Ask Hackaday: Is Owning A 3D Printer Worth It?

3D printers are the single best example of what Open Hardware can be. They’re useful for prototyping, building jigs for other tools, and Lulzbot has proven desktop 3D printers can be used in industrial production. We endorse 3D printing as a viable tool as a matter of course around here, but that doesn’t mean we think every house should have a 3D printer.

Back when Bre was on Colbert and manufacturing was the next thing to be ‘disrupted’, the value proposition of 3D printing was this: everyone would want a 3D printer at home because you could print plastic trinkets. Look, a low-poly Bulbasaur. I made a T-rex skull. The front page of /r/3Dprinting. Needless to say, the average consumer doesn’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to make their own plastic baubles when WalMart and Target exist.

The value proposition of a 3D printer is an open question, but now there is some evidence a 3D printer provides a return on its investment. In a paper published this week, [Joshua Pearce] and an undergraduate at Michigan Tech found a 3D printer pays for itself within six months and can see an almost 1,000% return on investment within five years. Read on as I investigate this dubious claim.

Data From Printing One Thing Per Week

mini_frontal_transparent_scaled_paddedThe purpose of this study was to determine if 3D printers are viable for the consumer. To assess this, the study used a Lulzbot Mini 3D printer, an undergrad named [Emily Petersen] who pretended to be a technologically illiterate consumer for this experiment, and about a kilogram of PLA filament. Over the course of several weeks, [Emily] downloaded 26 items from online object repositories, and compared the total cost to print these items against comparable items available through online retailers. When comparing the cost of printing these objects to low-cost commercially available options, the 3D printer paid for itself in 2.4 years. This return on investment is seen by printing one object per week.

The objects printed in this study included a tool holder, snowboard bind plate, Nikon lens cap holder, sewing machine presser foot, shower head, seatbelt guide, GoPro mount, Canon lens hood, and an iPhone 6 case. In other words, little bits of plastic that are usually produced in China, shipped to Los Angeles, stuffed on a train, packed in a truck, and delivered to your local WalMart.

Part of this study was to determine if a 3D printer was worth it for a technologically illiterate consumer; the Lulzbot Mini and ‘quick print’ settings in Cura are perfect for someone who barely knows what they’re doing.

Is 3D Printing the Amazon Prime of Plastic?

There are a number of ways to criticize this study. The usefulness of a model of a Death Star is questionable, and the ‘high end’ commercial alternative for a ‘nozzle torque wrench‘ costs $419.58 — probably something off of the Snap-on truck that artificially inflates the best case scenario for a 3D printer’s ROI.

However, this study does use a Lulzbot Mini, a printer that costs $1250. While the Mini is a fantastic printer, buying an i3 clone is cheaper than renting time on a printer at a coworking workshop. Cheap 3D printers are getting really good, and a pair of Benjamins will get you a printer that’s more than sufficient for any technically-minded person. They might not be fit for Joe Consumer, but they will get the job done. Either way, think of the up-front cost as a ‘membership fee’ after which the stuff you print is ‘free’ (aside from filament cost of course).

This leaves the question: is 3D printing ready for prime time? Is it possible for an average consumer to save money with a 3D printer? Are 3D printers easy to use if you’re technologically illiterate?

That’s what we want to know, and we’re looking for your answers in the comments.

131 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: Is Owning A 3D Printer Worth It?

  1. I am the kind of person who has a stock of electronics, screws, and bearings around in case I need to make.
    I can not count on reliably finding a given part even machine screws anywhere nearby so I fabricate more than most.
    For me a 3d printer may not be an everyday appliance but I have a very rigid first production AW3D Prusa Mendel kit build and it is a major value add when perhaps one plastic or lost PLA->Al fabrication saves an expensive window, car, or dishwasher or when I need to get prototyping for work or fun.

    1. I thought my Lulzbot Mini would be a toy. It’s turned out to be very useful and a great educational tool. Starting with TinkerCad and now migrating to Onshape, I can produce high quality parts for fully custom projects. Examples built in the last 8 weeks: i5 case, i7 case, 7 coat hangers for co-workers with their names embossed, 2 raspi Pi camera cases, a shower pin replacing a broken part, customer case for personal LIDAR project, motorcycle HUD, LED light case for motorcycle, Motorcycle hand brush guards with LEDs turn signals. brackets, and on and on. What an awesome tool. Super happy with my Lulzbot (no affiliation). Making a prototype out of clay, then laser scanning into an .stl file is another option to CAD. Then there’s Thingiverse.

  2. Well it is worth it if you need to print stuff.
    But most of the time this comes with a need for specific parts, not just thingiverse stuff.
    So if you know CAD then 3D printing is for you.

    1. This absolutely.
      The power of the 3D printers is in the ability to iterate designs quickly, they will always have a certain limited utility if all you do is download crap off the internet and print it. The ability to take something I’ve designed on screen and make it a tangible thing in a few hours with not much more than a few mouse clicks is the 3D printers true value.

      1. how to configure any 3D printer, even shitty cheap ones

        1 download/install matter control
        2 configure printers 3 axis directions, extruder and scale (most settings are default) use a ruler to measure travel of the head and the intake of filament
        3 load up pla
        4 change your printers fiddly z height adjustment screws so zero has the head just lower than the bed, don’t care about levelling it perfectly for now.
        5 grab a sheet of paper and use matter controls 3 point auto calibration mode – you can have the shittyest, most unleveled printer in the world, this software will detect how fucked up it is and compensate.
        6 smear your print bed in a thin layer of pritt-stick (what do americans call pritt-stick?)
        7 hit print

        I wish someone told me this years before someone actually did.

        1. As someone who just bought his first 3d printer – a Tevo Tarantula – and who is just now trying to figure out how to get good looking prints out of this thing from my own designs…. Thank you. I will be giving this a try!

      2. This, indeed.

        I often give presentations on 3D Printing at work (as it’s a big interest these days) and I always emphasize this. If you’re not willing to learn 3D design it’s useless to buy a printer. If you are, it’s an amazing tool.

      1. Taumann Alloy910 :) I’ve used it to repair a few vacuum cleaners and the gears are still working even after several months of use (the guy owned a cleaning business). I’ve not had a need for anything more durable than ABS, but that alloy910 will let you print extremely durable parts.

      2. I think PLA has received a bad rap, its tensile strength exceeds that of ABS and, printed at a high infill with thick walls, can produce parts that can take certain types of abuse better than ABS. Additionally, there are modified versions of PLA (like Polymax) and lower temperature blends of PETG and Nylon for those of us using PTFE hot ends.

