Analyzing the Market Size of 3D Printing Creators and Consumers

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Globalization Impact on 3D Printing

Robert Schouwenburg, CTO and Co-Founder of Shapeways, wrote an interesting blog post connecting venture capitalist Fred Wilson’s 100-10-1 rule of social services with the 3D printing and personal fabrication industry.

Fred Wilson – VC Union Square Ventures – often recites his rule of thumb of social internet services. It is the 100-10-1 rule. He sees with social internet services that on average 100% of users consume, 10% of users interact and 1% of users actually create.

When you apply the 100-10-1 rule of thumb, the opportunities for scaling such a service become immediately clear. As far as I know there are no exact figures available on how many 3D modelers / product designers there are in the world. But let’s assume there are 5 million of them. That would turn social fabrication into a 500M users opportunity. That is Facebook and Google territory. Just imagine 50M users interacting on personal fabrication and the effects it can have on product design and how we design products. This is a very significant opportunity. Of course, the big caveat is that not all 3D modelers / product designers are interested in social fabrication. Maybe only 10% or less. That still leaves a 50M opportunity.

Great analysis, but we believe the 100-10-1 rule will be broken for 3D printing and personal fabrication.

Let’s define the steps as 100% browse 3D printed goods, 10% buy 3D printed goods, and 1% make 3D printed goods.

First, the 10% will likely increase to 50% or 75% as the industry grows and buying a 3D printed good is as seamless as buying a SKU at or Walmart retail. This would be further aided if Amazon, for example, gets into the business of selling 3D printed goods.

Second, the 1% will likely increase to 10% with a combination of globalization and design software becoming easier

Globalization: 3D design of consumable goods will become a mainstream profession for people in developing countries, especially India and China, if there is an efficient marketplace for them to sell their designs.

Software enablement: How many people use Photoshop? Only professionals and hobbyists. But how many people use MS Paint? I would wager a decent size of the population who have computers have dabbled in MS Paint. If 3d design software is made to be as easy as MS Paint to create real, valuable 3d printed objects, the creation will increase. We are already seeing steps in that direction with Autodesk 123D and other tools.

The implication is that not only are there more designers and more purchasers, but a greater volume of 3d printed goods purchased, making the overall size of this industry quickly a multi-billion opportunity in the next five years.


Photo credit to anjan58 via Creative Commons.

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3 Responses to Analyzing the Market Size of 3D Printing Creators and Consumers

  1. Jon says:

    One big caveat out there is that just because a model LOOKS like it could be 3D printed, doesn’t mean it can… the number of tested models out there is a fraction of what is out there… throw-in QUALITY models and the number drops significantly lower.

    Founder of

  2. on3dprinting says:

    Jon, good point. And I could see the same argument made for graphics created by consumers on Photoshop and MS Paint as well as music made by consumers on GarageBand. A lot of it is made for a market of size one.

    Perhaps the key is that the democratization of manufacturing will let consumers make whatever they want, and therefore beauty is in the eye of the maker?

    Putting aside personal taste, it is true that a 3D model needs to be designed well enough so that it does not collapse or fall apart. Is the software in the market mature enough to address this challenge?

  3. [...] have featured both Mr. Schouwenburg and Shapeways and we wish them each continued success in moving the 3D printing world [...]

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