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Kids make own toys using 3-D printing


New technology merges fun, tech



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Darby, 11, and Avery, 8, Blanton explain how their 3-D printer works. Set up with a computer, it prints objects designed by the kids. JONATHAN COPSEY. (click for larger version)

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Darby and Avery Blanton, of Alpharetta, show off the many toys they made with their 3-D printer. Puzzles, an iPhone charger, jewelry and a castle are only some of the possible creations they can make. JONATHAN COPSEY. (click for larger version)

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The small machine prints layer by layer using plastic to create an object. JONATHAN COPSEY. (click for larger version)
March 27, 2013
ALPHARETTA, Ga. Many families spend time together at the park, playing games or watching TV. For the Blanton family of Alpharetta, they chose to spend time together by building a three-dimensional printer.

"We wanted the whole experience for the whole family to build something," said Amie Blanton. "We didn't want something to just plug and play. We wanted it to be an experience."

And what an experience it is. Amie's two children, Darby, 11, and Avery, 8, have created dozens of toys and jewelry themselves using the cutting-edge technology.

Three-dimensional printing is a new technology and has become something of a fad. Much like traditional printing, the user creates a design on a computer and sends it to the printer. However, while an old printer will print out a piece of paper, a 3-D printer will create an object.

The printer uses a plastic filament it melts and squirts onto a flat printing surface. The printer head moves about laying layer upon layer of plastic to create a model.

The Blantons have created jewelry, toys, models, Minecraft characters and other odds and ends. Some designs they found online; others they created by themselves, using an online CAD program.

The kids can sit at their computer and create from nothing a 3-D rendering of what they want to make. Then they hit the "print" button.

It can be a time-intensive process. A small item might take 15 minutes. A larger one will take several hours.

But the wait is worth it. Darby and Avery have shown their friends what they made.

"They don't believe it," said Avery. "They think we bought it in the store."

Darby agreed, but her friends quickly changed their tune after explaining how she made her home-printed jewelry and toys.

"Some girls are taking orders of what they want me to build," she said.

Darby has made several pairs of earrings, which she wants to continue making. Avery, a Star Wars fan, has made a plastic "Yoda" bust as well as a large four-spire castle.

Three-dimensional printing enthusiasts have begun using the process in all manner of things from models and toys to dresses and cars and weapons. Even the Blantons have started using their printer to print improvement parts for itself to make it perform better.

"It's such a fun, cool project to do with the kids," said Darby and Avery's father, Doug. "I can only imagine how jobs will change when Avery has a job."

Darby has created a blog about putting together the printer and has followed each of their creations. To read about the Blantons' printing trials and tribulations, visit 3dmodelminds.com.

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