        Personally, I use my printer as one hell of an effective diplomatic tool. When seeking funding to develop an idea, handing a model of your concept to the decision maker blows even the slickest presentation/leaflet out of the water.

      3. You should look at lost PLA casting. Print your object and then cast it. Not exactly 3D printing, but it does get you the metal piece you need, and at a fraction of the cost for milling or for paying for time on a metal 3D printer (in most cases).

        1. i do a bit of lost pla casting in Aluminium. it is very hard to get any strength out of it unless you seriously control the temperature ramp down. and by then, if your electricity isn’t free, it’s cheaper to buy the part.

          pouring molten aluminium into a big bucket of sand is great, but you aren’t going to get a decent strong part that way.

      4. In my experience PLA is very strong. When you print it with 100% infill I bet it is almost as strong as steel. Only not as flexible. So it will break sooner than steel. And if you need something made from aluminum you could send the 3D model to Shapeways. But they also print it so I guess it is not much stronger.

        The only problem I have with PLA is crimp. Things are always a little bit smaller than I designed it. That makes it hard to fit to other things.

        1. You might need to adjust the ‘flow rate’ (or similar) to print wider traces. Try extruding some filament into space and then measuring the od of the extruded string vs. the nozzle diameter. This adjustment works when Z is OK, but all X and Y dims are just a bit short regardless of the printed part size.

    2. My dad and I built a 3D printer from rather sturdy plywood and parts from another 3D printer we built earlier that was a complete, utter disaster (the initial version has been called “Frustration 99.99%” and was made of wood that had not been coated. Once the humidity in the air changed, you had to recalibrate the whole freaking thing. Needless to say he made me print all the new parts…)

      Anyways, didn’t know lots of CAD before so I picked up OpenSCAD and started scripting my files. Made a nice little bearing holder that worked out pretty well. So far I haven’t printed in a while due to other obligations, but having one is very handy. You just come up with something, print it out, see if it works. Saves a lot of time from doing the same thing in metal. Also it forces you to use CAD, which in turn forces you to plan your builds, which is a huge plus for some of us :-)

      For me this CAD bottleneck is a blessing in disguise since it’s like somebody telling you “wow, step back a moment and think about what you’re about to do”. Much of the time, there’s an easier way that wastes less material…

  3. I think this is a rather strange question to ask.

    Let me illustrate and ask a different but similar set of questions: “Are CNC mills ready for prime time?” “Is it possible for an average consumer to save money with a CNC mill?” “Are CNC mills easy to use if you are technologically illiterate?”

    The answers would most likely be – “Yes”, “No” and again “No” for obvious reasons. Yes, because these machines are used for decades to produce everyday goods and no and no, because an average consumer doesn’t have neither the need nor skills to sensibly operate one.

    Then why are we insisting on 3D printers being something for an average, technically illiterate consumer? It is exactly the same kind of machine and technology as a CNC mill or lathe. It is a *machine tool*, not an office appliance, despite all the associations, marketing and confusion that comes with the word “printer”.

    This stupid mantra that somehow 3D printing is “not ready for prime time” until everyone can have one at home and even a grandma can operate it is artificially fabricated nonsense thanks to marketing BS of 3D printer vendors trying to convince people that 3D printer is the next hot thing and they have to buy now, not because it makes any sense. And journalists that parroted press releases and created echo chambers amplifying each others’ hype. Same as what the TV manufacturers tried it with 3D televisions or now virtual reality.

    Let’s put away this nonsense about “average consumer” and look at hobbyists or machine shops – and you will find that the answers change drastically – 3D printers are both used already, we don’t need to be actually told when they are supposedly going to be “ready for prime time”. You can save money using them (it just requires a bit of brain and not printing Yodas) and they are relatively easy and safe to use (compared to other types of CNC machines). That applies even to the mass-market cheap $300 ones – if you adjust your expectations to the actual capabilities of what you have bought, of course.

    Can we put this nonsense finally to rest, please?

    BTW, yes, I do own a 3D printer and know about several other people around having one. But we are actually building things with them, not printing kitchen hooks and doorstops with them that you can buy for $1 in a supermarket.

    1. Yes. But… I think the study showing that a “average” consumer can still see an ROI by printing the things they often purchase from China is still an interesting one and one that shouldn’t be dismissed.

      For me the bigger question about an “average” consumer being able to use a 3D printer has less to do with can they technically operate it but more to do with can they keep it operating. I own two 3D printers and have to spend a fair amount of time just keeping them working & properly calibrated. When 3D printers are made that are as reliable as laser printers then I think we can answer “yes” to the “are we there yet?” question. In that regard, I think we still have a ways to go. Even folks like us that build & use printers every day will appreciate and be able to make even better use of our printers when that day comes.

      1. There is also some other questions unanswered:

        First, how did the 3D printed components compare in terms of strength and function to their injection molded equivalents? Did that 3D printed shower head spray water only from the places it was actually intended to spray from? That wouldn’t be a given with some low end 3D printers, nor would having the showerhead survive an entire year without bursting.

        Second, how would the items have compared to other ways a home builder could have built the items, like carving them out of wood?

        1. I’m not sure there’s enough water pressure in a shower head to destroy it, however I do question the usability of one printed with PLA. Unless you only take lukewarm showers, it’s going to “melt” sooner than later.

          1. If you’re taking showers hot enough to ‘melt’ PLA you log ago scalded yourself. Glass transition temp starts at 65C which is 150F far hotter than most water heaters will even reach…

          2. desertrat says:
            “If you’re taking showers hot enough to ‘melt’ PLA you log ago scalded yourself. Glass transition temp starts at 65C which is 150F far hotter than most water heaters will even reach…”

            Want to check your math out?
            “HOT” on my heater is about 150-160F, so unless you’re saying hot water is below freezing, there’s an issue. ;)

          3. crap, I absent-mindedly clicked report, no fowl intended.

            desertrat: Tg of PLA is often about 55˚C-60˚C

            I live in Michigan and leaving PLA parts in my car on a warm spring day risks severe warping of the part. Some people have reported that storing PLA parts a hot attic in the summer risks the same.

          4. 60C is fairly common temp for hot water in the UK. Stops legionaires. Sure, you’d probably mix with cold to shower under, but lots of showers will output 60C or close.

          5. Not to mention that the higher the temperature, the weaker the material. For temperature-critical parts, you need to pay attention to the strength at the temperature being used. Water 45˚C at pressure is different than the part just sitting there at 45˚C. PETG might hold up but if you’re really using 60˚C then it might be better to use ABS since it gives you at least 20˚C extra head room.

