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Two thousand and twelve was 3D printing’s breakout year. While still the realm of early adopters, the 3D-printed genie is clearly out of the bottle.

I checked in with several consumer-class 3D printer companies to see how 2012 went down for them and to get their thoughts on 2013 and beyond. Everyone I spoke with was extremely bullish about the future of 3D printing and some are already rolling out new models.

Following its celebrated debut on Kickstarter, Printrbot has continued to exceed founder Brook Drumm’s expectations.

“My expectation a year ago was zero because we’re only a year old,” he said.

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 1.19.24 PM

Printrbot’s LC Plus printer.

Printrbot went on to sell about 3,000 printers in 2012 with sales of almost $1 million. Most sales were in December and January ’13 is on track to top that, Drumm said.

“The tech media is starting to cool their heels, but the mainstream is still getting into it,” he said.

Printrbot’s best sales have come from its low priced ($400) Printrbot Jr. model and there’s an even lower priced model to come. Printrbot  has targeted schools as part of its business plan with these value-priced printers.

At the other end of the spectrum, the company is gearing up to release the triple extruder Printrbot Pro, an all-metal, flagship printer that Drumm says will compete with MakerBot’s Replicator 2, but for a lot less money. He estimates it will cost $1,200-$1,500. He calls it the “kitchen sink” model.

Meanwhile, the company just went live with Makrz, an iPhone app with 30,000, open source 3D software files.

Speaking of MakerBot, the industry darling is  tight-lipped about its sales figures, but PR director Jenifer Howard said sales of the MakerBot Replicator 2 were “exceeding expectations.” According to data she gave MAKE, the company had 16 percent market share of all 3D printers (industrial and personal) from 2009 to 2011. In 2011, MakerBot had 21.6 percent market share, and in 2012,  MakerBot estimated it had 25 percent of the overall 3D printer market. Currently, there are more than 15,000 MakerBot 3D printers out in the wild, the company said.

San Francisco’s Type A is another newbie. COO Espen Sivertsten said, as a year-old company, he wanted to go slow and make sure they could meet customer expectations.

“We worry, in fact, that some of our competitors have scaled up too quickly and that as a result many customers have printers gathering dust,” he said. “A printer gathering dust is not a good introduction to the wonderful world of 3D printing!”

seriesonehero

Type A Machines’ Series 1 3D printer.

Nevertheless, 2012 was a busy year for a company that doesn’t do any marketing. Sivertsten and others pointed to the publication of MAKE’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing as a key factor in the popularization of the technology. Starting at zero in January 2012, Type A sold more than 100 of its Series 1 printers.

“It just snowballed from there,” Sivertsten said. “It’s definitely been a good year for 3D printing.”

He said the challenge for 2013 will be explaining to the public what they actually do with 3D printers now that more people know what they are. To help do that, the company is headquartered on the 3rd floor of San Francisco’s Tech Shop where people are free to check out what the Type A crew is up to.

Even Portland’s Trinity Labs had a good year, considering they sold a printer that founder Ezra Zygmuntowicz said wasn’t “commercially viable.”

Zygmuntowicz founded the company in 2011 and was assembling a team to build a RepRap-style printer, but when he got the opportunity to sell the MendelMax printer, with its backlog of orders, he shifted gears. He sold about 350 kits for the MendelMax in 2012, but stopped taking orders in September. While he’s a fan of the printer, he said the dozens of hours required to assemble it from 400 parts sourced from 27 different vendors made it hard to get behind it as a consumer friendly printer.

Last month, Trinity Labs started taking orders for the printer Zygmuntowicz meant to sell in the first place, the Aluminatus. With a 320mm x 320mm x 350mm print capacity, it has one of the biggest print sizes on the market. It’s going to sell for about $2,200, but Zygmuntowicz offered discounts for pre-orders and he’s already sold more than 100 with plans to begin shipping this month.

“We sold the first 50 in ten days,” he said.

On New Year’s Eve, Trinity topped $100,000 in sales for one month, a record for the company.

“3D printing is really on fire and exploding right now,” Zygmuntowicz  said.

Trinity Labs also plans to release a “pocket printer” with a tiny 75mmX75mmX75mm print size that Ezra says makes it ideal for budget-conscious schools.

“It will literally fit in your pants pocket when it’s folded up,” he said.

Did you buy a 3D printer last year? Is one on your list for this year? Let us hear from you.

2013 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing

  • 3D Printers Buyer's Guide — 15 Reviewed
  • Getting Started in 3D
  • Learn the Software Toolchain
  • 3D Design for Beginners
  • 3D Printing without a Printer

Buy now!

