Technology Explained

The 3D Printing Revolution Leaps Ever Closer to Consumer Level

James Bruce 23-05-2012

3d printing3D printers Ultimate Beginner's Guide to 3D Printing 3D printing was supposed to be the new "Industrial Revolution." It hasn't taken over the world yet, but I'm here to talk you through everything you need to know to get started. Read More have been a reality for some time now, but if we’re honest the majority of them are – let’s say – for hobbyists. Although it’s very impressive and meta to say that one RepRap printer can print off 40% of the parts for another, those parts still need a delicate hand and a good amount of geekery Two 3D Printers You Can Make Yourself For Around $1,000 Today I’d like to show you two specific projects that can built for more or less $1,000, both of which are fully functional 3D-plastic printers, and both of which are open-sourced and actively being developed. Read More to produce another machine.


Until now, these things have very much been out of the hands of consumers like you or me. A few more recent developments however, have brought the 3D printing revolution very much closer to reality for consumers at large. Let me take you on a journey to the future!

The Consumer 3D Printer: The Cube

Cubify understands the problem with geeky, DIY, hard to build and calibrate printers; and their Cube aims to solve this. Currently on pre-order and due for release on 25th May, the device is about as consumer level as you can get.

3d printing

At $1,299, it costs as much as a new desktop PC (and considerably less than the other leading consumer level 3D printer – the Makerbot Replicator) – but like all printers, they’ll get you on the cartridges! Yes, you heard me right – the Cube eschews traditional standardised filament rolls in favor of device-specific filament cartridges, with a variety of garish colors available for $50 each. The simplified loading process means switching out colors or loading a new cartridges is easy.

Here’s a video of the Cube in action – skip forward to 1:05


The device even works over wifi (wifi only, in fact); and comes with 25 interesting 3D objects to get you started, as well as simplified software for designing and printing objects.

3d printing service

Whether the device will be successful in the long term – or if it will even ship on time – still remains to be seen. However, it does offer a glimpse into the future of 3D printers for the home, and may push some other larger manufacturers to try their hand at making consumer grade units.

Don’t Want A Printer? No Problem

If you don’t want the expense of an entire 3D printer, you can have items custom printed and mailed to you using one of the new we print it for you start-ups. The best I’ve seen so far is Shapeways.


With Shapeways, you can upload your own 3D designs and have them properly checked over for printing viability – and made in a variety of materials instead of the ABS hard plastic that most DIY 3D printers are limited to. A gold plated model of your head? No problem.

Alternatively, you can choose from the huge archive of ready-made and unique 3D objects uploaded by other artists and designers; including fantastic full color pieces like this Catan tile:

3d printing service

Getting The Models

The most comprehensive directory to grab 3D models from so far is the Thingiverse, a community-driven site built by MakerBot Industries. All the objects are free to download, and many can be used to produce derivatives; that is, customized versions of the original.


3d printing service

There are some copyright issues of course; especially when it comes to existing businesses that make their money producing little bits of plastic (here’s looking at you, Games Workshop). Good ol’ torrents to save the day – The Pirate Bay now has an official a 3D objects category, curiously entitled Physibles (link for UK users, via pirateparty proxy). It’s still a little thin on content, but it’s good to know they’ll always be a haven for 3D objects that others would rather monetize. In fact, a few high profile Cease and Desist cases have already emerged regarding 3D printable movie props.

3d printing industry

The 3D printing revolution has come a long way in the last year, and consumer level devices like the Cube have the chance to really bring this into the homes of people like you and I. While the music industry is still fuming over pirated music, manufacturers of little plastic thingies the world over might want to consider adjusting their long term business plans, because 3D printing is going to be big. What we’ve seen today represents the first baby steps in the consumer arena; but there will be more to come.


3d printing

If a sub-$1,000 consumer 3D printer were available – would you get one? If not, what’s holding you back? Would it still be too cost prohibitive, or do you just not see the point of owning one beyond the initial wow factor?

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. LeviTashun
    August 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    I personally can't wait for the 3D food printers to become widespread.

    Well, I'm not sure if I would eat the stuff, but it would be cool to see.

  2. Luda Yoda
    June 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    So awesome! Dont even need to buy toys for kids anymore. Just make your own...

  3. Shalom Craimer
    June 12, 2012 at 4:44 am

    I was reading the article, and I was convinced this was written back in 2009 or something, because it seems kinda dated... There's a lot of 3D printers you can buy nowadays for less than 1000 USD. I mean, look at the MakiBox ([Broken URL Removed]) for 300 USD, or many many other Kickstarter projects for 500-800 USD.

    My problem is justifying even 300 dollars to myself. While there's a lot of stuff you can do with a 3D printer, most of it isn't really necessary, or I could manage to get it done some other way. I would be sad if I bought such a printer and stopped using it after a few weeks. It would be terrible to watch such a thing collect dust :-(

    • James Bruce
      June 12, 2012 at 8:34 am

      There are sub-$1000 printers available, but none are consumer targetted. They involve DIY kits, Arduino controllers etc. This was to highlight a true *consumer* 3D printer. You don't put it together, it works over wifi, and you buy print cartridges. They also combined it with easy to use software. That's the difference, and why I wrote this.

    • James Bruce
      June 12, 2012 at 8:36 am

      Also, the Makibox isn't actually a thing yet. I'd love to review one, but they aren't shipping for 2 months yet.

      • Shalom Craimer
        June 12, 2012 at 8:10 pm

        I stand corrected on both counts!

  4. lysander
    May 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    You have to let cubify sublicense any model you print, images, files, etc...
    You have to use cubify service only to print something.

    • TechieJake
      May 25, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      Cubify only asks to sublicense when you upload a design to share with the community, but they also allow you to set your own price if you want to make a profit off your design.
      As far as using cubify to print, in addition to the .cube files you can download from Cubify, the Cube reads all .stl files like any other 3d printer.

  5. martyn jones
    May 23, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    I'd want to do some prototyping work with it like brackets for engines and mounting tabs - wonder how strong the stuff is. Wonder if you can print using wax - then you can use it for casting.

    • Hoss
      May 25, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      As well as this metal 3-D 'printers' are available - they work on the same principle but fuse tiny particles of metal using a laser. I've seen titanium ones used to make aerospace parts. I doubt whether we'll ever see consumer desktop versions, but as with everything they'll get cheaper. I'm sure companies will pop up where you'll be able send your designs to them to print before too long much in the same way traditional print companies work now.

  6. Robert "Ruedii"
    May 23, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    I'd be more interested in a small scale CAM grinding machine. Imagine being able to replace that screw you lost, or create small parts for an R/C car.

    • muotechguy
      May 24, 2012 at 8:12 am

      I suspect that'll be the next great revolution....