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With HP Designjet 3D printer, designers and engineers can prototype from their desks

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Hewlett-Packard has revealed its first-ever three-dimensional printers, which allow users and businesses to craft solid plastic models from a desktop computer.

Hewlett-Packard on Monday announced that it was shipping its first-ever three-dimensional printers in a partnership with additive fabrication system maker Stratasys.

Stratasys and HP co-developed the printers, which allow users or businesses to manufacture solid plastic prototype models using 3D computer aided design drawings from a desktop computer.

HP said its Designjet 3D printers are now available in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K.

Who would want such a printer? Product designers, engineers and architects who design with CAD and use 3D printers to check the form, fit and function of their designs before pushing them to the production line.

The HP-branded 3D printers use what is called fused deposition modeling, or FDM, technology, which creates three-dimensional plastic models directly from a CAD file.

According to Stratasys, the process -- called "additive fabrication" or "additive manufacturing" -- involves extruding semi-molten plastic in thin layers to "grow" the part, layer by layer.

Three-dimensional printing technology is hardly new, but the passing of time has allowed for steep declines in price and improvements in reliability.

For example, Stratasys' first Dimension 3D printer in 2002 cost about $30,000; now the devices are $15,000 and can fit on a user's desk. That convenience can help save time and money on product development.

The HP Designjet 3D printer will retail for €13,000, or approximately $17,500 USD. There are two models: Designjet 3D will print in ivory-colored ABS plastic; Designjet Color 3D will print single-color parts in up to eight different colors.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure