a 3d printer? What sort of fun are getting into?