Who Invented 3D Printing? – We Bet You Didn’t Know!

Are you wondering who invented 3D printing, how it developed and what it is like today? We'll answer those questions below.
William McCollum
William McCollum
Research Writer
William is a talented journalist who’s been working in the industry for more than 10 years. He writes for our site on a freelance basis, putting all the expert findings to read more
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Rogelio Coulter
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Rogelio is a tech genius. It seems like he knows everything when it comes to “How does it work?”. He is also an incredible IT specialist and a beginning graphic designer read more
Last updated: September 03, 2023
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Who invented 3D printing? This is an interesting question, this process has been lauded as the future of manufacturing and it has matured a great deal over the last decade. The earliest examples in fiction are the replicators in the Star Trek Generation TV show. But, in reality the invention of 3D printing was less dramatic and yet who knows what may be possible in the near future. In this article we will look at the early days of 3D printing, its ongoing development and the state of this fascinating manufacturing process today.

The Early Development of 3D Printing

Who Invented 3D Printing? - We Bet You Didn't Know!
Hideo Kodama was the first person to publish a paper on the hardening of photopolymers after exposure to UV light and how these materials could be used for fabrication

Who created 3D printing is an interesting question, because it would be fair to say that there were two pioneers that led the way. The first is Hideo Kodama from the Nagoya Municipal Research Institute in Japan who was the first person to publish a paper on the hardening of photopolymers after exposure to UV light and how these materials could be used for fabrication. The second man was the first person to actually put these ideas into action.

In 1984 Chuck Hull designed and built the first ever 3D printer.

This was not an easy process. UV technology was used to create prototypes that would harden from a liquid photopolymer. The concept of the layering process took shape and Chuck Hull filed a patent for his 3D printer in the same year.

Competition for the creation of the 3D printer was hotting up and only three weeks after the patent filing, a team of three French investors filed a similar patent. But, the efforts of Alain Le Méhauté, Olivier de Witte and Jean Claude André were thwarted when their employers made the decision to abandon the research. Chuck Hull was now able to copyright “Stereolithography” as a term and his patent was titled “Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography ” in 1986. The same year, Chuck Hull formed a new company in Valencia, California. He named his company 3D Systems and began commercial prototyping services.

Continued Development

Who Invented 3D Printing? - We Bet You Didn't Know!
Carl Deckard filed a patent in 1989 for Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), which was used to custom-bind powered materials, including metal, together to create layers of an object

So, who invented 3d metal printing? We’re getting there. Hull’s patent covered a lot of 3D printing potential in a very short and productive period time. But, other inventors quickly grasped that this technology could be used to fabricate with other materials too. Carl Deckard, a graduate student from the University of Texas, filed a patent in 1989 for Selective Laser Sintering or SLS. A laser was used to custom-bind powered materials, including metal, together to create layers of an object. The fresh application of successive layers could ultimately create simple metal objects.

Modern products, such as the Creality CR-10S FDM 3D Printer can be directly traced back to fused deposition modeling or FDP which was developed by S. Scott Crump in 1988. Crump was an inventor that got the idea of a moving building platform after experiences with a glue gun and candle wax which he used to make a toy frog for his daughter. The resin material was laid onto a building platform through a metal wire and then it hardened almost immediately. Crump patented his invented 3D printed technology in 1989 and then co-founded Stratasys Ltd. with his wife. The company went public in 1994 and in 2003 they were selling the best 3D printer for architects and rapid prototyping.

3D Printing Today

Many people search for the best 3D printers for beginners and then consider products such as the ANYCUBIC Photon D2 DLP 3D Printer. This may seem trivial, but it really does demonstrate that this is now a mature and widely adopted technology. There are many platforms and printing processes on the market and additive manufacturing has seen a significant uptake since 2010. The initial MakerBot hype has ceased and the invention of FDM 3D printing and other techniques has really found its groove.

Many industry experts believe that additive manufacturing could replace CNC and milling manufacturing processes in the very near future. A Lux Research report from 2021 predicted that the 3D printing industry will be worth $51 Bn by 2030.

 The days when the belief that 3d printing was invented for plastic desk toys is long gone. There are now real-world benefits that 3D can bring to the world, including the invention of 3D food printing, bioprinting human tissue, making products from powdered silver and gold and much more.

We are now at the stage where 3D printing is only limited by the imaginations of the inventors and engineers that are using the technology. A recent project from scientists at the University of Southampton produced the first ever 3D-printed drone. Another project produced a 3D-printed car, which was powered by a hybrid gas/electric engine and the fuel consumption was an impressive 200 mpg. Another startup has focused on the production of ecologically friendly living structures and they ultimately created a habitat that could be used on Mars!

Final Thoughts

In the developing world, we are already seeing 3d printing used to create affordable housing and emergency shelters in disaster zones. At the high-end of additive manufacturing, certain processes are being considered for the production of larger structures. The powdered materials are fused with lasers or the direct application of heat to create metal parts. At this time, this process is expensive because it requires specific infrastructure that is not affordable outside the heavy manufacturing industry. Advances have been made in micromanufacturing with applications, such as self-powered prosthetics, articulated limbs, smart robotics and more. Who invented 3D printing? This is certainly a compelling topic, but the future of additive manufacturing is about to get far more interesting.

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