        2. I can partially answer the question concerning strength – injection molded parts are stronger but you (or whomever does the design) simply needs to account for the decrease in strength. On of my former students has been using the showerhead for more than a year without a problem. This paper covers what you can expect from ABS or PLA https://www.academia.edu/6209168/Mechanical_properties_of_components_fabricated_with_open-source_3-D_printers_under_realistic_environmental_conditions

          Doing any of these things out of wood would take much longer in terms of user time.

      2. I’ve had a SeeMeCNC delta for a couple of years now, and I spend almost no time fiddling with it to keep it working. I doubt I put an hour and a half in a year working on mine, and it runs pretty much every day.

        I can’t remember the last time I downloaded something to print. Everything I print is something I designed. Would it be worth having if all you wanted to print was stuff off of Thingiverse? I really doubt it. In that case find a friend who has one and get them to print it for you. But if you like going from an idea in your head to a solid object you can hold in your hand, by all means, get a 3D printer.

    2. You are so right. We went through this same song-and-dance with the first personal computers. “What can the average Joe do with one?” If you don’t own a business they are just a time wasting toy,” and so on.

      1. And it took 40 years for the average Joe to actually find any use in them, and by that time they were completely different than the first personal computers like the Kenbak-1 or the Altair 8800

        These plastic extruder printers are the equivalent of having an expensive metal box with a bunch of blinking lights on the front, which can play an instrumental version of “Daisy Bell” through a nearby AM radio if you program it right.

        1. The point being that these weren’t the right questions to ask. Part of the reason that everyone uses one now is a generation of coders that taught themselves the necessary skills “playing” in their bedrooms, or in their basement rec rooms. The foundations of radio as a widely used technology had its roots in amateurs ‘wasting time’ in the beginning as well. Dismissing any tool for a lack of broad utility when it’s still in beta is myopic, in my opinion.

    3. Can’t agree. With the mill you start with material that has the strength and other properties you need and remove material. Want a hole of specific diameter and that is what you get. With the printer, the strength of the final object is unknown and usually you can’t even guess. Bridging and holes may or may not work out. Dimensions might be OK if the user has found ways to eliminate warping. I think they are just not in the same ballpark.

      1. then test your print, to destruction preferably, then print another for actual use.
        there are materials for printers that don’t show warping and shrinkage nearly as much, but that is as mentioned above something you can iterate past, there are definite strengths to 3d printers as well, many parts don’t have as stringent strength requirements or improve with the increased strength to mass ratio complex internal geometries can give.

        that is where comparing subtractive and additive manufacturing methods usually fall apart, by their very nature additive processes allow for completely different properties from the same material, internal structure arches in sealed spaces, mass replaced by internal supports etc.
        sure it does introduce issues, layer adhesion and so forth but all in all it boils down to some not so straightforward strengths and weaknesses of each method.

      2. Equating a mill with a 3D printer — they’re more similar than you’re admitting. Have you ever seen someone who’s never worked metal by hand program a CNC mill? The stalled motors, the loose workpieces, the broken toolheads!

        Both machines require some operator training and finesse. And maintenance.

      3. I print machine parts from ABS, Nylon and PETG without issues. PLA not so much. Much like you will need to debur your machined parts off of your mill, printed parts require a little post work as well. You will need to ream/tap your holes, remove a bit of support material, and sometimes account for shrinkage. Strength of many filaments has been so thoroughly documented it can overwhelm you at times. I’d say they are not the same game, but they are indeed played in the same ballpark. I’ve even printed my own little light duty machine shop in a spare bedroom that works wonderfully for working wood and plastic materials. While I don’t think the 3d printer will be in every home any time soon, I do see this happening in the long term. The applications are just to numerous to be otherwise.

    4. Not just that but the doorstops you can print are not even produced from the correct materials anyway! There is a reason you want elastomeric materials for a doorstop, not hard plastic!

  4. I just taught a gentleman showing up to our makerspace the basics of 3D printing and design. For him it was a way to actually create things he was designing after years of re-tooling manufacturing equipment without being part of the creation process.

    Is it worth it in dollars? Who knows. For him it was definitely a satisfying experience to start in on.

    1. I am a contract firmware engineer. This allows me to see what a number of clients in different fields do.

      In the last 7 years (when 3d printers fell below $100K), I have had one client that did *not* have a 3d printer for their MechE’s. The 3d printers ran the gambit from a $100K objet (for a medical device firm), to a RipRap made by the MechE (a mom&pop firm).

      All of the 3d printers were used on a regular basis. The medical device firm was the heaviest user to prototype their user devices (a hand-held unit where fit and function was very important and the user had to hold and use for an hour or more for a single session, several sessions per day). For them, the $100K was worth the money.

      The mom&pop shop MecE used his to make small pieces to test. Once he had a good design, he would crank up a CNC mill to make several pieces. Many were small brackets for holding PCBs and other thinks in the base unit frame. For him, the small stuff was worth printing because of the cost of cranking up the CNC mill.

      For a hobbyist – it all depends on what the goal is. A $400 delta bot kit is useful because (1) she gets to make the kit (fun in&of itself), and (2) gets to print stuff for various project or just the thrill of showing off to friends and family.

      A side note: Good Science Fiction is a thought experiment. I highly recommend “Makers” by Cory Doctorow. The thought experiment is what happens when 3d printers become ubiquitous. Let’s face it – the Mouse wants its money, and gets excited if its plastic toys are made at home without a single penny going to the Mouse.

      1. I also recommend that story (“Makers” by Cory Doctorow)

        What I think will happen: since a substantial fraction of 3d printer users (currently, and presumably in the future as well) want open-source 3d-printers, time will pass and improvements will be made, at some point not just the design of the printer will be open-source, but the design of a factory for economically manufacturing them from stock aluminium plates etc, or perhaps a folded sheet metal version …

        Well, that and perhaps devices that make the currently most expensive parts that are not yet vitamins (steppers perhaps?)
        Every time such a device becomes available, the price lowers to some small multiple of the base material costs at a location…

        1. Also, I personally find that the focus on having a single device produce as much of its own parts as possible to be a bit too narrow a goal, I would prefer a “RepRap” suite of tools / toolshop, Where each tool makes many of the parts for most of the tools from the toolshop… there is a difference between “disruption”, and refusing to learn from centuries of human experience in manufacture…

      2. There was a story from the 1950s or 1960s that described a post-singularity world. No one was allowed to make anything, but anything you wanted could be ordered for free. The main character decided what he wanted was to make things and started ordering parts to build machine tools with, disguising them as model train parts. He began showing off his work to friends and the Government agents came and took it all away, explaining how the balance of supply and demand would be upset if anyone could do what he had done. I don’t recall who wrote it or the title. It was probably published in Analog magazine.

