This is the route many artists take.
"It's a low-overhead way to run a business," says Colleen Jordan of Atlanta, who makes 3-D-printed jewelry that she sells online at the Etsy.com store Wearable Planter, and through Fab.com.
Jordan, 25, who has a degree in industrial design, designs a 3-D model in software such as SolidWorks or Rhino, then uploads the file to a printing service, often Shapeways. She warns that modeling software takes time and patience to learn, but otherwise the process is simple. She receives her finished pieces from the printer in a few weeks.
Jordan couldn't create her jewelry by traditional means, which involve tens of thousands of dollars to create molds and other manufacturing startup costs.
"I spent $25,000 on printing last year," she says. "If I were to put that into just making molds, I'd only have 30 products before shipping."
Instead, she prints her jewelry, diminutive planters that can hold tiny plant sprigs, only as needed.
Other artists echoed the cost savings of 3-D printing on demand, and say the medium will create opportunities for young designers and inventors.
Jessica Rosenkrantz, co-founder and co-designer at Nervous System in Somerville, Mass., prints art, jewelry and housewares in sterling silver, stainless steel and nylon plastic at Shapeways.
"It's the most affordable way to do it other than printing it yourself," says Rosenkrantz, 30, noting that a desktop printer couldn't manage her products' intricate designs.
Desktop 3-D printers are good for messing around with and printing prototypes, says Jordan.
"It's more of a toy than a tool. It's a cool toy," says Jordan about her Makerbot 3-D printer. "It's kind of cool to have around."
Denmead sees 3-D printers changing the way artists create, hobbyists build and homeowners tinker.
"We're not going to need to send away for spare or replacement parts anymore," says Denmead. "We're going to be able to download a file from a company and fix the piece at home."
Sarafan likewise predicts that users won't need to understand 3-D design software to play in the medium, and they'll be able to use apps to print from phones.
"It's stuff like that that is going to revolutionize the way people think of this technology," says Sarafan.
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