Just Released! 2014 MAKE Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing

Stett Holbrook

Stett is a senior editor at MAKE with abiding interest in food and drink, bicycles, woodworking, and environmentally sound human enterprises. He is the father of two young makers.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

Contact Stett with tips and story ideas on:

*Food
*Sustainable/green design
*Science
*Young Makers
*Action sports


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Comments

  1. [...] Read the full article on MAKE [...]

  2. Steve Stevens says:

    I’ve been a big fan of 3D printing on and off for over 10 years. It started with an interest in 3D graphics, then I was lucky enough to work for a company supporting Solidworks and implementing some cutting edge Stereolithography machines. In that last year though it has really taken off, and with the desktop kits and pre-built and tested models booming, I decided to jump on board as a hobbyist.

    Unfortunately though, I backed the wrong horse! Purchased a SumPod from IndieGoGo during one of Richard Sum’s crowdfunding campaigns, paid the $1,300 fee then a shipping fee a few weeks later back in July 2012 with August 2012 delivery.

    But ever since, the guy has just been delaying and delaying. I understand that things can (and usually will!) go wrong, but I was promised “Delivery next week” at least twice a month for the last 5-6 months!

    Finally lost my patience and the guy wouldn’t give me my money back! In the end I had to go to my Credit Card company, write them a letter and jump through hoops, but eventually I did get my funds back.

    I am a bit disappointed as essentially I am back a step one – which one should I buy? but I am still enthusiastic, and hopefully will have my NEW new 3D Printer in the next 2 months. I won’t let one bad experience taint my enthusiasm!

    Just wanted to say I’m a great fan of MAKE, you guys are doing a great job. Keep up the great work.

    1. Jerry Tremble says:

      Wow, that sucks! I hope I don’t have to jump through those hoops! I just ordered the Printrbot Plus along with some add-ons a couple weeks back. They said 3-4 weeks to process the order, so it’s too early to say. I’m excited and anxious to get it though! I am a little apprehensive due to the apparent lack of documentation on assembly though. I’ve scoured their forum and a lot of people said documentation was pretty poor. I was looking at the replicator 2X but they said 8 weeks to process the order! I was simply too anxious, although the difference in price was also a factor, but not much. I simply wanted one that could print with either PLA or ABS. Researching opinions on those plastics seemed much like getting an opinion from a congressman, leaving it up to me to decide which works for me! Had I known they were going to come out with a “kitchen sink” model, though, I might have waited a little longer. Good luck on your quest!

      1. Jerry Tremble says:

        P.S. The Printrbot Plus has a HUGE print volume compared to the others, especially with the add-ons.

        1. Jerry Tremble says:

          Update-my Printrbot shipped today! Think they read Make?

  3. Kenzii says:

    A new breakthrough

  4. Alex Echeverria says:

    I paid for a Printrbot Plus on Black Friday although it took me by surprise as I only checked it at Quickstarter some months before and left my email to get news from Mr Drumm´s company. I did not know the story behind this printer only after I paid for it. I was quite worried and even asked for a refund when I started to look at posts and knew what I was into. No replies and it arrived one month later. I had to get very organized making a directory of posts from people who already uses the printer as PB tutorials lack consistency. A week later I was able to finish assembling. But it never behaved as intended, it seems printrboard I got has firmware for an LC, a smaller printer. Printrbot rep says it sent me a new board, I am waiting for it. So it is still gathering dust one month later. The positive side is that this kit makes you learn (the hard way) a lot about the tweaking of this technology. If you want to print right away, had never seen one working or have no nerds around to help you, buy a tested, assembled printer.

    1. Jerry Tremble says:

      I have no illusions about printing with this thing right out of the box, and I like a good challenge! As for nerdiness, I think I’ve got that covered. I will attempt to document my build with video and stills and with any luck they will be of use to somebody!

      1. Alex Echeverria says:

        Please do, good tips are very appreciated. For people like you that business will keep growing. I wanted it to print objects for an April scientific exhibit so I am quite deceived of the customer support.

      2. Alex Echeverria says:

        You will see this printer is quite easy to improve and even you will be able to transform it to a bigger one yourself. It is the simplest machine in terms of hardware. The trick is in the software. Please give a link to your videos!

        1. Jerry Tremble says:

          Will do! It’s supposed to arrive tomorrow per USPS, but I’m betting Monday would be more likely. I’m estimating two weeks to a month build time (if my time allows; I work a LOT). Also gotta make room for it!