        1. There was another story, probably from the 1950s, that started from a similar premise but went in a different direction. In order to keep the automated factories running efficiently, you were required to accept and use a certain quantity of new goods each month, and your social status was determined by how well you did this.

          The protagonist got the idea to reprogram his household robots to wear clothing, use the exercise equipment, and so on, because on his own, he wasn’t wearing out enough things. As I recall, the story ended with him being congratulated for finding a new way to keep everything running at even higher efficiency (as measured by production and consumption throughput).

  5. IMHO, I think the utility of 3d printing is directly related to your CAD or 3d modeling know how. If you use CAD or Modeling software, it is because you need/want something special made(therefore you design it), and having a 3d Printer can give you the ability to fabricate that special something. The average consumer does not usually have much CAD know-how, and doesn’t usually need to have special or custom somethings made, and the utility of a 3d printer in that case comes down to one of entertainment or leisure.

    That being said, the value of something is in the eye of the beholder…

    1. I agree. We could circle back around to the use of the word “printer” and re-compare…how do people use a regular laser or inkjet printer? Sure, it can be useful if all you ever do is download documents and photos to print. But someone who regularly *creates* documents and images that need to be printed will get far more utility out of a personal machine, especially compared to the alternatives (going to a print shop every time they want to print a document).

  6. I really want to buy a 3D printer, but after reading this, I am pretty sure it is a waste of money.

    Out of the things listed (tool holder, snowboard bind plate, Nikon lens cap holder, sewing machine presser foot, shower head, seatbelt guide, GoPro mount, Canon lens hood, and an iPhone 6 case) I don’t need any of them, or would be happy with one in homeprinted quality.

    Actually I have browsed the usual sharing places for 3D stuff, and I still have to find anything that I need.

    Sure, I could talk myself into needing a R2D2 bobblehead in my car, but it is still something I wouldn’t buy.

    Let’s be honest, no one buys a 3D printer to save money, they buy them to make small gadgets just for fun, and if you have fun, it might be worth the money.

    1. Like many other tools, a 3D printer can be a means to an end or the end itself. Fidgets and benchys aren’t interesting in themselves, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in building and improving the machine to make those trinkets. Nobody else will notice that your latest Yoda head print has a better defined chin and ears because you perfected your cooling setup, but that doesn’t matter if you had fun getting there.

    2. In your proposed use case, I would agree that a 3D printer is frivolous. However, I design electronics and small mechanisms, and having a 3D printer is useful for creating things that connect X to Y. Let’s attach an LED ring light to an engraving tool, let’s make a clip to hold a pair of multimeter probes a known distance apart, let’s make a bracket to clamp a webcam to the edge of a shelf. My 3D printed objects are almost never standalone things; they are designed by me to work as a complete object in combination with something else.

        1. I’m printing very similar items with a $200 printer. You just have to find something in your price range that suits your needs. Some cheap printers are achieving very good print quality for the price now.

        2. The difference between a 3D printer and hand tools is with the 3D printer complexity is free. Sometimes what you need to create would take far longer using hand tools than drawing it up in cad software and sending it to the printer.

        3. While I am sure I will get some use from my (first ever) 3d printer, I am FAR more adept at woodwork. There is very little that I cannot/have not made out of wood and much more quickly that if I had had to design the piece in CAD and then wait for it to be printed out!

    3. GuW — Not that you or anyone else needs to buy a printer — but if you have a few minutes – make a short list of plastic consumer products you would buy at a Wal-Mart. Look them on Yeggi or search one of the bigger repositories (rather than browse a repository) and see what you come up with. There are at least 2 million free designs at this point and a reasonable probability others already have a start on your item. What did you find?

    4. You lack imagination. I’ve printed numerous brackets, clips, shaft reducers, fittings, pipe couplings and even lawn tractor parts (cooling fan) that was a part no longer being manufactured. I think it’s like a microwave. A conventional stove is just fine UNTIL you own a microwave, then you can’t live without it. I guess that applies to any modern convenience, really.

  7. It depends on how much prototyping the average end user does (probably very little). As a geek who enjoys pushing the limits of my own skills and learning by trial and error I value having a 3D printer around and it has saved me many expensive and time consuming trips to the hardware store or parts orders that would have yielded parts that didn’t quite fit. For those gifted with good spacial/visual reasoning skills this might not be such a big deal but for those without it is a game changer.
    I think there is often an unspoken hope that given the means many of those consumer/end user types might be tempted by the dark side and become makers or geeks. This seems to be a major factor (if rarely acknowledged) in the 3D printer utopia camp.

  8. The title of this article is superb, and there is promise that the article along with comments will help answer the question.

    I have watched the 3D printer hype and bandwagon with great caution. The question I would like answered would be at this point in time, how much would it cost me to purchase a 3D printer that is not a piece of junk or something that would need to be rebuilt in order to be useful. I know that there are costs beyond this — consumables, and maybe even the biggest thing to consider – the CAD learning curve I would need to embark on.

    I hate printers. The ones that put ink on paper I mean. I have done all I can do over the years to avoid having one in my office or owning one. Printing to a network printer someplace else that someone else takes care of has always been a huge win for me. I do this with photos (using MPIX) and recognize the convenience of having quick turn-around, but when I from time to time ponder the issue, I always decide against owning a photo printer.

    And a plastic printer (aka 3D printer) might be a good place to take the same approach. Find a “house” or service in town or on the net that I could ship CAD files to. I think I would learn the game with PCB files first though.

    1. “The question I would like answered would be at this point in time, how much would it cost me to purchase a 3D printer that is not a piece of junk or something that would need to be rebuilt in order to be useful.”

      1) It currently costs $200 for a Monoprice Maker Select Mini. If the build volume is too small for you, then $400 for the Select Plus.

      “I know that there are costs beyond this — consumables, and maybe even the biggest thing to consider – the CAD learning curve I would need to embark on.”

      2) Learning CAD is probably the hardest part. The biggest ongoing cost is the time to print, not the filament.

      1. And ‘Learning CAD’ isn’t even that difficult: TinkerCad is ridiculously easy for simple shapes; and literally *millions* of people have mastered SketchUp for a huge variety of tasks. If your “CAD” requirements are ‘must design engine components for moon rockets’ yes it’s difficult. If they’re ‘I want to make a little box to hold X’, they’re not.

  9. This paper came out of my alma mater, and is just the latest in a series of what I consider to be dubious economic studies by Pearce. Seems like a sharp guy, but seems to go to some pretty extreme lengths to “prove” the economic utility of things.

