In recent years, 3D printing has been used to improve and even save lives around the world. It’s also been used to create some truly fascinating, though totally impractical products. The technology is just so versatile, and it’s amazing to see how designers and innovators in different industries are using it to change the world, whether they’re replacing limbs or just dropping jaws. Here are a few of our favorites from both sides of the coin:


  1. A Replacement Human Skull:  Hands down, some of the coolest 3d printing feats have occurred in the realm of medical science. Last year, 3D printing was used to replicate a whole human skull in order to relieve a Dutch woman from pain and vision loss associated with a rare condition that caused her enlarged skull to press against her brain. Now with a plastic 3D printed cranium, her vision has returned and her symptoms are no more. Go science.


  1. A redesigned brace for scoliosis:  It’s no secret that scoliosis, which affects an estimated 2-3 percent of the population, can make daily life very difficult for many people, starting at childhood. To our delight, 3D systems, headquartered in Rock Hill, South Carolina, has been working on a sleeker, more comfortable back brace called Bespoke, which young adults and children are actually excited to wear.


  1. Prosthetics for animals:  There’s just something about helping our animal friends that has made even the most technophobic humans smile about 3D printing. Naturally, the numerous efforts to save the lives and lift the spirits of animals with 3D printed prosthetics make our list of favorites. From stories of Derby the dog who can finally run thanks to prosthetic front legs, to a penguin with a new beak at the Warsaw Zoo, we can’t help but feel warm and fuzzy.


  1. Mind-blowing fashion design:  Many fashion designers have begun to shock and inspire the world by creating collections either partially or entirely from 3D printed materials. From Iris Van Herpen to Noa Raviv, one of our very favorites, designers are letting their imaginations run wild and taking new risks to explore the possibilities of 3D printing with clothing. Whether you’d ever see someone wearing some of these extravagant designs in public is a different story, but we’re just excited to see people having fun with it. Considering that 3D printed scoliosis braces exist, we can only imagine how else 3D printing technology will bring brilliant function into the wearable world.


  1.  Working 3D printed cars:  There’s no way we could leave the first working 3D printed car off the list. This electric car, called the Strati, took 44 hours to assemble, drives up to 40 miles per hour, and can travel more than 120 miles on a single charge. Quite impressively, the Strati has only 49 printed parts, while traditional cars typically have 5,000 to 6,000 parts. 

Another noteworthy project came from the National Transportation Research Center at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which created a 3D-printed Shelby Cobra on a six-week timeline to be presented at the Detroit Auto Show. It takes an incredible amount of energy to manufacture a car, and using additive manufacturing is one of the most efficient ways to accomplish the task. The lab’s goal was to make the car look sleek and beautiful like an original cobra, experimenting with surface finish, energy absorption, and manufacturing speed. The result is glorious. 

Will cars be 3D printed in the future? We wouldn’t bet on large-scale 3D printed auto production any time soon, but considering the energy efficiency of 3D printing over traditional manufacturing methods, there’s certainly reason to continue innovating.


We hope these innovations from the last year or so have inspired you. So what do you think? What have been some of your favorite 3D printing feats? Let us know in the comments below!