Is 3D Printing Really Printing?
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker on September 24th, 2013
Is it just me? Or does it bother anyone else that 3D printing is being called “printing”?
3D printing is the process of using a short-run additive manufacturing process to create 3D objects. The printer drips out the substrate, usually plastic or liquid metal, and based on data provided by the 3D modeling software, manufactures the item. It is a slow process, taking from minutes to hours to days, creating one item at a time.
Although 3D printers are based on the concept of inkjet printing, this isn’t printing. It’s manufacturing. The process is being used to create everything from promotional items to machine parts to components for the space shuttle. It’s even being used to create prosthetics.
The process is being touted heavily in the printing industry (and there are those who will argue that it is, in fact, printing). We hear about it at seminars, via Webinars, in magazine articles and discussion groups. But when we hear about the products being manufactured, very few of them seem to have any relevance to what we’re producing in the printing industry.
In this industry, we might think about the opportunity to cross-sell a client on personalized promotional items to accompany a direct mail campaign, produce unique display stands manufactured to support a client’s display materials at an upcoming trade show, or create prototypes of an architect’s latest project to accompany the collateral marketing materials, for example.
But is this really printing? Some people do refer to printing as “print manufacturing.” Instead of manufacturing in 2D, the argument goes, it’s manufacturing in 3D. The “printing” technology is similar. Output for both processes is based on data from a file. The substrates are just different.
But when we take a step back, you’re talking about not just very different products but entirely different markets, product end uses, and like. To me, 3D printing is a complementary process to commercial printing, but a different process altogether.
What do you think?