    That said, a printer is worthwhile if you’re often making jigs and/or printing things for profit. I recently made a vacuum hose adapter for my sander, and yes, it was cheaper than buying the parts for one, but more importantly it fit the need better because it was a 2″ long adapter instead of a 6-8″ series of standard adapters. I also defrayed the cost of the printer by printing things for people off of Craigslist, where I have had far more success getting jobs than I have on 3dhubs.

    1. I also find the claims a bit exorbitant, but the printer was rather expensive compared to available printers, and…
      A lot of people throw away say a perfectly good backpack, because they stepped on the [plastic clicking closing thing], It’s often the endless little annoying things, a more compact holder for all your tools, sure that does not save money, but its an improvement in life quality / comfort, but you can make and tailor them specifically for your tools / desk / …
      But as someone else mentioned, for people who tinker, its mostly the jigs you can make, a jig for measuring the pressure sensitivity of a home made pressure sensor etc, so that you can more objectively quantify the influence of different parameters, instead of randomly trying different variations and staring at some numbers…
      In this sense it saves time, but how times translates to money (to answer the question posed) depends a lot on the user at hand…

  10. Wow I knew the paper was trash but a $420 torque wrench? Maybe that’s the code that says the author was high? You can get torque wrenches for less than a tenth of that but really, E3D’s more expensive tool is $5 USD.

      1. I’ll grant that $420 torque wrench might be a fine torque wrench, but I wouldn’t put up a FFF 3D printed one vs. even a Harbor Freight torque wrench. Besides which, it’s not necessary for swapping nozzles.

      2. Fine. But in which case, stating a saving of $419.05 is bullshit because I’m pretty dang sure that the $0.95 printed wrench won’t be calibrated and/or certified.
        Likewise “shower head: $110.61”. Really? Is it jewel encrusted solid gold? And again, if it’s a top of the line precision shower head, I’d love to see how the printed one performs next to it. My guess: nowhere close. And if you say “who cares, it’s a shower head”, then you wouldn’t have paid $110 for one to start with.
        To conclude own opinion of the article: it’s spurious BS. At least since the research was done in the US, it wasn’t my tax money that got wasted.

    1. I’m just an electronics guy, but where I work the mechanical engineers have their own personal torque wrenches, kept in cedar boxes lined with velvet along with a certificate.

      Not exactly $5 tools.

      1. You didn’t see my reply to the other person then.

        I didn’t mean to say that there aren’t legitimate $420 torque wrenches. In the context of the article, what I meant that it’s lunacy to suggest that a $420 torque wrench is helpful for tightening nozzles. The best tool for the job.

        And it’s totally ridiculous that someone FFF printing a torque wrench gets to think that they saved $420 or that it’s at all comparable with such a piece.

    1. Polymorph, Polycaprolactone, or friendly plastic has it’s place. I design and print in a home lab, but I keep a few pencil thick globs in most repair and travel kits to 3D print with some hot water or a dryer and my hands. The strength is great, I even made a rather large temp filling(superglued it in) on vacation and didn’t have to stop enjoying normal food for over two weeks until I saw a dentist. But I love being able to design with straight walls or precision screw or cable ports. If it is too weak or porous I print in PLA cast in plaster of paris bake the mold out and and pour molten aluminum then trim/sand it down.

  11. Yes. The study actually looks really conservative. There are millions of 3d printable designs already available for free. The study seemed to pick only a few random middle of the road designs. You only need one killer application for yourself to make it all worth it – for me in is customizable orthotics that someone else already designed. Printing for a pair of dress shoes and walking shoes paid for the printer. All the yoda toys I print for my kids are gravy.

  12. I got a printer with the intention of using it for small projects and making props.

    Instead I’ve mostly used it to print models for Warhammer 40k, and 2 Baneblades and a Stompa later, it’s pretty much paid for itself.

  13. I feel like the “Is it ready for prime time?” question has been asked and asked, and while there are new data points that this article adds, I’ve gained little by reading this. I would think the more applicable question would be something along the lines of “At what age should I introduce my child to the world of 3D printing?” I remember being in 5th grade when I was first shown a part from an industrial 3D printer and it blew my mind. Now that they are mainstream enough, maybe not for the ‘everyday consumer,’ but for the tech-savy parents who can buy into a lower price point, when would be the proper age to introduce a child to printing? I’ve had cousins who have done basic 3D modeling before they hit an age with double digits. With the proper guidance, I think a child would benefit greatly by being introduced to this technology, one that can bring their imagination into the real world, and could completely change their life.

    1. This is a really good question. I agree — It depends how open your children are to using a computer. If they are comfortable with MIT’s Scratch then they are ready for object oriented SCAD –e.g. http://ultishaper.youmagine.com/app
      If they are already full coding they can go right to OpenSCAD. More traditional CAD programs have a larger learning curve but FreeCAD is getting reasonably user friendly as are the numerous free but not open source web apps for beginners.

  14. Hey, that’s where I go to school (no, I don’t know the guys who did the study). All the printers we have here are super nice, just like the one in this study. I just wish that they were calibrated correctly when we have to use them for a class. On more than one occasion I got better print quality on my own cheap i3 clone.

  15. I did never have a 3d printer but at a certain point I needed some plastic parts where more expensive than a prusa i3 clone (180€). Thats how I came to a 3d printer, and I have to admit I love it. It enabled me to make so many other things since then. I did not want one because I dislike the surface of printed parts, but now I learned for functional parts it just does not matter…

  16. That all depends on what you’re doing.
    For a vast majority of the projects featured on HaD I would say, No. There are multiple ways of achieving a working solution with fewer tools ($) involved. Many of the things I see 3D printers used for it seems more to be a case of justifying the hundreds of dollars spent on them.
    People use the ‘rapid prototyping’ hype surrounding them rather than taking an extra hour or two to think about their design. They spend hours creating and tweaking a 3D file then more hours waiting on the print. Sure they may be doing other things while it prints but you don’t know if your design works until it’s finished, then you have another few hours waiting for the tweaked design to finish.

    Vacuforming, sheet material bending, or creative application of a hacksaw & file are all viable, IMO faster, methods for probably +80% of the 3D printer projects I’ve seen. You may argue that some of those require significant time spent gaining those skills but if you aren’t already fluent in CAD and printer tweaking I suggest that that balances out. With the rise of cheap mail order laser/waterjet cut parts, and indeed cheap CNC routers or laser cutters I think your money would be better spent on one of those, though they fall prey to the same time spent learning their limitations. Rarely is 3D printing the only or even best option available to the hobbyist. On top of that you have the material constraints of what is essentially laminated plastic.

