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Making the Makerbot, A DIY 3-D Printer

• John B. Carnett
It sounds like the promise of an ad in the back of a PopSci issue from the 1950s. Build your own replicating machine! Make anything you desire in your own garage! But that’s exactly what veteran hacker Bre Pettis and his pals offer with their CupCake CNC kit: a computer-controlled 3-D printer that can whip up almost any object of less than four inches on a side from two kinds of plastic. The company’s goal is to make home manufacturing cheap and common. And the whole setup is open-source, so anybody can modify and improve the design, or even copy it wholesale.
MakerBot’s Web site says the project should take two people a weekend. That much was true; nothing about the process was too complicated, and the instructions on the site’s wiki pages were good enough. Only after finishing did we realize that we had no idea what came next. How do you get it to actually, you know, print?

It turns out that the trickiest part of making a 3-D printer kit is the software coding that tells it what to do. After several e-mail exchanges with Pettis, we finally got the beast moving. Unfortunately, our first effort looked more like modern art than the pulley we were going for. The machine is not impossible to master, though. is full of examples of amazing printed objects, and a sister site,, hosts thousands of shared 3-D models that you can just download and plug in, once you get a handle on the software.

Build A 3-D Printer

Time: 3 Days Cost: $950 Easy: 3/5

EXTRUDER CONTROLLER: The top is the controller board. The bottom—the orange head—is the part that gets very hot. Solid plastic enters the top and moves into a heated head that melts it. The movement of this part in three dimensions, and the start and stop of the flow through the head, determine the final shape of the printed object.

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Justen Robertson
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There are several models of DIY 3d printers around. The grandaddy is the reprap; CupCake and several others build and specialize the original design. The expensive parts cost around $350-400; the rest is printable on the machine itself for dirt cheap, if you can find someone to do it for you or you already own your first. Typically you can, for a price, and that's where the other $300 or so comes from.

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