Five Trends in 3D Printing

3D Printing & Imaging
Five Trends in 3D Printing


In preparation for the Maker Faire each season, the editors of MAKE have been divying up topical beats so we can cover more area. I’ve been covering the 3D printing beat, and thought I’d share some of the trends and technologies I’m seeing going into Maker Faire. Putting aside the IP, social, and political discussions that will surely be happening this year, below is a quick overview of how I see the “State of the Beat”.

If you have suggestions for other trending topics — or especially recommendations for people you’d like to see at Maker Faire — I’d love it if you could post in the comments.

1. The spread of tools and techniques for creating original models.

As more people get access to 3D printers, they’ll also have to climb the not-insignificant learning curve of 3D modeling tools and techniques. Some new and interesting tools include:

  • OpenSCAD: an open source tool for constructive solid modeling (CSM). CSM is often a better technique for 3D printing than the more common mesh-based surface modeling because you can unequivocally say whether a point should contain a drop of plastic or not. As it turns out, OpenSCAD works well as a backend, and we’re seeing some tools built on top of it like OmNomNom Creator and the Makerbot Customizer.
  • Makerbot Customizer: Created by Tony Buser, the Customizer is a really interesting step toward consumer-friendly 3D model distribution. It’s a parametric front end to a 3D model that is easy to use for both end users and model makers.
  • ModelBuilder: Marius Watz created this Processing add on for algorithmically generating 3D models. Great for realizing your favorite mathematical oddity as a piece of jewelry.
  • MeshMixer: A pretty simple 3D modeling and touch up tool.

goDVTND1YJTwViGJ.largeSean Ragan’s OpenSCAD tutorial on Make Projects.

2. Retail 3D printing/printer shops opening

3D printing storefronts are probably the only new type of retail I’ve heard about in a long time. Staples will be rolling out 3D printers in Europe this Spring (no US date?).

  • Deezemaker: Bukobot creator Diego Porqueras’s shop is also a hackerspace.
  • The Makerbot Retail Store opened this year, a few blocks from Soho no less.
  • Paris now has a 3D printshop at Protoshop.
  • 3DEA in NY: A temporary pop up shop; more like a gallery, but still a storefront.


3. Inexpensive scanning and 3D input devices that are actually usable

We’re not at the point yet where it is reasonable to duplicate real world objects the way we do sheets of paper or digital objects. One of the most interesting uses of 3D scanners now is in taking samples of the world, then incorporating those models into new objects. Scan that seashell, tweak it, then scale it up into the roof of an amphitheatre; that kind of thing.

  • 123D Catch works surpsingly well in what is a pretty difficult application area. This seems to have become the standard, displacing other apps like Trimensional.
  • On Windows you can use Kinect + ReconstructMe
  • I imagine the Leap Motion will be a player in the 3D input device area.

Anna Kazuinas France’s Halloween treats started with a 3D scan of a skull.

4. More/more better printers and prints.

This was the theme of Maker Faire NY and I expect that to continue: more people making more and more better printers and prints.

  • Deltabots: The Rostock was the only Deltabot at Maker Faire NY; I expect to see more this time around, like DeltaMaker.
  • Adafruit has a new category for selling bearings, couplers, pulleys, etc. Could we see an Adafruit 3d printer someday? If not, certainly this will help more people get started with designing their own machines and mechanisms.
  • Better electronics: A lot of the RepRap inventions are becoming slicker and slicker. Also, a lot of finer details of industrial firmware (like acceleration profiles) are making it into the hobbyist electronics. For example, Synthetos’ TinyG motor control system makes 3D printers move like Cylons:[youtube:]

5. Inexpensive printers supporting new materials

Besides PLA and ABS plastics (and the photopolymer resins used by printers like the Form 1), we’ll be seeing hobby printers capable of printing more types of materials:

  • Polycarbonate
  • Nylon
  • LAYWOO-D3 wood filament
  • High impact polystyrene
  • Better support materials
  • Biomaterials (skin, bone, etc.)
  • Carbomorph conductive resin

And then of course there’s the Holy Grail-like renewable promise of the Filabot Personal Filament Maker.

With all this in mind, who would you like to see present at Maker Faire Bay Area?

34 thoughts on “Five Trends in 3D Printing

  1. drestuff says:

    It’s amazing to me how your writing makes the world of 3d printing look soooo promising. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is not at all the case. Most of what you describe above as upcoming software is not at all approachable (Modelbuilder) or easy to use to a 3d printer user and much of the software out there now for printing does not work well (e.g., RepliatorG chokes on larger, complex files). The Bukobot like so many other glue gun plotters are kits that do not have enough of what is needed to actually build a usable 3d printer without having to work on the printer more then what you want printed. How can they have a store front when they have a 12 week backlog? 3D printing is not what Make Magazine makes it out to be.

    1. Shawn Wallace says:

      I’ve got a RepRap sitting on my desk with a broken Z axis and haven’t had the four hours it’ll take me to fix it, so I understand what you’re saying here. Are you saying that we (generally speaking) have still not moved past the hump of the hardware learning curve (and in the case of some manufacturers, the fulfillment learning curve), and haven’t moved on to the challenge of making original objects with these tools yet?

  2. Ryan says:

    I agree with what drestuff is saying.

