3D Printing at Home or Office: Access vs. Quality

There has been a bit of discussion in the past couple of weeks about 3D printing in the home, the world of possibilities it opens up and the IP implications that may also unfold. It is great to see more people being made aware of 3D printing and how it is becoming increasingly accessible, but the quality of most 3D prints at home are not quite at the level of consumer ready products.  It may not (or maybe it would) please Gorge Lucas to see a gnarly, malformed and barely recognizable Darth Vader head being extruded out of an open source 3D printer, but I don’t think the Star Wars franchise is too concerned about the potential income lost (they have malformed and barely recognizable new ‘Star Wars’ films for that).


We are seeing more and more 3D printers start to hit the home DIY market from the open source RepRap, Fab@home and Makerbot to the UP! Personal Portable 3D Printer
coming in as a slightly higher resolution, no assembly required 3D
printer.  Having ready access to a 3D printer in your home is great for
speeding up the design process, so you can test and reiterate your
design, but when it comes to a finished product, many people are
turning to higher quality machines (via Shapeways) to produce the end
product. Like this Video Mixer Button tested on a Makerbot, but finally 3D printed by Shapeways.


Weirdly, this is sometimes putting the DIY 3D printer back into the role of
rapid prototyper rather than on the demand manufacturing that is
evolving with the higher end machines
with finer quality materials.  Sure you could have printed it with a home 3D printer and had a working button for your video mixer, but with a higher quality one it may not negatively affect the resale value, it could even raise it?

There are of course constant improvements and some truly amazing experiments like Junior Veloso’s high detail DIY 3D printer using visible light and DLP chip to cure visible light resin and as these processes become available we will see higher resolution models, but there are still the materials to consider. A piece of jewelry 3D printed in a polymer is still very cool, contemporary and sometimes quirky, but may not be an everlasting piece to be handed down for generations and working mechanical parts my be a little unreliable. The options available from commercial 3D printers that include stainless steel, gold plating, silver and titanium require such complex and extreme processes that it is unlikely we will see them in the home in the very near future.

The availability of 3D printers at home, hackerspaces and other communal settings is one of the coolest things to happen over the last few years and much kudos to all who are making it happen.  It will be exciting to see what happens as the quality of the machines and materials evolve to the point where they are more of a threat to mass produced objects…  Oh, and if anyone has any images of home 3D printed products that are of super high quality please do share….

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  1. Madox

    I don’t think home 3D printer will replace services like Shapeways.

    I see them as complementary. The economics of home printing will never work out for most due to the high capital cost of the printer (Even a MakerBot is expensive), and that most people don’t really print that much.

    I have just printed a model using the Up! printer as shown in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H102VH8a8bM , but I plan to print this model using Shapeways too in a much smaller scale for the ‘accuracy’ you mention :) Super micro pump hehehe :)

    1. Duann

      Wow, that is really cool.

      Did you buy an Up! printer or had a chance to use someones?

      How did it perform, noise, smell, etc?


    2. Madox

      Mine :)

      Nice, had a bit of a problem initially but their service/support were very good/quick.

      Minimal smell/fumes, I deliberately close the window to avoid temperature differentials across the model [near a window].

      Very nice for the price :) Still ordering off Shapeways though, hoping for a return/permanency of the silver.

      Now printing ‘useless models’ i couldn’t justify paying Shapeways for like this one http://www.madox.net/blog/2010/11/09/my-5-cents-worth-where-2-cents-just-isnt-enough/

  2. T. Shawn Johnson

    Agreed re: UP! Printer. Virtually no smell, low noise, really convenient. The resolution, cleanness and accuracy of the UP does not compare to the picture shown above from what I assume to be the Shapeways Makerbot.

    If you check out what I’m doing with my gnomes (hmm, I’m relectant to post the url to my Etsy shop for ettiquette sake), you’ll see that they look pretty good. I definately like this material a lot.

    Now, Shapeways offers metal, glass, colour, WSF, alumide, and more. The properties of metal and WSF are defiantely not available to me at home. So this machine doesn’t replace Shapeways, but it certainly allows me to spend a lot less on prototyping. And, in some cases, I can produce my own things for sale.

    I don’t think Shapeways folks should spend a lot of time rebelling and debating the inevitable impending popularity of the home 3d printer. It’s here. Period. It fills the need for instant “now” models. The quality is becoming excellent. If anything, rather than debate the validity of home printing, Shapeways should capitalize on it by tailoring it’s service to cater to those who have 3d printers (ie. allowing designers to offer files for sale that a 3d printer owner can buy and print). Maybe there are other things that 3d printer owners will want from Shapeways… compatable materials (ie. spools of abs) … tools for finishing … useful paints … that sort of thing.


  3. Duann

    Thanks for your take on it Whystler,

    We are really quite excited about the 3D printers that are hitting the market, the innovative items that are being printed, and the increasing quality and complexity of designs we will see on Shapeways because of them.
    Bre and the team at Makerbot are fantastic ambassadors spreading the word to independent makers, as are the Shapeways community who promote their designs like you do on sites such as Etsy, Deviant Art and etc.. (cool voodoo dolls).

    After all, “a rising tide lifts all boats”

    Oh, and personally I would LOVE to have a 3D printer at home to experiment with. (envy)



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