We have 3-D movies and 3-D TV prototypes, so when are the 3-D printers coming? In actuality, 3-D printers have been around for awhile–they’re used by product designers and architects to create 3-D plastic models from 3-D digital designs. And now with this week’s announcement that 3-D printer manufacturer Stratasys has teamed up with Hewlett-Packard to make an HP-branded model later this year, the printers could finally come down in price.
The HP model will still be expensive, of course. Stratsys’ cheapest model, the uPrint 3-D, costs $14,900 and can print objects up to eight inches by six inches by six inches. HP isn’t announcing details about its line until mid-2010, but we’re guessing that they will be on the less expensive side. In a statement, Stratasys CEO Scott Crump said, “We believe the time is right for 3-D printing to become mainstream.” Even though Crump was talking about becoming mainstream in the design market (not the home market), prices will still have to be lowered a bit before the printers can become mainstream in any market.
There are already options for enterprising designers and tinkerers who can’t afford a Stratasys model. MakerBot Industries offers its own open-source DIY 3-D printer. The basic kit costs just $750 and the deluxe model costs $950–much more accessible than professionally-assembled 3-D printers. MakerBot uses similar technology to Stratasys, but so far it only ships approximately 1,800 units a year. Once HP brings 3-D printing to the masses, how long could it possibly be before people discover that MakerBot offers the same technology on the cheap?