    Right now, 3d printing is a hobby, not a tool. The internet sells 3d printing as a revolutionary technology that turns 3d models directly into physical objects at the touch of a button but we all know that isn’t the truth.

    3d printers have been oversold and marketed to people without the time or skills to make use of them. Even now, I would wager more than 50% of 3d printers have never printed more than tests and keychains, if they even print at all.

    This should not have been a problem, but the media has vastly overstated the current state of 3d printers and roped hapless “makers” into investing hundreds of dollars and months of work into a project they have no time for.

    1. Shawn Wallace says:

      Well yeah, that’s what I’m saying: the challenge now is to get to a general literacy of 3D modeling tools so that people can move beyond downloading tchotchkes, doodads, and geegaws. I don’t think we’ve ever misrepresented 3D printers as consumer electronics.

    2. Adric Menning says:

      I often use the car analogy, Before the Ford Model T, most people scoffed at the buggy incompatible dangerous horseless carriages. most thought they would never catch on. they did, and they have evolved. 3dprinting is in the same frontier and its also buggy and takes some time and dedication to do but in the 2 years ive been working with it it has evolved lots!

      1. Shawn Wallace says:

        About a year ago I went through the RepRap blog from the beginning to (then) present and found that it was pretty inspiring. Evolution is indeed the term.

    3. Austringer says:

      If you replaced “3D printer” with “table saw” much of your statement would still be true. The person who owns a lot of tools (for many values of tool) but never actually makes or fixes anything with them is an archetype that existed before the internet (or event the home computer) was a thing.

  3. annmarieshillito says:

    Putting the need for TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES FOR CREATING ORIGINAL MODELS at No1 (if this is in order of priority and I hope so) is astute and great to see highlighted as this is usually swamped by the excitement around 3D printers. As you point out climbing the not-insignificant learning curve of 3D modeling tools and techniques is a major barrier for many people, especially studio artists, designer makers and 3D fine artists as they need less complex functions than product designers require for CAD, and want maximum time at the bench, not stuck in front of a screen.

    My company’s 3D haptic sketch/modelling package is an interesting tool because we have developed it specifically for studio artists, designer makers and 3D fine artists and for NON CAD users to be able create original models for 3D printing without having to commit to the long steep learning curve of most 3D modelling software. A novice to 3D modelling can be creating within hours as the haptics (virtual touch from a 3D device replacing the 2D mouse) makes working in a 3D environment and on a 3D object a more familiar experience.

    First goes are usually not the most beautiful as users get wowed and carried away by the haptics which has to be physically tried to be grasped. Hence we are waiting to hear whether we have a stand at the Mini Maker Faire here in Edinburgh on the 7th April so visitors can experience haptics and try our software out. We have also demo-ed our product at the Maker Faires in Newcastle, UK on the Shapeways stand.

    1. Enthusiasic user says:

      How much does your package cost, is it suitable for the hobby market

      1. annmarieshillito says:

        Thank you for your interest about our package, Anarkik 3D Design which is our Cloud9 software bundled with Novint’s haptic device. The bundle is £500 pounds sterling. It most suits anyone with an artistic side who prefers to work organically and it complements CAD type packages. Have a look at the videos on our website because it is different.

        1. Frank Daley says:

          Sorry, but a big fail. We are now in the 21st Century.

          Anarkik3D is Windows only client software. In these days of Apple Macs, Google Linux-based Android and Chromebook, Windows only software is inexcusable.

  4. Julie Reece (@jareece611) says:

    Shawn, You inadvertently left out what was undoubtedly the biggest news in retail/service 3D printing this year, which is the news that office supply giant, Staples, selected Mcor Technologies’ full colour IRIS paper 3D printers exclusively for Staples’ new Easy 3D print service. The announcement was picked up in Wired and a slew of other media outlets. The release is found here:

    1. Shawn Wallace says:

      Hi Julie:

      Thanks; I did mention that briefly, but they’re only rolling it out in Belgium and the Netherlands for now (at least as far as I know).

  5. Eric Weddington says:

    Saw this article recently:

    Aleph Objects, creator of Lulzbot, opens a 3D printing store in Denver.

    No affiliation. :-)

    1. Shawn Wallace says:


  6. Nate Hood says:

    Great article, Shawn!

    In section 5 you mentioned “the Holy Grail-like renewable promise of the Filabot Personal Filament Maker.”

    I can’t disagree with the concept of the Filabot (grinding up failed prints and scrap plastic to produce more filament), but I would suggest that with the low cost of bulk pellets, there are already better alternatives.

    Among these are the Lyman Extruder ( and the Fila-Mint Desktop Extruder (

    Keep up the good work!


  7. cathlyn says:

    This is the year of 3D printing. This printing technique is getting worldwide popularity these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if affordable 3D printers come out and be accessible to all. Read this article to know more about 3D printing and the other printing trends to watch out for:

Comments are closed.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!
Shawn Wallace

Shawn Wallace is a MAKE contributor, artist, programmer, and editor living in Providence, R.I. He designs open hardware kits at Modern Device and organized the Fab Academy at the Providence Fab Lab. He makes iPhone synthesizers with the Fluxama collective and is a member of the SMT Computing Society.

View more articles by Shawn Wallace


Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).