What do you use your printer for? Probably the same thing most everybody else does – to print documents and photographs. While there are a huge selection of printers to choose from, with all levels of bells and whistles, they will ultimately serve the same purposes.

But not all printers are typical. In previous newsletters, we’ve spoken about 3D and 4D printers. As you’ll see, a number of unusual printers leverage 3D printing technology for highly specified purposes.

Concrete Printer
If there are two things that don’t sound like they go together, it’s concrete and printing. As you might expect, concrete printing has evolved because 3D printing technology has made it possible.

Using a method called contour crafting, the concrete printer outputs precise layers of concrete as it compiles the finished object. Originally used to create concrete panels for construction purposes, in 2017 some manufacturers have begun using concrete printers to “print” entire dwellings.

If you can print a house, then why not a heart? Using 3D inkjet technology, scientists are able to print thousands of cells per second to form a 3-dimensional biological structure. The technology prints layer upon layer of cells, to create a desired biological object, such as a blood vessel. Most bioprinters also output a dissolvable gel to support and protect cells during printing. Today, bioprinters are still in the experimental stage. But they will, someday, be able to “print” life-saving things.

Nanoparticle Ink Printer
To replace the vacuum tool technology that they previously had to rely on, a solar panel manufacturer has created a printer that prints the thin, solar film panels using nanoparticle ink. This highly specialized type of ink contains silver nanoparticles which conduct electricity while remaining flexible and retaining its adhesive properties. The large and very expensive printer can print over 100 feet of solar film per minute.

Glass Printer
That glass you just drank out of might not have been made the way you think it was. Glass printers use ceramic “glass” ink, which contains nanoparticles of quartz glass with a tiny amount of liquid polymer. During the printing process, the object is cured at certain points by ultraviolet light using stereolithography. The portions that have been cured harden while the rest remain liquid, essentially building up the shape of the object one layer at a time. When this step is done, the object is then washed in a solvent bath and heated to form a fully fused and strong structure.

Highly useful to glass manufacturers, it can be used to print both tempered and laminated glass. Multiple colors can be printed simultaneously, saving a tremendous amount of time during the manufacturing process and allowing for almost any design and pattern to be created.

OK, so far the printers we’ve mentioned have all served serious purposes. But not every printer was created to save the world. Some are just downright silly.

Waterfall Printer
If a printer can jet out ink, then why not water? Care to create a waterfall in your office lobby? Well, it’s been done. A number of frustrated inventors have used basic print technology to create rather dramatic water shows.

The printer heads, which are suspended upside down high above a pool, eject the water according to specific preprogramed patterns, creating a falling wall of water that takes on the shape of a flattened object, or even text, as the water falls from the print head to the pool. Often called aqua graphics or digital water curtains, you need to look quick, though, because the “printed” water only retains its shape for a second.

RITI Printer
Ink is expensive. When you consider how much you pay for a small print cartridge of it, it’s actually one of the most expensive liquids on the planet. An artist and designer in Korea has come up with a way to utilize coffee and tea dregs in place of ink.

The is one catch, however. It does not operate on its own. The RITI printer requires a bit of manual operation because not only do users have to fill the cartridge with the dregs of their choice and a bit of water, but they also have to move the cartridge back and forth in order to mimic the cartridge movement of regular printers. While it might not print as fast as, or quality on a par with, an inkjet printer, it is, however, incredibly eco-friendly.

Toaster Printer
If you’re going to use your leftover coffee to print something, why not use your toast, too? As the name implies, toaster printers use heating elements to “print” on toast. The first toaster printers were only capable of burning 12ppi (pixels per inch). Here’s hoping they have since been improved. Nobody should have to tolerate pixelated toast.

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