3D printer? Staples says, 'Yeah, we've got that'

3D printers are taking another step in the long haul toward the mainstream, with a little help from Staples.

On Friday, the office supply retailer began selling the Cube 3D Printer online for $1300, becoming the first major U.S. retailer to sell a 3D printer. Staples says it will offer the printer in “a limited number” of retail stores by the end of June.

Cube 3D Printer

The Cube, made by 3D systems, can create items measuring up to 5.5 inches in any dimension, using ABS and PLA plastic cartridges in 16 colors. Staples will also sell replacement cartridges, stabilizers, and print pads.

Other features include Wi-Fi connectivity, plug-and-play support and 25 free design templates.

This is the second-generation model of 3D Systems’s printer, which is 1.5 times faster than the original model that TechHive checked out in 2012. The Cube has received mixed reviews from sites like Hot Hardware and CNet, which both praised the printer’s ease of use but criticized of customization features for users who like to tinker.

What’s it good for? Staples doesn’t suggest any specifics, but 3D printers have been used to create sculptures, trinkets, and design mockups for other products, such as smartphone cases.

These are still early days for 3D printing, so there’s still plenty of room for improvement. A company called BotObjects, for instance, just announced the first full-color 3D printer. Meanwhile, prices are falling on 3D printers, with models from Solidoodle available for just $500. High-end 3D printers can cost as much as $3000, so the Cube 3D Printer is essentially in the middle of the pack.

Although the availability of a $1300 printer at a major retailer probably won’t turn 3D printing into a mainstream phenomenon, Staples could help make the concept to people if the retailer actually demonstrates 3D printing in its stores. For now, it’s unclear what type of in-store promotion the Cube 3D Printer will get.

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