New Book Suggests 3D Printing Could Spell Trouble for Toymakers

Former Wired editor Chris Anderson believes current 3D printers are the equivalent of the 1980s dot-matrix printers. And just as we now have sleek full-color inkjets with impeccable resolution, he anticipates 3D printers will dramatically improve in the coming years, potentially spelling trouble for toymakers. In an excerpt from his new novel “Makers,” made available on Business Insider, Anderson tells a story of printing dollhouse furniture for his daughters, who wanted a unique variety like that within the ‘Sims’ video game.

“It was free, fast, and there was so much more choice than in the real world, or even on Amazon,” he writes. “We may never buy dollhouse furniture again. If you’re a toy company, this story should give you chills.”

“Of course, physical objects are more complex than 2D images. Right now we can print plastic in only a few colors on our MakerBot. The finish is not as good as injection-molded plastic, and we can’t print color details with nearly as fine precision as the painting machines or stencils of Chinese factories.”

But in just a decade or so, 3D printers will look much like today’s inkjets. “They will be fast, silent, and able to print a wide range of materials, from plastics to wood pulp and even food,” suggests Anderson. “They will have multiple color cartridges, just like your inkjet, and be able to print in as many color combinations. They will be able to print images on the surface of an object even finer than the best toy factories today. They may even be able to print electronic circuits right into the object itself. Just add batteries.”

“As I was writing this, Kodak went into bankruptcy, a victim of the shift away from film that needed to be bought and processed to digital photography, which is free and can be printed at home on desktop inkjet printers. If you’re making cheap plastic toys today, can you see a premonition of your future in that?”