By Tim Drummond, special to wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Jay Leno uses one to manufacture parts for his more than 200 cars and motorcycles.
NASA even hopes they can someday be used to create food to fuel astronauts on the long flight to Mars.
But it could still be years before 3-D printers are as practical for everyday households as their two dimensional counterparts.
Until then, D.C. area residents can try the technology at an unlikely place - the local library.
Housed on the first floor, the Digital Commons promises free access to technology including Dell computers, Apple iMacs, tablets, the Adobe Creative Suite and even an on-demand book publisher. But the 3-D printer is the centerpiece of the new facility.
"It's our rock star," says Digital Commons manager Nicholas Kerelchuk. "We are actually getting another 3-D printer soon because of the demand."
The library offers free classes for those interested in learning about the new technology. An introductory class helps novices gain a basic understanding of the printer, while more advanced users can learn software like Google SketchUp in a 3- D Modeling class.
"We've had pretty much any type of user you can think of utilizing that machine," says Kerelchuk.
A free library card allows D.C. area residents to take advantage of everything the Digital Commons has to offer. Printing a new design does cost, but Kerelchuk says most can be printed for less than $5.
The facility offers up to four classes each day, each between 60 and 90 minutes long. In addition to 3-D printing, the library has classes in Adobe Photoshop, website design and Vine, a popular video sharing smartphone app. The Digital Commons also has computer stations for patrons to receive one-on-one computer help from a librarian.
The space also hosts an advanced copier called an Espresso Book Machine, a device that allows users to print their own paperback books in minutes.
"We can do your mother's cookbook, we can do business proposals, we can do art books," says Kerelchuk.
Older works that are in the public domain can also be printed. Although the machine isn't up and running yet, Kerelchuk hopes it will be open to the public within the next few weeks.
One of the most unique features of the Digital Commons is called the Dream Lab, a space for digital startups and entrepreneurs to collaborate and take advantage of the library's resources.
"Being a solo entrepreneur is very lonely," says Prince George's county resident Erica Williams-Simon. "The Dream Lab is a fantastic place to, ideally, collaborate with others and also have access to great resources."
The library provides free space to both nonprofit and for-profit businesses. Interested entrepreneurs need to apply and must provide one hour of approved community programming each month in exchange for the space.
While some of the space is dedicated to these startups, most resources in the Digital Commons are open to the entire community.
"There's still a gap in digital literacy here in this city," says Kerelchuk. "We're just trying to excite people, allow them to have access to technologies that they probably wouldn't have out there in the rest of the consumer market."
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