3D Printer Startups Push Prices Down Into Affordability

By Wesley Fenlon

The $350 Buccaneer printer raised $1 million on Kickstarter, signalling that there's an eager market for cheap 3D printers.

As incredible as 3D printing technology already is, the revolution--where plastic printers are as common as microwaves, where the average household uses them to create toys and trinkets and tools--is still a ways away. Even the most successful 3D printers, like the MakerBot, are still tricky to use. And there's another roadblock: 3D printers still cost a whole lot more than microwaves.

But that's changing, and probably a lot more quickly than 3D printer ease-of-use. Until recently, almost 3D printers cost upwards of $1000. Even the less expensive models that cost in the high hundreds were too expensive to draw in a casual market. But as Ars Technica writes, cheap 3D printers are here, or on their way, and that's a major step towards mass adoption.

The Printbot Simple costs a mere $300, while the Buccaneer, which is about to wrap up a successful Kickstarter campaign, costs $350. The Kickstarter raised $1 million after asking for only $100,000. That level of success proves there's real interest in a low-cost 3D printer. And there's another printer that's cheaper still. Ars points out that the MakiBox A6 LT costs only $200.

How are they getting so cheap? There are, obviously, limitations. The build platforms are smaller. The A6 LT is limited to printing objects about a quarter the size of the Replicator 2. But large scale manufacturing helps drive prices down, too. And they're printing at the same 100 micron z-height as the MakerBot. The technology is maturing, and quickly.

These low-cost printers, designed to appeal to a new audience, may even be able to teach the hobbyist-aimed companies a thing or two about making their hardware more accessible. When build platforms no longer need regular re-alignment and maintenance is a rare requirement, not a daily element of 3D printer ownership, more people may be willing to spend $1000 on a 3D printer.

Software may remain the major roadblock even after 3D printer hardware is cheaper and easier to use. But that's where communities like Thingiverse come in, allowing people to download a near-endless variety of printable objects. Not everyone can plan and cook their own meal, but we can all throw a frozen dinner in the microwave and follow instructions.