          1. Alex Echeverria says:

            It smells like you will not sleep! It is like one of those books you don´t want to close until finished. I suggest to download bill of materials and count all the things that are in the box. You might need to buy more zip ties, etc. I had to cut extra long screws to have enough small ones that were not present. Look at Brooks videos and print related guides for reference as there are no closeups in low resolution videos. In the photo guide there is better info (I think his wife made it and has more common sense). You can first paint or varnish birch wooden parts with an airbrush if you want to protect from dirt, I only sanded all wooden parts and made some holes for easier assembly (over the X axis covered “severed head” screw, easier to hold it still). Take much care when connecting USB to board as connector is very fragile. Whenever you move printer always disconnect it first. Happy tweaking!

          2. Jerry Tremble says:

            You are so correct about not sleeping, I feel like a little kid waiting for santa claus! And thanks for the tips! I looked at Craig the Fabricator’s assembly videos on YouTube and I saw you commenting there. Great videos, but he never finished! Arghhhh!

        2. Jerry Tremble says:

          Well, I’ve had the Printrbot Plus for almost 3 weeks now! It took me a few days to punch out all the pieces and file down the nubs (I was rather disappointed with having to do that; every video and the step-by-step instructions showed them all punched out and bagged, and some of mine were impossible to punch out without splintering the wood). It took the rest of the week to assemble, working 2-3 hours per day. I had begun documenting my build, but quickly tired of getting up and moving the camera to get close-ups, and I was moving along quite well with Brook’s videos. He made some mistakes, thus I did as well, and at times had to undo what was already done. It would have been nice if he also held the parts up to his camera so it would be easier to identify the pieces as they were assembled. I often had to refer to the website’s instructions alongside the video. I also had to incorporate the bed leveler, belt tensioner, and print bed stabililizer (All sold separately), which added to the complexity of my build, as those instructions were separate. The second week involved getting the filament to feed properly without the hobbed bolt eating up the filament and clogging itself up, as well as calibrating the thing. During my build, with the print bed stabilizer, one of the bearings started leaking (literally) ball bearings. I filled out the replacement form online, and received replacements a few days ago (Later, during the build, I learned I could build the x-axis optionally with fewer bearings, so when I received them I was already finished). Figuring out the proper temps along with the Slic3r settings etc was a challenge, but I think I’m pretty familiar with it by now.

          I still need to get some glass or aluminum or something for the bed as the heated bed has a slight bow in the middle and this is obviously not good. Otherwise the prints come out pretty nice. Overall I’d say I’m happy with it so far and can now say I’m no longer a 3d printing virgin!

          1. Alex Echeverria says:

            Hello Jerry, I am happy for you. Yesterday I got a replacement for the bad printrboard and it printed since the first try! It is true, Printrbot Plus kit needs improvements but they can be done with hobby tools at home, like a metal hot tip holder to prevent wobbling, specially at Y axis. Also a 5V fan is a good addition (I used a little one present in my laptop cooler base that even has nice LEDs). A glass and bed leveling is a must and if you use ABS it is a great plus to spray AguaNet all over the surface of the glass or kapton tape. A digital vernier is great for calibration ($10 at eBay) and to make precise measurements when creating objects. I am learning SketchUp to make STL objects as it is intuitive and easy to learn. Now it would be nice to expand the Y and Z axis to make 20 x40 x 40 cm objects (I found a shop that sells good rods). Lets print something!

  5. [...] 2012: 3D Printing’s Big Year (makezine.com) [...]

  6. Jim S says:

    I was one of the folks who contributed to the numbers by buying an Afinia printer just after reading the Make Ultimate Guide book based on the results and knowing that I wanted to be able to print ABS right out of the box. I have been very happy with it. My success has been largely limited by the fact that I am still employed 4 days a week and I have also found that I am a lousy modeler despite being a mechanical engineer with 38 years of design experience. I have started to blog about my experiences at my web site JMS3DPrinting.com. I just recently designed a key tag for my wife who dreamed it up for herself, sketched it, and I ended up modeling it and printing it in 2 colors. The print took 35 minutes but it probably took me 2 days to model it. She was disappointed in some of the fill in the lettering so I just ran an experiment to look at fill as a function of width of the feature. I now know how to tweak the design for better appearance. Needless to say I am having a ball experimenting and creating a list of items that I have printed. I haven’t really touched on any Thingiverse, Cubify or other web sources for models yet. While this printer is not open source I can see potential improvements due to my Lean and 6Sigma training. Who know, perhaps I will buy another printer in a few years based on what I have learned and the likely fact that the improved models will be faster and have more features. But I couldn’t wait to buy or I would miss all of the fun.

    Jim S