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Editor’s Note: Last weekend, London was home to the first ever massive 3D Printshow 2012, featuring three days of the latest and greatest in the ever-expanding 3D printing landscape. Brook Drumm, founder of Printrbot, was there showcasing his machines, and he shared the following recap report and images with us. Thanks Brook!

By Brook Drumm of Printrbot

Only a couple years ago, owning a 3D printer was a well-informed geek’s dream realized by an elite group of brilliant hackers scattered around the world. In England, Adrian Bowyer, the father of open source 3D printing, created RepRap (replicating rapid prototyper) and released it to the world. Slowly, the 3D printing movement has moved from university labs into garages, hackerspaces, and even onto kitchen tables.

Makers everywhere jumped on the bandwagon and built their own at home. MakerBot tapped the growing interest early and sold printer kits to geeks and non-geeks alike. MAKE magazine and the tech media has spread the word to countless others and recently, Maker Faire assembled the largest, most diverse collection of 3D printers the world has ever seen. The exploding interest has fueled Kickstarter campaigns and spawned a dizzying number of startups. 3D printing is becoming big business.

Last weekend, October 19-21, 3D printing came full-circle back to England with the first annual 3D Printshow in London. While 3D printing may still be in the adolescent phase, it has grown up a bit in the past few years. A show dedicated solely to this new, strange world is a sign that the 3D printing industry has made it’s way to the consumer market.

Upon walking into the event venue, the diversity of the exhibits spoke to the broad swath of markets that have been reached by 3D printing: software, hardware, services, art, fashion, music, business, design, architecture, medicine, and home decor. That same diversity hinted at the fact that this is a young industry throwing everything it can think of at the wall and trying to see what will stick.

Fashion was an unmistakable theme, with the highlight event being a wild mashup of a Paris fashion runway event, a rock concert, and a 3D printed future-punk museum exhibit. Legit runway models graced the stage with both subtle 3D fashion accessories, like buttons, necklaces, and bracelets, as well as whimsical 3D printed shoes, purses that resembled Klingon battle axes, breastplates that were clearly influenced by Princess Leah’s famous scene on Tatooine, and headgear that would make Queen Amidala jealous. (Author’s note to self: Perhaps geeky references too easily reveal the author’s gender and age. Consider toning down, even though you don’t really want to.)

Prints vs. Printers

The regular suspects were present showing of their printers, of course, but a fascinating competition is emerging: who can print the coolest stuff? Answer: very, very, very expensive printers. The “big-boys” like Objet, 3D Systems, AutoDesk, and others were rolling with massive prints and best-in-class examples of what is possible with a 3D printer if: a) money is no object and b) a professional team of modelers and designers dedicate themselves to the exhibit for a good, long while. It was truly impressive to see.

Younger printer companies held their ground with sometimes smaller, but still wonderful prints, showing off newfound higher resolution, faster speeds, lower price points, and new printers. MakerBot’s new Replicator 2 is reaching up to the prosumer market, while juggernauts like 3D Systems are stretching down to the home consumer market. The land-grab is in full force, and scrappy companies are starting to declare their niche and set their sights. There will definitely be more than one winner here.

Stepping back to look at the landscape, there are clear categories forming. A majority of the energy, press, and exhibitors are focused on selling to larger businesses — printers, prints, 3D scanning services, and printing services. While this is an important category, and incremental advances continue to bring the price and accessibility down to earth, the home consumer market may be of more interest to MAKE readers.

What to Buy?

The 3D Printshow did host a solid range of printers for the home consumer to peruse. Prices range from the MakerBot Replicator 2 at $2199 and the Ultimaker at $1910 to the Printrbot Jr. at $399. Companies selling RepRap Mendel derivatives cover the middle ground. All of these printers feature additive manufacturing (FDM) using ABS or PLA thermoplastic. Standing apart from the other 3D printers in this group is Formlabs with their resin-based stereolithography (SL) 3D printer at $2999 on Kickstarter. While this price, arguably, is out of range for most of the consumer market, the resolution they are getting is high enough to tempt those in the market for a 3D printer.

Choosing between the SL and FDM printers is pretty straightforward. If resolution is the only option, Formlabs is a solid choice for prototyping, but keep in mind that the resin is expensive at $149 per liter and there is a cleanup process required to finish the part. If structural strength is paramount, an FDM printer using ABS is the best choice, and the plastic is quite affordable at $48 per kg. Beyond price, resolution, and strength of the finished parts, other considerations are size, portability, and whether or not you want to build or buy assembled.

The Future is Here

Judging from the reactions and listening to the conversations in the crowd of attendees, 3D printing has arrived. But most of the world still has yet to discover 3D printers and understand what is possible. Imagining what will be possible tomorrow and at next year’s 3D Printshow in Paris is anyone’s guess. But for makers who already own a 3D printer and the companies pushing this technology forward, a small percent of the world population is already living in the future.

Here are some photos Brook captured throughout the weekend:

Start the slideshow

And be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming Make: Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing, on newsstands November 13. With the abundance of information and options out there, how are makers to choose the 3D printer that’s right for them? MAKE is here to help. We brought 16 of the top printers to our headquarters and hosted a weekend-long printer shootout staffed by the editors of MAKE and a number of luminaries in the field. We documented out-of-box experiences and subjected the printers to a number of print and torture tests. This issue presents our findings for you in a clear, concise manner.

To further demystify the landscape, this issue offers comprehensive articles on choosing a printer that’s perfect for you, getting started once you have a printer, software choices, options for 3D printing without a printer, gallery of coolest and most useful prints, detailed list of materials options, scanning options, and much more.

Goli Mohammadi

I’m a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

I was an editor for the first 40 volumes of MAKE. The maker movement provides me with endless inspiration, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. Covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made.

Contact me at snowgoli (at) gmail (dot) com.


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