3D Printing

There has been a lot said of the potential of 3d printing in the domestic setting. MakerBot’s recent machine shows a lot of promise. *It is great to see the technology and business gaining so much interest. However, I’m rather sceptical of how 3d printing is going to ‘revolutionise’ how we make and consume things. So you can download and print a shower curtain ring with the click of a finger. Is that really a high demand problem that people face? I think we are doing pretty well for ourselves if it is. Let’s be honest people are just going to treat the technology as a gimmick. Scan your face a print out a little statue. The cost and professionalism of the finished artifact is nonsensical. At this given moment 3d printing is a brilliant asset to designers and a gimmick for people with a little too much money. What useful object can be printed? Sugru is an example of a an innovative material whoms costs make sense. If your only use for such an expense is just to fix a shower curtain you need to be sectioned.

It is great that the technology is getting cheaper, design firms with restricted budgets have more opportunity to refine their designs. But as designers are we really threatened by 3d printing - in the future the technology will suit the needs of humans (perhaps) - but right now they are just expensive boxes that will sit in a corner, collecting dust, waiting for it’s glory moment on Antique’s Roadshow.

I may be wrong


I think the MakerBot machines are awesome and would love to get my hands on one if I could. You seem to be pigeon holing it by focusing on the whole shower curtain thing. That was what, 2010? The new replicator looks pretty cool, $2000 USD for a dual colour printer that comes assembled. Is that expensive? Depends on your perspective I guess. I know a few people who have spent that and more on a new Mac and only use it for sending out emails and light web surfing.
To me it seems that it would make such a great learning tool and help engage people, especially kids, into getting interested in not only design but mechanical engineering or programming as well. Even if people purchase these and they are left in a corner collecting dust, who cares, they’ve still helped the progression through funding.

Here we have an Objet 500v that we use almost 24 hours a day, between the Design and Gauge teams. We use it to evaluate mutiple design iterations and prove out design attributes. It is not the do-all end-all, but we can print, say, 15 different cup designs overnight, and then evaluate them in the next afternoon. It greatly helps the time-to-market in this manner, narrowing the design down in 3D and being able to do it in house.

It also will help you prove a design is feasable to the “paper doubters.” ( “It won’t look like that in real life”)

Sure. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love one too. But only for my own practise. Macs are around a similar price tag yes. But e-mail is essential. 3d printing is yet to be. How will it become?

I’m still left wondering what people will really use them for. The best use for 3d printers in a domestic environment that I have seen so far was a doll’s house. Children are able to customise their own interiors and characters. Pretty cool. Everything else has left me rather cold. My concern is that 3d printing may not develop into its full potential. I seriously doubt the potential it has of improving the quality of a design and how we distribute products. The whole point of rapid prototyping is to refine within a certain time frame. If ‘anyone’ is able to design and distribute designs in such a way what is to say they will bother refining? I can see it being ever too easy for the wouldbe ameteur to click ‘send’, thus the consumer prints out an inferior object. Think how many terrible apps are out there. My concern is that 3d printing could undermine the design profession. The industry will have to ensure ways to avoid this. Perhaps a better solution would be to implement designers as a sort of rag and bone man, going from house to house to see what people require. Local rather than global.

The potential is huge but so are the logistics

There’s a bit of hysteria about 3D printers: “You can print a Car on your Desk!!!” type articles, that miss the point that most 3D printers make models out of model material, not finished products. My limited experience of 3D printers has been elation followed by swearing caused by file-size resolution issues, poor surface finish, delamination and lots of filing and polishing.

I disagree. DSLR cameras are cheap and plentiful, but they dont make people become good photographers. Desktop printing and Photoshop doesn’t make people competent graphic designers.

3D printers are a tool, and need skills to use well. When they truly take off (like desktop printing), which I’m sure they will, there will be plenty of people who’ll call themselves designers and start selling their services and put up stuff on Shapeways and Thingiverse and the world will be flooded with even more Iphone cases and they will be just as comparable as the stuff you can find on http://youarenotaphotographer.com/.

I think if anything 3D printers may increase the value of good design. This odd NYT article predicts 2012 as the year of 3D printing A Future Memo From Goldman - The New York Times

“As printers become cheaper, new materials become available and machines can handle more complex tasks, the impact will increase. Local manufacturing will cut down on time and shipping costs. Companies will need to hold less inventory. Customization — of orthopedic parts tailored from digital scans of patients, for example — will become far simpler. Manufacturers will be able to modify parts more easily, and pioneers will find new products that only printers can make.

But anything involving just a digital file and a readily available printer will encourage copying and piracy. The day may well come when teenagers can scan or download their friends’ designer sunglasses and print a copy.

Companies that produce 3-D printers, such as Stratasys and 3D Systems, offer immediate plays on the sector, and other producers are considering I.P.O.’s. Related companies, like the $8 billion design software firm Autodesk, may also benefit. The technology is developing rapidly. Opportunities will abound, but investors should beware hype in the coming year, and look out for disruption to traditional manufacturers over the next several.”

3D printing at home: I’m actually excited about the new generation of more affordable printing. They are still in the very early adopter stage. I think the people that have bought them up to now are just gadget lovers. At $1000 a pop, I think people that have a genuine need will start looking into them. I imagine car guys that are trying to replace out-of-production parts will be amongst the next generation of owners. Maybe jewelry makers? People that would like a quick way to prototype their idea without the cost or complexity of traditional methods.

I think we are still 20 years away from everyday home adoption though. People don’t have time to design their own shower hook or whatever.