  17. This is a rather niche use-case, but my printer is paying for itself as follows.

    I have a £600 secondhand Taz 4 which prints beautifully, and rarely needs any tweaking at all. I have ‘real’ machine tools too which are used to make small (1:32 scale) live steam locomotives. These things need stuff to pull. In the UK, one coal truck in this scale costs £70. I want at least 20 of them. Ouch; that’s £1,400… Depending on chassis details (steel or printed wheels etc) I can 3D print a truck for between £1 and £5. Of course, I could get a cheaper hobby instead, but then how I would I justify the very expensive ‘real’ machine tools?

    Apart from the money, I can have as many different kinds of truck as I can be bothered to draw. The real win with 3D printing is customisation, as others here have said.

    1. Printing hobbyist like models on a 3D printer is an excellent use-case but it must be said that model train kit is very expensive – I suspect the mark up is significant. It’s partly why I currently don’t have a layout. I can’t justify the cost or the space! I want to though and one day soon I might….I will be printing stuff on a 3D printer for it when that day comes.

      1. Maybe… I can’t speak for the smaller scales but in G1 (1:32) the market is small and the tooling costs for any injection moudling process are very high, so I suspect the profit margin is actually quite small. It may be that there is a production opportunity here for small run items in my scale at say £20 a go avoiding the NRE costs of injection moulding.

        The problem with smaller gauges like HO is that the grain of an FDM process is probably too visible, and the poor dimensional repeatability of home FD printers starts to bite. There are specialist online providers, though, that will print stuff for you using grainless technologies, and that business model seems to be thriving.

  18. It definitely comes down to the ability of the end user to create their own content, either for utility or art. A 2D printer is great for anyone who needs to type up and print out a resume, or for anyone that takes and prints a lot of photos. Likewise, someone who can easily design 3D objects would benefit greatly from a simple 3D printer.

    The utility of any printer, 2D or 3D, isn’t in making something you can buy at the store, but in making something you *can’t* buy at the store. The most useful objects I have made on my 3D printer are risers so my Roomba can get under the couch and my Xbox can sit under the TV (first world problems, I know). I couldn’t run out and buy those exact things for any dollar amount, but I can CAD them up in 5 minutes and print them for a few dollars worth of plastic. Way easier and cheaper (for me at least) than the woodworking and painting those parts would otherwise require.

  19. As others have said, if you are a serious “prototyper” with extensive needs, than of course it’s worth it.

    But I think the article is garbage because highly misleading due to relying on a string of assumptions I’d qualify as unreasonable:
    – IF the tacky stuff you’d print rather than buy would cost a bundle to start with (look at those RRP, are you kidding? All those are around $5 on eBay)
    – AND assuming that the quality of the 3D printed is satisfactorily equivalent in terms of texture and resilience (again, massive if, would you use a 3D printed soap dish? I certainly wouldn’t)
    – AND you keep on printing one of those once a week (yeah, fat chance if those are supposed to be “typical first-world household might purchase” as key assumption of the article. Did you see the list? Even my hoarder granny wouldn’t buy any of this crap).

    So to conclude: I don’t know if it’s on purpose to advertise a printer but it’s definitely spurious and I suspect conflict of interest. Funnily enough, look at the number of references! Of course, none of the key assumptions that lead to the conclusion are supported by tangible evidence or solid references, surprise surprise.

    Hey, I can make an article too: is a $20,000 laser worth it? Well, Let’s assume that an average user needs to laser cut one stainless steel 10 feet wide panel in the shape of a Mickey Mouse head per year to … errr… you know, everyone needs some of those, which I estimate has a RRP of $80k, then you’ll amortise your cutter in 3 months.
    You might say that I’m vastly exaggerating, but actually, this is the same quality research as the article, except that I cut the bullshit and kept it to one line.

  20. Can’t speak for 3D printers, but my purchase of a CNC was worth it to me.

    What you can’t buy is time. I’d be happy to spend more time working with my CNC, but I don’t have it. It becomes a fits and starts proposition. But I have the room and I don’t mind. What about the guy who barely has the room and has a significant other who despises them for such an expensive item that they never use?

    As to the future? Once the DLP printers get a large enough surface and become economical, I think you’ll see the printer in more homes. Just from a craft standpoint the idea is appealing.

    1. I think you will get lower priced service bureaus, so that one can upload or select a design and have it shipped from UPS or USPS or FedEx or pick it up at the Home Depot, Kinkos, or grocery store. There is ultimately a larger market for home bread machines.

  21. i have prints running on a weekly basis and few are for the heck of it, we print at least 30 hours a month, when a lot of what you print are smaller parts and fixtures that is a lot of prints, even on our 30mm/s printer.
    i admit my long term iss model is purely for fun, as were many other models but most are for doing stuff.
    at the moment a lens retro converter is printing, i just finished a set of lens gears for a couple of lenses, the savings there paid for several kilos of plastic alone.

    truth be told a lot of what i end up doing i would never have done or attempted in the same way without a 3d printer, in that way it is sort of a solution looking for problems, if you have enough problems to solve i would say it is definitely worth it.

    we bought an xyzprinting davinci 1 pro, by no means a high end printer but we only paid around 500 usd for it including 3kg of filament, with 3rd party filament support it is surprisingly cheap to print with it and since we got it for a specific task it sort of served its purpose and paid for itself already, that we now have a decent printer is a giant bonus.

  22. for me personally its like a bench press, it’s not something i use every day but when i do need need it its a HELL of a lot easier than other methods
    i think every maker should have a 3D printer on hand either one they own or one a friend owns and let you use

  23. I use mine fairly often and for stupid things I never intended to print.

    For example: I wanted a sweetener packet holder for a family member that was diabetic that was coming over – the cost of gas+the actual product would have been more than what I printed one for (since I was an early adopter and the cost of my printer has long since been depreciated).

    Was it good looking? Nah, did it work yes.

    I’ve also printed hundreds of custom parts that have saved me some pain (such as adapting dust/exhaust ports of different sizes to one single sized output). Maybe it wasn’t a financial ROI for me to own one, but being able to prototype a custom thingamajig I need at any given time (and possibly easing some aggravation) was justification enough for my home shop.

    Now the laser engraver.. That’s a different story.

  24. My boss says to me I need a 3d printer for RnD, I told him to save the money and let Shapeways make it on thier better then we’ll ever own 3d printers. If I need it quickly I get the house down the road to do it. Straight from Solidworks to my hands in a couple of days.

  25. Brian – Thank you for the really nicely framed article. As an author of the study I would like to thank everyone else for the comments – particularly the skeptical ones. This study was a followup on our early study looking at the economics of DIY RepRaps. Skeptics were concerned that the average consumer could not put one together. As sad as this is – I conceded that point and went with a plug and play model. We are working on the follow up study using huge quantities of download data from partner open repositories. I would be very interested in what skeptics would like to see in terms of data.

