Will 3D Printing Replace Traditional Printing?

By Elaine Love

The media is buzzing about the “newest kid on the printing block.” What marvelous potential exists for this new technology! Just think what 3D printing can accomplish for the medical community, the automobile industry, architecture and even the toy industry. Will 3D printing ever reach the widespread popularity of the print industry as we know and use it currently?

Pause and hit Rewind

3D printed guitar

How does 3D Printing Work?

Three-dimensional printing is a process by which layers of material are stacked creating a physical object. Materials such as plastics, fabric fibers and even human tissue are fed into the machine to create the designs. Depending upon the machine, those layers could be created through stacking layers of light (FTI- film transfer imaging), fusing heated plastic filament or metal wire (FDM – fused deposition modeling) or laser technology with at least seven different types of metals (SLS – Selective laser sintering).

Sound complicated? Relax. I don’t pretend to understand exactly how the technology works. Do you know all of the exact technology behind how your smart phone works? Neither do I, but we still use our phones constantly.

What Benefit does 3D Provide?


Imagine being able to create an intricate architectural design to visualize exactly how your building or sculpture will look prior to construction. Imagine being able to create artificial limbs for accident victims or to correct birth defects. Imagine being able to create a spare part for a machine long after the model had been discontinued.

Through contour crafting it is possible to build an entire home: concrete foundation, plumbing, electrical wiring and all of the furnishings. A 2500 square foot house could be built in 20 hours. Imagine the benefit in restoring homes for victims of natural disasters.


Artificial limbs, prosthesis, can be created to assist accident victims and correct birth defects. 3D printing can produce medical devices such as those used in my spinal fusions. It is scary to think what could be created from human tissue as this technology advances.


Prototypes of automobiles, planes, boats and other mobile devices can be created and tested; design adjustments can be made prior to the expensive final production stage.


Can you imagine giving a child a 3D computer to create their own toys? At least it would be more engaging and positive for their mind than watching violence on TV. A few decades ago a child was given an erector set; next came Legos. Imagine telling a child to go to their room and create their own toy. At this point the complexity of programming the machine prevents this scenario, but will that change in the future?


How would a blogger utilize the services of a 3D printer? Imagine bringing your concept to life? The familiar quotation is “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Adding an image to your text enhances the visual appeal and engages the reader. Granted, becoming an excellent photographer to capture the 3D image to include in your post could present a challenge, but then you are up for a challenge. Tap your incredible imagination. Let me hear from you.

The possibilities are endless

What’s the Catch?

Three-dimensional printing is not new; 3D has existed for three decades. 3D printing has been too expensive, non-accessible, inefficient and too slow. Times are changing. According to Lisa Harouni of Digital Forming, detail and quality are improving; the price has been reduced to about $300 and the machine will now fit on a desktop.

What’s the problem?

The programming complexity makes the machine very difficult to use. At this point 3D Printing machines are not user friendly; however with rapidly advancing technology, this could change in the next few years. Three-dimensional printing has the potential to create a manufacturing revolution. Some are touting 3D printing as the answer to ending “made in China.” When manufacturing is cost effective, time efficient to produce, inexpensive to ship and accurate (machines eliminate the human error factor), 3D has the potential to bring the manufacturing industry back to America.

Will 3D Printing Replace Traditional Printing Companies?

No. 3D and traditional printing as we know it now serve two totally different purposes. It’s like asking if an exotic alcoholic drink will replace green tea. Both have their value, but they fill entirely different purposes.

The current fiercely competitive printing industry is expanding. A new online printing company will be challenged to the max to go head to head with the printing giants like Vista Print, PrintPlace.com, or PsPrint. The printing industry is not declining but thriving. Competition in the printing industry is intensifying. UPS and FedEx are trying to capture their own piece of the printing industry market.

A business card created with 3D printing shaped as an exact replica of an entire set of golf clubs may be fun and unique, but imagine attempting to place 20 of them in your wallet.

3D Printer in Every Home?

Does the possibility exist for 3D printers to be in most homes and offices? It’s possible. Is it probable? It was only a few decades ago when Ken Olsen, founder of the legendary minicomputer company DEC said, “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Now we all have at least one computer and probably several when you include our smart phones.

As the volume of information increases and more and more records must be created and retained, does it really make logical sense to create three-dimensional contracts, three-dimensional business cards, three-dimensional letters or postcards and three dimensional grocery lists? No. Will the marketplace still need business cards, legal documents, restaurant guest checks, and printed marketing materials? Yes. The majority of printed materials as we know them will continue to be of significance.

There is a greater likelihood of electronic media replacing some paper documents than 3D printing replacing traditional printed materials. Three-dimensional printing serves an entirely different function in the marketplace than traditional printed materials.

So did we spark your creative juices? How could you potentially take advantage of 3D printing in your online business?

Author’s Bio: At home in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Elaine Love writes about small business and the mindset for success so essential for an entrepreneur. She is the author of Emotional Ice Water. Find her on Twitter @elainelove44 or Elaine4Success.com


  1. says

    3D printing is certainly the up-and-coming technology that will change everything (next to Google Glasses), but replace traditional printing? I don’t see how they’re really even close to the same thing. Thanks for the reminder of how awesome technology is though!

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