3-D printing breaks out of niche by aiming for your kitchen, garage, wardrobe — or all three

By Peter Svensson

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 11 2014 5:00 p.m. MST

"Normally, prosthetics cost tens of thousands of dollars, but with the MakerBot, they cost five dollars in materials," Pettis said.

MakerBot unveiled new models at the show, including its biggest one yet, which is the size of a mini-fridge, costs $6,499 and can print objects the size of a human head. It also launched a smaller version, the Replicator Mini, which can create cupcake-sized objects. It will cost $1,375 when it launches this spring.

MakerBot will be undersold, however, by XYZprinting Inc. of Taiwan, which plans to sell its Da Vinci printer starting in March in the U.S. for $499. That's a price that's bound to attract a lot of people who would never have imagined, a year ago, that they'd have a 3-D printer in the house.

The MakerBot and Da Vinci printers take rolls of plastic wire and melt them, piece by piece, depositing tiny dots to create objects. The resulting pieces can be light and strong, but their surfaces show a characteristic banded texture and the resolution is limited; the overall impression is crude. The light-curing models used by jewelers and engineers produce smooth objects with fine detail, but they've been out of reach of consumers and tinkerers until now.

The show provided hope on that front, however: XFab, an Italian company that's made professional 3-D printers for a decade, demonstrated a $5,000 laser-powered model at the show, and said it is looking at launching a smaller, $2,500 model later this year. That's roughly the price of the standard MakerBot, which has been the vanguard of the consumer 3-D printing movement so far.

Elsewhere at the show, there was a "technology fashion" show that featured 3-D-printed shoes and a bag with appliques created on a consumer-level, computer-controlled cloth cutter, the Brother ScanNCut.

"The question in my mind is not 'Will we have a 3-D printer in each home?' but 'Which room will it be in?'" said Avi Reichental, the CEO of 3D Systems. "Will it be in your garage? Will it be in your kids' room, or the man cave ... Or the wardrobe?"

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