  26. For the average consumer, a 3d printer is mostly useless. It will take less time to drive to the store and buy the object than to print it, assuming you can find a model. Maybe someday when they are faster, cheaper, and produce more durable parts with less fuss.

    However, 3d printing allows for rapid prototyping and even production of plastic parts that was previously beyond the capabilities of anybody who didn’t need at least 5000 parts and have $10k to $100k US to spend getting molds made. It allows plastics to be used in places where they were not feasible before. It allows designs to be iterated and tested far easier than ever before.
    In that way, cheap 3d printing is a revolutionary technology. It will enable a greater number of smaller companies to make better products that are more specialized to the needs of the user.

    Additionally, 3d printing as a hobby should not be diminished. Remember that home computers started as a hobbyist concern.

    Finally, using 3d printing in education has tremendous potential, but only if used correctly. It can be tremendously empowering for kids to actually be able to design objects and have them realized in physical form. But I think that we will need better (simpler) 3d modeling software and it will take a while for educators to determine what is learned in 3d printing and how to apply it. I’d like to see it used in art classes, and in physics and math classes. I’d like to see school children getting a chance to try mechanical design and 3d print gears and levers and try to build machines.

  27. Generally speaking I don’t think 3D printing will ever be something for a consumer in the same way as a toaster or dishwasher. There’s too much maintenance involved and cars are probably one of the few things that consumers are (grudgingly) ok with to do some service on or outsource it (regular checkup, repairs). 3D printers are never going to be essential for your life in the way a car could be.

    It’s a bit like printing your own photos in a printing studio, lots of chemicals, lots of steps to take to make a photograph, a lot of experimentation, a lot of things can and will go wrong. But most consumers just send the photos off for print and I’m guessing if 3D objects ever catch on, this is going to be more popular than the hassle of owning a 3D printer yourself, especially if there’s a 1 hour service available while printing it yourself would take many hours, and hopefully it doesn’t fail to slice/print. Of course there are exceptions, some will want to experiment but then you’re in a niche market.

    But if you narrow the field to makers, hackers, enthusiasts, education etc 3D printers are great tools to learn, change things, adapt things and create entirely new things, and thus great to own.

    But who knows in 5-10 years time, it may be completely different :)

      1. True, that goes for many such things, but there should be some strong incentive to buy a device and 3D printers don’t have any for consumers, not that I’m aware of. Not in the same way that 2D printers can be used to print homework, a play, grocery lists, missing cat pamphlets etc. or the occasional photo. I must say that 2D printers seem to be disappearing from many homes, as are desktop PCs.

      2. I agree with imqqmi. 2D printers were a follow-on to typewriters, which were follow-on to hand-writing, all in a line to produce paper records for physical storage or transport to others. I think the printer makers are getting creamed now by the proliferation of alternative, purely electronic methods. No need for a wallet photo taken months or years ago; just open the cell phone app and show pictures taken the day before or more recently.

  28. I’ve been recently creating 3D models and fabricating them. But actually owning a printer? No thanks.

    I compare this to using PCB fabrication shops like OSH Park or Dirty PCBs vs. etching & drilling your own copper boards. It’s very difficult to match the quality you get from the commercial board houses in your garage, and (IMO) well worth the wait to get the pro-quality boards.

    The same is true with 3D printing. Even if you spend a few thousand on the printer, you simply can’t match the quality you get from Shapeways or other fab-to-order houses with expensive equipment. I was very disappointed with prints made on hobbyist machines or even the $10K+ machine at the local UPS store. But the results from the fab shop worked great.

    Example: http://saccade.com/blog/2016/10/3d-replacement-stove-knobs/

  29. What I really need, is a good, quick way to 3D model simple doo dads, and then pay someone ELSE to use their printer.
    I’ve got a lathe and milling machine, but they’re both manual for comparison.

  30. I bought a Monoprice Mini. Cost under $200. The first thing I printed was a 1:64 scale car I’d designed more than a decade ago. Pretty cool to hold something that was truly the only one of its kind in existence.

    Now it’s way more than paid for itself. One job “blew the roof off” the investment – return curve. That was some knobs for an antique car. I printed the knobs hollow with some internal ribs for the urethane resin filling to lock onto. Also printed some fixtures to hold metal rods for forming starter holes, and fixtures to hold the knobs in a vice for drilling the holes to final size. I also included the test pieces and a couple of less than good knobs for experimentation on finishing.

    The shop the knobs were made for filled and finished and painted them to look like the original material that had shrunk and cracked. They’d never thought of having parts 3D printed or using it as part of the restoration process.

    It took me far less time than making and finishing some knobs then making silicone molds, followed by casting urethane. Also, didn’t have to use silicone to make a mold I’d very likely never use again.

    There won’t be any problem with the printed part of the knobs softening, firstly because they went on a car that only gets taken out for Cooncours de Elegance type shows, where it will never sit in hot sun with the windows all up, and secondly, I baked them with the urethane fill for 8 hours at 145F in a dehydrator and there was no sign of any softening or distortion.

  31. I bought a makergear m2 Rev. E last summer, and I use it for my electronics bbq controller business. I make the case and a servo damper for people all over the world. Before I had to have some else print the parts need at about $70 and now I can make about 6 sets out of a roll of Abs material.

    So I think it depends on what you have in mind when you purchase a 3d printer.. If you want one just to have one, then that person may get bored of it pretty quickly. The learning curve of a 3d printer is high and there is alot of prep work to get good results on a consistent basis.

  32. The running joke is: “If you really hate someone, buy them a 3D printer!”. Partially true as we all know. But consider this: I make gear toys. Parents print them for their kids. Those kids have an edge. Not just because the gear toy teaches, or the 3D printer teaches, but because the parent shows such love as to deal with the frustration and such precious little free time outside of work to make things for their kids. Score one for the kids – and the parents too.

  33. For the $270 it costs for a Folger Tech Prusa i3 2020 It’s worth it. Do I use mine every day or even every week? No. But when I have an idea for a quick little think for the house or a small electronics enclosure it’s a great tool. I don’t use mine to print useless trinkets, I don’t see the point in wasting plastic for nothing. I’ve printed a few cool toys for my daughter though. But mostly it’s useful tings – phone stands, enclosures, hooks and hanging things, tool holders, etc.

