A Brief History of 3D Printing

Written by RevPart

We’ve talked about 3D printing before on this blog, and if you follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, you’ll know that we eat up any article that’s about 3D printing in any of its forms.

What I want to explain to you today is a little bit of its timeline. While it’s making some HUGE strides every day, we can’t forget about the history of 3D printing.

a brief history of 3D printing

The Invention

A man named Chuck Hull invented the first kind of 3D printing in 1984 and called it “stereolithography” or SLA. This kind of printing (one of the services we offer!) starts with a vat of liquid resin and uses a UV laser to harden the liquid one layer at a time. As each layer finishes, a platform in the vat lowers just enough so that the laser can create the next layer of hardened plastic.

Chuck Hull is still working with 3D printing: he’s currently the CTO over at 3D Systems.

Here’s where you can read the Wikipedia article about SLA printing. It’s a great overview of the process and has links to further reading at the bottom of the page.

First Commercialization

In 1990, a company called Stratasys started to commercialize 3D printing. They began selling printers in 1992 and have only continued to grow since then.

You’ve heard of MakerBot? Stratasys owns them now.

Stratasys, founded by S. Scott Crump, invented the type of 3D printing called fused deposition modeling (FDM). This kind of 3D printing works exactly the way you imagine when you think of 3D printing. It uses a nozzle and lays down the melted plastic layer by layer until you have a finished object.

This is the kind of printing used to make houses and castles, though on a much bigger scale.

Medical Applications

It didn’t take long for doctors and medical researchers to start using 3D printing to improve their care of patients.

In 1999, researchers at Wake Forest Research Institute 3D printed a kind of “scaffolding” for a bladder. They used real cells to grow a new bladder on top of this base.

In 2002, the first kidney was 3D printed. Although it wasn’t for humans, it was still completely functional and proved that it can be done. They’re still working on making kidneys: they can make miniature human kidneys that last four months. Check out this Dvice article to see a video.

The first blood vessel was printed in 2010 by a company called Organovo.

Just a few months ago, in March of 2014, doctors 3D printed a skull and implanted it in a Norwegian woman. She suffered migraines and a loss of vision and motor skills as her skull thickened. This 3D printed replica saved her life.

Commercial Applications

One of the questions people have about 3D printing is can you print a new printer?

RepRap says yes.

Their website says they’re all about “making self-replication machines, and making them freely available for the benefit of everyone.” They even say on their homepage that you can “print another RepRap for a friend.”

People are also trying to use 3D printing to make houses. I’ve written before about using contour crafting (which is a fancy name for 3D printing) to build on Mars. At the top of the article I gave you links to information about a company in China making 10 houses in a day and a man who printed a miniature castle (“miniature” as in it was probably only 6-10 feet tall).

3D printing has a million applications and a million more that we haven’t even thought of yet.


If you have an idea that should be 3D printed, send us a request for a quote so we can talk to you about it. If you want some inspiration, check out our Pinterest page where we just pin images of some really cool stuff that was 3D printed.

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