March 8, 2013 at 6:23 PM ET
It's easier than ever to print objects using 3-D printers like the MakerBot Replicator, but you need to be handy with digital modeling if you want to tell it what to print. The company's new Digitizer saves you that trouble, scanning objects in 3-D and producing a printable file. Link a Digitizer and a Replicator, and you get, essentially, a photocopier of solid objects.
The Digitizer was revealed Friday at the SXSW tech and music festival, with MakerBot founder Bre Pettis showing the device on stage.
It's compact and elegantly designed, so slight you can barely see it in the picture below. With a wood structure and a few bits of exposed electronics, it resembles a steampunk turntable. The object to be scanned is placed on a rotating plate, and the laser-based scanning apparatus peers at it from one side as it spins slowly around.
The whole process takes about three minutes, and the device can accommodate objects up to about 8 inches wide and tall. So a coffee mug or fork is doable, but not a bike or chair ... yet. The design could easily be made larger, but for a desktop machine is practical.
How you print the resulting file is up to you, but with existing desktop printing machines, a plastic duplicate of the scanned object could be ready to use in less than an hour. Alternatively, you could upload it to a printing service like Shapeways and have a metal one shipped to you in a few days.
There's no information yet on when the Digitizer will be available or how much it will cost, but anyone interested can sign up to receive updates here.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.