Scent of a Gamer

From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.

3D printing and adoption

3D printing is rapidly approaching the point where it will gain traction in the mass market, or be forever relegated to a niche hobbyist toy.

Sean is currently writing a series on how 3D printing can impact your hobby, and I’ve found the articles to be informative and entertaining so far. They also got me thinking, both about myself, and the hobby market in general.

As an individual, you can sit is different places on the adoption chart depending on the product. I had a dial-up internet account in 1995, but it was 2005 before I got my first mobile phone, and 2013 before my first smart phone.

For 3D printers, the early adopters are on board, and there’s enough of them that a nascent market has formed, with providers of devices and providers of 3D print files competing for dollars and generally innovating away.

Here’s an adoption chart, with my added annotation:

I prefer versions of this chart with ‘the chasm’ in place. The simple fact is that not every product follows this chart, as not every product gains mass market acceptance. Some, like hobby train sets (remember those?) just don’t get into the mass market at all.

There’s two things any product needs to cross the chasm: ease of use, and availability. Price is relevant, but generally less important than the first two. As the price of a good 3D printer crosses the price of the average Games Workshop starter set, the stage is set for wider adoption.

When it comes to the more expensive GW boxed sets, that has already happened.

So the products now need to be as easy to use as a Games Workshop boxed set. Can you go to your local shops, buy one, bring it home, set it up, and use it? Right now for 3D printers, the answer is no. Games Workshop boxed sets (I’m anchored to this comparison now!) still require set up and assembly before you can use them.

The fact that a 3D printer is more complicated than a TV is not a big deal, since we aren’t trying to get our parents to buy one.

By ease of use, the 3D printer needs to have a wide array of models that can simply be plugged in and spat out. As long as what is produced is comparable to what you can buy in the store – and similarly available – then we’ll see the mass market (in hobby terms) start to pick them up.

The mainstream market wants to see a practical benefit for themselves along with the certainly of a product they can use.

Products like the Elegoo are basically there, but makers of 3D print files need to both become more visible, and start offering quality models with supports embedded in the files. This allows the interested to simply plug and print, which gets over the concern about a 3D printer being an expensive purchase that doesn’t get used.

Photo by Prateek Katyal on

In terms of availability, 3D printers and files can be found scattered across websites but there’s no central hub as yet bringing these things together. I can walk into my local games store and buy a GW boxed set but not a 3D printer, resin, and a USB of files. Space is limited and valuable in a brick and mortar store, so 3D printers would need to pay their way by proving demand before any right-minded store would stock them. However expensive board games and boxed sets have their market, the question is could an average store expect to sell enough 3D printers to seek them out and stock them?

I think the next 2-3 years will determine whether 3D printers cross the chasm, or fall into it.

14 comments on “3D printing and adoption

  1. daggerandbrush
    January 24, 2021

    I think the main issue for the mass market right now is the trial and error before a resin is dialed in, the support removal, wash and cure. I think that is currently a bit too mich work for the average Joe

    • davekay
      January 25, 2021

      Agreed, it’s still a bit too fiddly for the mass market

  2. daggerandbrush
    January 24, 2021

    Hit submit before I finished. If some of the prep and clean can be automated I can see this getting really some traction. It might also go the way of the printer: if I need a high quality print I send my file to a specialised company. Same might happen with 3d prints. GW could even offer a printing service.

    • davekay
      January 25, 2021

      That’s an interesting point. What we mean by a ‘print service’ may change over the next decade.

  3. John@justneedsvarnish
    January 24, 2021

    Am interesting read, Dave! 🙂 I’m at the point where I’m happy to buy 3-D printed models but don’t want to have to “mess around” with a printer myself. Even if they become simple to use, I don’t think I could justify having one since I have plenty of models to keep me going for years. But if I was younger and nearer the start of my hobby I’d probably be thinking about getting one once ease of use improved.

    • davekay
      January 25, 2021

      As I get through my collection, 3D printing looks more enticing, but like you I’m currently more interested in receiving the models than printing them.

  4. Wudugast
    January 24, 2021

    My thoughts very much fall in line with John and daggerandbrush above. Right now if I just concentrate on painting my way through my backlog of unpainted models I’ll have plenty to keep me going for years. Once that’s done I’ll see how the market for 3d printers looks then. My hobby time is limited as much as my budget is, and when I do find time for miniatures I want to just sit down and relax by painting or building something, rather than spending more time sitting in front of a computer. Once the technology becomes a bit more “plug and play” and I can just put a file in and get a miniature out I might be a bit more interested, right now the cost in time outweighs any saving in money per model that might arise once it’s paid off the initial outlay.

    • davekay
      January 25, 2021

      Yes, I think unless there’s a specific 3D print project you have in mind, it’s hard to justify when there is so much else to do.

  5. Bookstooge
    January 24, 2021

    Funny you should mention not buying them for your parents. It won’t be much longer before you are in that generation where the latest tech is just too complicated and you start saying “back in my day…” 😀

    I don’t see 3dprinters taking off unless they are as simple as paper printers. And as cheap. If there is prep and cleanup and maybe even some other step, it’s not going to take off among “average” people.

    • davekay
      January 25, 2021

      If 3D printers become mass market then I expect them to be similar to barbeques – widely available, but not everyone has one, and the real enthusiasts use them in a more complicated way than the average person.

  6. Pete S/ SP
    January 25, 2021

    Great post- I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your comments. I guess the onus is on the manufacturers to keep progressing the designs to the point the mass market will accept them.



  7. ericritter65
    January 25, 2021

    Funny enough, I have two Filament printers, the first being a gift from the wife, and I printed all kinds of crap. Then I “needed” a bigger bed plate, and now the first is in a box, waiting for the day I and fix the thermistor, and the big machine takes up desktop space – used on rare occasions. If I had a local gaming group and was actively playing, I’m sure the printer would be constantly printing terrain baubles! I have given a resin printer some thought, but I don’t have the dedicated space to deal with all the toxic fumes (a good reason I don’t shoot enamels though my airbrush as well), nor the need for figures.
    We\hen/if the day comes that I’m playing more games, and space provides, I could see a resin printer in my future.

  8. Faust
    January 27, 2021

    Nice article. I like to be the late adopter, because then most of the bugs have been worked out! Mainly just because time is at a premium as you get older.

    For me to tip over to 3D printing, they would need to make it much easier. I don’t want to spend hobby time troubleshooting a machine, nor a lot of time cleaning up minis. If the cleanup/assembly from 3D
    printing was ever less than GW’s damned multi-part models,
    that would be a significant sell to me. Cleaning mold lines or filling gaps is definitely not something I enjoy about the hobby. Nowadays I tend to assemble as soon as I get the box of minis, so I can get it over with.

    • Faust
      January 27, 2021

      Oops, forgot to mention that sometimes products don’t pass that gap, but come back again at a later date (look at Virtual Reality). It’s kind of rare, but does happen.

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This entry was posted on January 24, 2021 by in 3d printing, Industry and tagged , .
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