A Brief History of 3D Printing

The incredible advancement and potential of 3D printing make it fascinating in every aspect. However, the history of 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, can’t be that easily traced back to a single inventor. Many of those wondering ‘when was the 3D printer invented’ may assume otherwise, but the true pioneers of 3D printing seldom get credited for it.

The Most Interesting Facts from the History of 3D Printing

The answer to ‘when was 3D printing invented’ isn’t a specific date or year, but more like a decade, as the early concepts of 3D printing emerged in the ’80s. It took a few years for different researchers to develop those into the three essential 3D printing technologies and to obtain the patents for their discoveries:

  • Stereolithography (SLA) – Charles Hull, 1986
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – Carl Deckard, 1989
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) – Scott Crump, 1989

These technologies are the three pillars of 3D printing that gave a boost to establishing other 3D printing techniques appropriated by companies in the 1990s and 2000s. But who are the unsung heroes behind the first experiments and the research that had enabled 3D printing to evolve in different directions?

In 1981, Dr. Hideo Kodama published his research on printing photopolymers, describing a layer-by-layer approach as a “rapid prototyping” technique. While we can’t say he is the one who made the first 3D printer, he laid the groundwork for additive manufacturing technologies development. Therefore, it is arguable that Dr. Kodama invented 3D printing, but he is often considered the ‘father’ of Stereolithography technology.

The first patent registered for 3D printing failed to take its rightful place in the history of 3D printing. The three French researchers who consider themselves the 3D printing creators had managed to register a patent for Stereolithography in 1984, but then abandoned it. Unlike Jean-Claude André, Alain le Méhauté and Olivier de Witte, the American Charles Hull obtained his patent for Stereolithography in 1986 and is credited for the birth of 3D printing. After all, he founded the 3D Systems Corporation that presented the first 3D printer to the world in 1987.

From Industrial 3D Printers to Personal Consumer Use

The evolution of 3D printing processes and machines is amazing and fast-paced. They went from prototyping purposes and limited industrial usage to producing complex, highly detailed parts and even human organs that were transplanted successfully. The popularity of the technology grew immensely at the turn of the millennium. The launch of the first inkjet 3D printer, then a high-definition color 3D printer, and the first 3D printed prosthetic limb revolutionized the industry.

Moreover, 3D printing became less expensive and more accessible in many parts of the world. With the introduction of online 3D printing services, and smaller, consumer-use printers replacing the once huge machines, new possibilities opened for businesses and individuals. Besides, 3D models are now available not only on Thingiverse – there are many websites for 3D printing ideas, free downloading and sharing of 3D printable designs.

Today, many companies use advanced 3D printers and materials in their production processes. Those who are looking for their own start of business ideas will find the technology useful – whether planning to create and sell 3D products or other kinds of goods. Last but not least, anybody can produce things at home to save money or start a 3D printing project just for fun.

However, most people don’t want to invest in a 3D printer just to print a few items occasionally, but they are smart enough to find an online service for that. Starting a 3D printing business that offers this kind of service could become your source of extra income.

The Growing Demand for 3D Printed Parts

The history of 3D printing is impressive, but its future is certainly more fascinating. We may not know exactly when 3D printing was invented, but we know for sure it has made the lives of many people easier for decades. The first 3D printers were huge and slow, but they keep getting faster, more accurate, and affordable, working with a variety of high-performance materials.

With its potential to reduce costs and waste, save money and even lives, technology is here to stay, evolve and progress. Large-scale 3D-printed projects are amazing, such as cars, boats, bridges, and, in the future, even houses. 

However, the largest breakthrough we’re nearing is for medical 3D printing or bioprinting. It’s a complex combination of 3D printing, growth factors, and biomaterials that allow to build tissue-like substances. The future is promising with claims that 3D printing will be able to provide complex organs for transplantation. As of now, a bladder was “printed” and transplanted successfully.

Different industries and entrepreneurs are using such convenient options as 3D printed shoe and clothing parts, tools, jewelry molds, and even furniture. There are many opportunities to start a 3D printing business today. Producing household objects, toys, combination locks, 3D puzzles, clocks, or kitchen utensils – these are all great startup ideas. In the future, we’re waiting for food 3D printers.