3D printers are all the rage these days, and it's all I can do to keep myself from picking one up. The trouble is, for most of the design work I typically do, I think I'd just be creating a headache for myself if I did.
I spend a great deal of time prototyping boardgames. One of the things I've learned over the years is that you can't get too invested in the visual design of your prototypes early on or you'll be afraid to iterate on the interaction, for fear of losing your investment. And since I spend the vast majority of my time on the interaction—that's a dangerous proposition. I fear that if I picked up one of these magical devices, I would spend all my time fine-tuning their appearance in 3D software rather than determining if the bits are needed at all.
Instead, I've come to love craft foam—the stuff you can pick up at craft stores like Michael's. While it's often pre-cut into horrible holiday craft kits, you can also get it in simple rectangles with a layer of wicked-strong, pre-applied adhesive. Craft foam is light (which makes it cheap to mail), cuts like butter with a sharp x-acto knife, drills easily, and comes in a thickness that is both easy and pleasant to pick up off the table. If you've ever suffered the frustration of trying to pick up thin card stock components, you know how important this can be.
But best of all, you can layer it up to just about any thickness you desire, to make cheap, crude, disposable game components. I used craft foam extensively for the pegboards in Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age, the treatment center in Pandemic: The Cure, the tiles Forbidden Island, the sand in Forbidden Desert, and all the vehicles in Thunderbirds.
So, hooray for craft foam! Try it out in your next prototyping project.
Build your own models! Here's the Thunderbirds vehicle kit (PDF) I created and sent to the modelers for scale. (Colors specified my vary from the final product.)