Out of pure interest for the technology and because 3D Printing has obvious applications to the RC enthusiast, I decided to buy an Ultimaker 2 3D printer.
The first 3D printer was created in the early 1980s at 3D Systems a company that - not surprisingly - became a big player in the field.
The most common 3D printing technology available on "desktop printer" is Fused Deposition Modeling: some thermoplastic (usually PLA or ABS but there's also Nylon, wood-polymer hybrids ...) is heated up to its melting temperature and then applied in layers through a precise nozzle. The nozzle moves around to add material in successive layers to built the part.
The theory is straightforward but it took another twenty years to make printers cheaper.
The RepRap project was started in 2005 and aims at creating a cheap, open, self-replicating printer design. It gained a lot of interest and tens of printer designs are based on various iterations of RepRap printers.
Cheap and easy-to-use micro-controllers (Arduinos, among others) meant that people with relatively limited elecronics skills could get things moving with little time.
Micro-controllers and self-contained control boards meant that most "analogic" issues were minimized and the meat of the job was now in the software.
I first looked at RepRap printer kits. Kits can be had for around 600-700 EUR.
I eventualy decided to go for a ready-to-use printer as I couldn't/didn't want to spend too much building and setting up the printer. I also wanted a somewhat decent look instead of a wire salad.
I decided to buy an Ultimaker 2 as Ultimaker is a reputable name in home 3D printing. Both their software and hardware are open-source and their's an active community willing to improve the printers and help noobs like me.
In a few months (end 2014) a dual-extrusion upgrade should be available for the UM2. Dual-extrusion allows you to use two different materials on the same print. You could print two differents colors. Much more interesting to me is using some soluble material for support structures which would let you build advanced geometries with less effort and finishing work.