How Many People Will Own 3D Printers?

Dale Dougherty has a new post up over at Make about how soon we’ll see a million 3D printers sold. IMO, it’s going to take a while. It has to do with two things: usability and the need for 3D printing’s killer app.

Sure, price is a factor but the big thing that will make a difference is usability: Until the software catches up to the machines, we will not see widespread adoption. Proprietary software from Makerbot or 3D Systems currently has a huge leg up over the RepRap open source options. Repetier-Host has made huge strides in combining slicing and printing into a single application, but the interface is still too daunting for non technical users. Compare the interface on open source options like Pronterface to the simplicity of Google Chrome’s paper print dialogue. That’s how far the software needs to come until your mom is going to make a 3D print. Machines will get faster and cheaper but until they are easier for non technical users to use, 90% of people won’t use them.

The other thing is the need for a killer app. In the same way that Zelda and Mario titles sell Nintendo consoles, 3D Printing needs a killer app to move printers. I refuse to believe that customized tchotchkes will be the lure. If I had toddlers I would definitely want to make toys for them, and maybe a large enough library of things on Thingiverse.com will incentivize some. There’s always going to be an audience of designers and makers, but what will be the lure for your mom? It’s not printing a replacement knob for her washing machine.

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