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Makerbot ships Replicator 2X, but 3D printing mass market is still a few years off

Looking for a new tech toy? Well how about a 3D printer?

After all, you can buy the latest model from Makerbot, who today announced the second model of their fourth generation 3D printer, the dual extrusion Replicator 2X (dual extrusion means that it can print two materials simultaneously, which is a big step towards more complex modeling).

But before you buy that cool new gadget, you might just want to look at the sticker price first: $2799.  The single extrusion Replicator 2 model is cheaper, but not by much: $2199.

So while everyone, including the President, sees 3D printing as the future of, well, everything, I’d suggest that pricing is one of the main reasons 3D printing is still a few years off from becoming a mass market technology.

What are the other reasons? The most obvious is technical difficulty. While low cost 3D printers like that from Printrbot can be had for a few hundred bucks, most of the low-cost models require some assembly, and all models, including those which are fully assembled (like the Makerbot), still require some technical understanding such as how to use 3D modeling software.

In reality, I think most consumers first exposure with 3D printing won’t be through buying their own personal 3D printer for the home, but instead through an online services business. Companies like Shapeways and Materialise are on the front end of a rapidly growing 3D printing services online, where artists and creators can use 3D printing capacity from these companies to create products using their own designs, and others can use designs from others or simply buy 3D printed products like jewelry or toys.

The CEO of Shapeway, Peter Weijmarshausen, told me the company is likely to see its first “Shapeways millionaire” in the next year or two, from the batch of about 8 thousand or so entrepreneurs who have created storefronts on Shapeways marketplace.

I have a feeling the first 3D printing services millionaire will be the first of many.