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‘Tis the season for tech: 3D printers should be avoided this holiday season

A worker assembles a 3D printer in a factory in Qingdao in eastern China's Shandong province, Tuesday Sept. 1, 2015. (Chinatopix Via AP)

PHOENIX — A 3D printer might be a good gift for Christmas, if you are willing to learn how it works.

Some printers cost about $500, cheaper than commercial 3D printers which can run up in the thousands of dollars. But there can be a learning curve.

“This is not something that I’d recommend some casual person that just thinks it’d be fun to have a 3D printer get themselves into,” said Ken Colburn with Data Doctors. “The likelihood of it just sitting in the corner shortly thereafter is very high.”

These printers heat up plastic and mold it into a three-dimensional item. Colburn said the devices are more commercially-focused than targeted to consumers, though 3D printer manufacturers made an aggressive pitch to consumers last holiday season. But he said it’s not a plug-and-play device.

“The printer is the outcome of a whole lot of other things that you have to be able to do in order to actually take advantage of it,” Colburn said.

He said there is a needed commitment on the software side in using 3D modeling programs. But those willing to learn the ins and outs can create plastic toys, gadgets and 3D models.

“As long as you can get the drawing for it, the 3D model for it in the computer, then you can output it on this device,” Colburn said.

Until it becomes easier for consumers to use 3D printers, Colburn does not see them becoming a widely-used device.

If you’re determined to get someone special a tech device, check out the suggested ideas in the interactive from the Associated Press below.

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