Major retailers are selling 3D printers or providing 3D printing services.

In July, we wrote about 3D printers moving into the mainstream as costs come down, with several major retailers now selling 3D printers or providing 3D-printing services. Shortly after that post, UPS announced it would begin offering access to in-store 3D printers, targeting startups and small businesses; six locations around the U.S. are now testing the service. In a more consumer-focused vein, this week Asda in the U.K. began testing a service that allows customers to 3D-scan anything—from themselves to pets or cars—and print a ceramic replica of the object, with prices starting at £40.

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Brands are also gradually taking advantage of the buzzed-about technology.  To promote its mini bottles in Israel, Coca-Cola devised a campaign that involved a mobile app in which users took care of a tiny digital version of themselves (similar to a Tamagotchi); the company then 3D-printed those mini-me’s for select participants. As part of its “Polo Principle” campaign last year, Volkswagen 3D-printed the 40 best customized car designs for the consumers who submitted them. Taking it a step further and putting the task of 3D-printing into the consumer’s hands, Nokia provides the necessary files to make a case for its Lumia 520 and 820 phones. This enables customization, with adept consumers able to add belt clips, bicycle mounts, etc.

The technology is not yet consumer-friendly enough to go beyond novelty items, for the most part. The widely touted manufacturing revolution hasn’t come to the masses quite yet. Even with the help of experts, a writer from The Verge struggled to create a suitable phone case from Nokia’s files. But 3D printers are rapidly becoming more advanced, user-friendly and affordable, and Gartner expects the consumer market for 3D printing to reach $133 million next year, up 53 percent from the projected 2013 total, and enterprise spending to increase 65 percent, to $536 million. We’ll see more varied applications of 3D printing in 2014, whether in marketing promotions or customizable, finished products. Consumers, too, will become more versed in 3D printing and design as the technology gets more accessible.


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