Skip to main content

Beacon Senior News

Take your crafting to the next level with these affordable tools

Aug 23, 2021 11:12AM ● By Adam Cochran
Cartoon graphic of laptop on desk with tech tool

Affordable tech tools to unleash your creativity

Did you know that Grand Junction, Colorado, is the birthplace of the 3D printer? But what is a 3D printer, and why would anyone use it?

As a kid, my mom worked on all sorts of arts and crafts. Tole painting, quilting, apple head dolls—she upcycled before it was cool. Now, modern crafters use laser engravers, 3D printers, Cricut machines and plasma cutters to beautify their space, make gifts, and even build small businesses.

Today the preferred term is “makers,” or people who thrive on DIY projects. Makers do crafts, object modeling and building using modern technology and materials. Classic tools like glue guns and sewing machines still apply.

The maker trend has been instrumental in changing the way creative people use computers. Here are some of the most common (and affordable) tools used by creative people to unleash their inner maker:

Digital drawing tablet ($100-300)
Commonly referred to as a Wacom tablet, these devices allow you to “draw” on your computer screen using a pressure-sensitive stylus.

There are two types of digital drawing tablets. One version is a flat surface without any display abilities. These tablets require some hand-eye coordination because what you draw on the tablet appears on the screen in front of you, not on the tablet itself.

The other is a pressure-sensitive touch screen (also called a Cintiq). These are a lot more expensive but are more user-friendly because the monitor and stylus work like a paintbrush or pen would on a canvas.

• Cricut machine ($200-400)
While there are some differences, all Cricut models allow you to create a design on your computer and then cut it out of materials such as vinyl, paper or even leather. Cricut devices can be used to create T-shirt transfers, greeting cards, posters and vinyl stickers.

• 3D Printer ($150+)
While intuitive, 3D printers are probably the most miraculous device. 3D printers use either plastic or resin to very slowly create complex 3D objects. Although 3D printers are used professionally to prototype, model and custom-build industrial components, they are also used creatively by everyday makers.

Using a 3D printer and a computer, you can print your own toys, decorations or embellishments. The only major limitation is the size of the printer itself. These devices have the steepest learning curve, but its creative possibilities are endless.

• Laser cutter/engraver ($4,000+)
Laser cutters are becoming more popular and prices are falling. It works similar to a Cricut by cutting out or engraving designs from a computer. The difference is that Laser cutters can engrave or cut materials such as wood, glass, rubber and plastic. As a result, it has replaced the jigsaw and scroll saw for many makers.

If you’re interested in becoming a maker or improving your creative skills, the Grand Valley has a friendly and accessible maker community. 

GJ Makerspace at the Business Incubator Center, 2591 Legacy Way, offers a variety of tools and training resources. In addition to gadgets like 3D printers and laser cutters, GJ Makerspace also offers traditional maker tools such as sewing machines and stained-glass tools.

My last recommendation to all beginners is to jump in and get started. Too many people spend so much time reading, researching and watching YouTube videos about how to use various tools that they’re reluctant to actually start.

As with all gadgets, the best way to learn is to do. Making is a very addictive hobby. Whatever device you buy, it’ll likely be the first of many as your skills and interest increase.

Send your technology questions to Adam via email: [email protected]