  34. Yes, Yes, Yes
    If you have technically minded children, a 3d printer is a great idea. My kids self-taught CAD and 3d printing while they were in high school. They used it on several projects and the use of the printer made their results stand out and win awards. Then when they got to college, they were able to bring a lot of value to their design teams and projects. My son got a job in the electrical engineering prototype shop because he knew 3d printing, CAD, Gcode, etc. By the time he graduated he was running the shop and writing manuals for the equipment. My daughter landed an internship with a major engineering company after her freshman year and spent the summer building a 3d printer and writing an instruction manual for it – none of the full time engineers knew anything about 3d printing. This year for Christmas, I used the printer to make all the parts for the “Mostly Printed CNC Machine” as a gift for my son.
    Where I work, we use 3d printers ALL the time. If an intern or coop knows how to do CAD and run a 3d printer, they are golden!
    So, will it make you money? Probably not. But will it enable other avenues of learning and growth? Absolutely!
    GO GET ONE RIGHT NOW!

  35. The first rule of power is to abuse it. I have a pair of 3D printers and I bought the first one just for the hell of it. At first I printed a few novelty items just to see how it worked but quickly sought out real world uses for the thing. Made a bottle holder for my motorcycle’s frame, some specialty tools for working on said motorcycle, some inventions I had been thinking bout for years prior. That was all fine, but then since I had the tool at my disposal it became a big money and time saver for some odd jobs. My wife’s new car, one of the louvers for the AC vent broke and collapsed. Didn’t really impede the function of the car’s air conditioning but it was particularly annoying to see it broken. I sourced the part from the dealer and it was $285. No way I was going to pay that, but was able to print a replacement part and now it’s perfect again. Same goes for oddball fasteners for the dishwasher, washing machine, other bits and bobs that failed and could be salvaged with some time spent in CAD.

    So having one gives you the power to solve a problem with it and iterate through designs till it works.

    But I like to remind myself: Does it take longer to design the part and print it till it works than it would to find another way? Would duct tape and zip ties be enough? Would just using some wood or a bent piece of tin be enough instead?

    Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I mean I could carve a canoe from a log with a pocket knife too.

  36. It would really help the ROI for casual-level makers if we had a 3D-scanning smartphone app that would let us take a scan similar in quality produced by other 3D scanning apps like Scann3D then allow us to correct the dimensions using a set of calipers and micrometers on a damaged object we need replaced.

  37. I have found that owning a 3D printer has opened my eyes to new ideas. I use other tools like CNC machines and normal wood working tools but 3D printer allows me to use other materials and go from idea to solid object relatively quick.Printing a custom mount changes a project and adds to its uniqueness. I believe these technology help bridge the ideas of design and art. But there are those times where its good to leave the 3D Printer and grab the welder.

  38. I posted a comment to a fartbook friend who had put up a photo of part bins he had printed. Regular, open-box shapes into which he stored screws, bolts, washers, etc. I commented that it would have been faster, cheaper, easier to go to a pound store and buy such things for a pittance.

    Now, I had an Audi A4 (circa 1998/2000) and they had a problem with the electric window assembly in that a small plastic retaining item would snap after a time (probably due to heat/baking) and Audi, in their marketing wisdom, would charge a few hundred to supply and entire mehcanism when a $1 piece of plastic would suffice. In this regard, personally printing such items would be beneficial…not to replace mass-produced extrusions or injections.

    However, in defence of such folk. If one has bought a plastic printer, or indeed, is learning any new thing, most folk start off simple to learn the ways of this technology before progressing to other projects which (most probably) result in a lot of wasted time and material before success is achieved.

    1. The story about printing storage bins reminds me of the adage, “If you have a hammer, all problems look like nails”. If you just need generic storage, buying injection molded parts is a better way. If you need something where nothing off the shelf works well and nothing can be easily modified to fit the use, then you build your own.

  39. Given that lens caps and the like are $1 from AliExpress, that’s a huge number of lens caps before it pays back. And they’ll look like crap, unless you’ve spent time sanding them to a good finish. And I doubt they’ll offer much protection to knocks compared to an injection mold one. Sure, can make them thicker, but who wants a thick one?
    3D printers are a tool for the right users; Joe Bloggs doesn’t own a lathe or mill, and probably not a table saw or drill press. If he lives in an apartment, he probably doesn’t even own a skillsaw or cordless drill. He’s not going to own a 3D printer unless the technology changes hugely.

  40. I never argue w people who have determined for themselves that a 3D printer is not a good financial investment. For one, the fact that they are looking at the priority of finances signals their values and have probably made up their mind. Secondly, they are generally not good candidates to hear other reasons that owning a 3D printer might be of interest.

    It’s the wrong question.

    A better question might be: do you want a 3D printer? And a good follow up question, if the answer is yes: what has kept you from buying a 3D printer so far?

    My experience is that 3D printers have not been easy enough to use. Take this with a grain of salt, since I own Printrbot, but our new Simple Pro printer exists to make a case that 3D printing CAN be easy to use.

    Design is hard and I think it always will be. Other technologies that have become easy to use, like video editing or 2d drawing apps, don’t mean that the content you create will be any good. In the area of design, some people can do it, some aren’t ever going to be really good at it. This, perhaps presumptive, fact splits the audience… those that want to print free designs and those who want to also design their own stuff. For the former, there are other valuable lessons and fun to place on the decision scale. For the latter, you should find out if you CAN learn a bit of design before buying.

    If you like making things, or need to design and make things, then the answer is yes! You will easily find it not only valuable but empowering to do things you couldn’t do before and very likely faster than you could without one.

    I also think curious minds will find it fascinating. Some will just find it fun. I think these are valuable reasons.

    The book Crossing the Chasm describes the first 3.5 percent of the tech market as enthusiasts. Then, after that segment, there is a gap or chasm before you get to what is called early adopters. Traditionally, these folks just want it to work and be ultimately cheap. There is the rub. The printers that are easiest to use, like ours, do just work, although not 100% of the time, and are not the cheapest. So the argument to buy is difficult.

    Are 3D printers ready for the next 35% of the market- the early adopters? Not most of them. Cheap Chinese printers are just that, cheap. And none of them hold the distinction of being the easiest to use. Many are only tracking the cheapest printers, so reviews, while improving a bit, they misrepresent the state of the art for 3D printing.

    Articles like this are interesting, but not all 3D printers are created equal. So generalizing has limited value. The easiest to use printers are mid to high priced and often mis the financial mark for the regular consumer.

    So here we are debating the nuances of brands, price points and trying to understand why excitementcaround this tech has wained a bit. My conclusion is that Joe User isn’t ready for most of today’s printers. But professionals with the need for one are all in. Sounds like where computers stood in the public eye in the 70s and 80s. Mass adoption is coming, but when? No one knows. In the mean time, enthusiasts are more than happy to blaze the trail.

    Brook
    Printrbot.com

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