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Kickstarting the 3-D Printing Evolution

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Crowdfunding site Kickstarter has become the go-to launch pad for new 3-D printers. So far this year, nearly two dozen creators tested the Kickstarter route to let the public decide which projects were worth funding. The familiar pitch: Affordable and easy to use (or easy to assemble) 3-D printers for consumers. Most were successful.

Some, perhaps, too successful.

Formlabs raised nearly 30 times its goal and collected $2.9 million from backers last month. It also attracted the attention of established 3-D printer manufacturer 3D Systems (DDD) in South Carolina, which sued Formlabs and Kickstarter for patent infringement. 3D Systems, known for industrial 3-D printers priced from $10,000 to $1 million, recently expanded into the consumer market with the Cube for $1,299.

Will affordable 3-D printers change our world? Will every household one day have its own printer so families can print out shoes, toothbrushes and iPad cases on demand? That's the dream that is far from a reality. But one thing is certain, the evolution of affordable 3-D printers has been kickstarted and we are transitioning to an era where mainstream is a goal.

Here's a look at what's happened to some of these affordable printers post-Kickstarter.

HYREL 3D Printer:

Raised $152,942, above its $50,000 goal, by Nov. 5. Pitched a "professional, industrial-grade, out-of-the-box ready" printer. Sold a pre-assembled Hyrel 3D printer to Kickstarter for $1,395. Kickstarter page: kck.st/Nei9Ge

Today: Working on sourcing and production in order to ship the printers to Kickstarter backers by January. Creator Daniel Hutchison also hopes to add an e-commerce store for pre-orders by January at hyrel3d.com. The post-Kickstarter price has not yet been determined.

Formlabs:

Raised $2,945,885, more than its $100,000 goal, on Oct. 26. Gorgeously modern, the Form 1 touts affordable, high-resolution 3-D printing for professionals. Created by researchers at MIT Media Lab, the printer sold on Kickstarter starting at $2,299. Kickstarter page: kck.st/P4QWSw

Today: Shipping printers by January 2013. Also accepting Form 1 preorders for $3,299 at Formlabs.com. Sued in November by 3D Systems for infringing on a patent issued in January 1997.

Eventorbot:

Raised $137,508, above its $25,000 goal, on Oct. 24. Pitched as open-source, low-cost that uses fewer parts and is easy to assemble. Sold as a kit for $580 or fully assembled for $885. Kickstarter page: kck.st/OhqRPD

Today: Hopes to start shipping mid to late December. A store page on eventorbot.com is "coming soon."

Ultra-Bot 3D Printer:

Raised $45,540, way over its $7,500 goal, by Oct. 5. Expands on the capabilities of established 3-D printer manufacturer Makerbot's Cupcake, the Ultra-Bot offers higher quality, faster speed and a larger build space, plus all the electronics are inside the printer box. The complete unassembled printer sold for $899. Kickstarter page: kck.st/Q9cPjA

Today: Working on delivery by December 2012. But in the meantime, creator William Steele created the PiMaker, a printer with a rotating platform with a larger build space. The improvements caused him to offer the new printer to Kickstarter backers instead, unless they still want the original Ultra-Bog, he told backers this week. He also has stopped development on future Ultra-Bots.

Vision 3D Printer:

Raised $65,346, more than its $25,000 goal, by June 28. Pitched as "affordable, quick build, large-format" printer kit starting at $725. Kickstarter page: kck.st/KU4lPH

Today: Setbacks with some of the parts delayed delivery. All printers expected to have shipped by November, past the July 2012 deadline. No updates are available on ordering a new Vision 3D.

B9Creator:

Raised $513,422, compared with as $50,000 goal, on June 12. Pitched as a high-resolution, "open-source photo-initiated polymer resin based 3-D printing system," the B9Creator uses a DPL projector to produce the high-resolution print. Complete kits started offered for $2,375. Kickstarter page: kck.st/KNdIvG

Today: All Kickstarter orders shipped by Sept. 18, about a month later than promised. Now taking "post-Kickstarter" pre-orders for $2,495 at b9creator.com.

Printxel 3D Printer:

Raised $12,077, over its $7,500 goal, on May 31. Pitched as a $300 desktop 3-D printer kit, selling for $300. Kickstarter page: kck.st/IshEVG

Today: Still shipping kits out to pledges, several months after the promised July 2012 delivery date. Creator Billy Zelsnack hopes to revise the design to one that "requires much less labor to manufacture," he said. Check for updates on his site at printxel.blogspot.com .

Bukobot 3D Printer:

Raised $167,410, above its $42,000 goal, on May 23. Pitched as an open-source printer kit aimed at every experience level. Charged early backers $599 for the kit. Kickstarter page: kck.st/HZoDqM

Today: Kickstarter shipping began Oct. 31. Taking preorders for new Bukobot kits ranging from $850 to $1,400 at deezmaker.com, which also has a walk-in store in Pasadena. Expect a six- to eight-week lead time due to Kickstarter orders.

Printrbot:

Raised $830,827, compared with its $25,000 goal, on Dec. 17, 2011. Pitch was a simple 3-D printer kit you could "build in a couple of hours" for $499. Kickstarter page: kck.st/swSkWN

Today: Sold the original Printrbot on its site for $549 but it's no longer available. Offers three new models, priced from $399 to $699 at printrbot.com. Debuted the Printrbot jr. on Kickstarter on Nov. 27 as "Your kid's first 3-D printer" with only two rewards: $25 for a t-shirt or $700 for 2 printers so you keep one and donate the second to a school.

PandaBot:

Raised $38,959 of its $50,000 goal before canceling campaign a week early on Oct. 26. The "friendly, affordable" printer was going for $800. Creators reasoned that due to bulk-order requests from institutions, they didn't want Kickstarter backers to fund and get just a beta unit while the others get a better product. Kickstarter page: kck.st/PcAcyu

Today: Silent since Nov. 20, the Panda Robotics team on its site pandarobotics.com tells supporters it hopes to have PandaBots available in the first half of 2013.



This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Tamara Chuang is an outside contributor to TheStreet. Her opinions are her own.

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