It also will help you prove a design is feasable to the “paper doubters.” ( “It won’t look like that in real life”)

I’m always the one pushing for prototypes to show people because they don’t understand how things on paper will look. I remember one client that loved this one concept and I told him, “You like it because it looks good in isometric perspective half scale on a 15 inch screen. It won’t be as nice as these other concepts in real life.” Sure enough, he took one look at the prototype and said, “this thing is brick, you must have the dimensions wrong!”. One quick look at the tech drawings and he stumbled off upset.

I only know from personal experience, but they are pretty dang handy. If you are restoring something, lets say a house, and you need some kitchen hardware. Scan it (or model it) then print it, and if you want investment cast it, and BAM new 100 year old totally out of production hardware. Or a car, your vintage Porsche needs a new warm gear to let the window roll down. Take out the old one, figure that little bugger out, then model and print, replace. Want a new coat hook, design, model, build. Got a need and the brain power to put out what will fulfill that need, well with a 3d printer you are golden.

It is exciting isn’t it. 3d printing will be a great asset to us all I’m sure. I’m very excited though a little apprehensive that it could become too easy to ‘design’. I think that when it all kicks off 3d printers will be used to bolster a design in a certain way, an add-on perhaps. Future designs will also be consider printing as a way to increase a products life expectancy - both superficial and contextual. My only concern is how this is implemented. CAD has improved the design process, but only as long as the designer is good enough to use it when appropriate. It is as easy and quick to produce a good design as a bad one. My concern is that 3d printing will make it easier for would be designers to produce inferior products. Then again I may be talking complete garbage (I hope). It is about efficiency not speediness.

So in the future wal-mart will be replaced by a business that sells a variety materials to put in your home-printer? Cool.

The future arrived this morning, the Pirate Bay is now listing CAD files as torrents:

Evolution: New category.

We’re always trying to foresee the future a bit here at TPB. One of the things that we really know is that we as a society will always share. Digital communication has made that a lot easier and will continue to do so. And after the internets evolutionized data to go from analog to digital, it’s time for the next step.

Today most data is born digitally. It’s not about the transition from analog to digital anymore. We don’t talk about how to rip anything without losing quality since we make perfect 1 to 1 digital copies of things. Music, movies, books, all come from the digital sphere. But we’re physical people and we need objects to touch sometimes as well!

We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare sparts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years.

The benefit to society is huge. No more shipping huge amount of products around the world. No more shipping the broken products back. No more child labour. We’ll be able to print food for hungry people. We’ll be able to share not only a recipe, but the full meal. We’ll be able to actually copy that floppy, if we needed one.

We believe that the future of sharing is about physible data. We’re thinking of temporarily renaming ourselves to The Product Bay - but we had no graphical artist around to make a logo. In the future, we’ll download one.

Two articles about 3D printing.

“Why 3-D Printing Will Go the Way of Virtual Reality”

“Why 3-D Printing Isn’t Like Virtual Reality”

The first article introduced me to the wonderful Gartner Hype Cycle:



Wow, great charts and interesting articles - thanks for enlightening me with these sanjy009

Hello, Just been to the Send to Print/Print to Send exhibition at the Aram Gallery in London. Really worth going if you get the chance to - if you can’t (say your across the pond - quite a feasible reason not to go) then I have reviewed it in the link below - lots of photos as well

all the best,


Exactly. Pre-digital photography had massive barriers to entry, especially for stuff that required retouching. Now anyone with a rebel, lightroom, and a kit website is a professional photographer. People whine about it, but gear will never supplant skill. The general public might be impressed by oversaturated HDR junk, but art directors aren’t.

The net effect was that low-end work was taken over by amateurs, and the level of quality overall was raised. Owning expensive equipment became less of a job qualification.

The effect of 3d printing on product quality will be even less, because of the cost of scaling output, and the volume of injection-molded junk that gets produced every year. If anything, cheap CAD was the boogeyman that people think 3d printing could be, and I don’t think the fallout from that (the straight-to-CAD mentality, and needlessly-blobby styling) is going to get much worse than it already is.


Never confuse a tool with the ability to use that tool creatively. Like any technology, 3d printing is amazing when used by skilled people, and meh when not. I’ve used this example before, but word processing programs have existed for a long time and I’m guessing most of us in here have not written a novel. Most of us have the ability to produce music and edit movies on our laptops yet I still prefer to listen to professional musicians and watch Hollywood movies.

There is only opportunity here.

Opportunity one: The JK Rowling: undiscovered talent is discovered. We love to glorify this one, but it is the exception not the rule

Opportunity two: already skilled professionals have a better faster tool to be more effective and get more unique results

Opportunity three: if this really does go mass and consumers have home printers… Someone will have to create and sell the designs to be printed… Wo do you think that is? The professionals in the opportunity two scenario. In this case though, said professionals have the ability to bypass the industrial commercialization process, freeing them from the large amounts of capital necessary to productize, market and distribut a concept. Consumers can “commission” custom designs. Files will have self erasure or auto billing encoding to ensure every time a file is printed the original creator is compensated or once a set limit is reached the file will delete or no longer function. In this scenario the professional designer has more work not less, design will become more adventurous as it won’t need to go through the watering down process necessary with risk mitigation, and users will get better products through the massive direct communication and competition.

But that is a long way off. Most printers are very limited in terms of materials and colors they can print and most products are highly complex. You won’t be printing any consumer electronics in you lifetime. Maybe a custom case to a phone. At this point printing a toothbrush would be practically a miracle due to the different material properties in each component.

There is a direct precedent and equivalent in home industrial history that makes the estimation of the future of 3D printing clear to me.

Hobbyists will use them.
Young designers will use them to develop skills.
The public at large will not notice and continue to consume through industrial channels. Average people don’t make things.

+1. Concise.


Did anyone happen to catch this news story this week?
A women got a new jaw transplant, that was 3D printed! Pretty awesome.

Great analogy Nxakt.