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3D Printing: Investing Idea, Consumer Good, Or Work Of Art?

But so far it's still hard to see how 3D printing fits into lives of average consumers, as something they would one day "need" to own. 3D printers can cost as much as some cars – but then most people who have cars need them to get around. There's not yet a case to made that the same kind of necessity will ever exist for a   miniature Rodin in your living room. 

But some solutions to this problem are being explored in Europe. The European Space Agency has partnered with a trade organization for metal producers to figure out how 3D printing could be most helpful to them. Suggestions have included ways to print super-durable, super-lightweight metals through highly precise layering.

The end-goal of the project is to print a satellite directly, without welding or refining until the product was safe to use. This could theoretically halve the cost of all production involving metals. 

So while 3D printers may never work their way into the common household like Apple's (AAPL) computers or Ford's (F) cars – it is increasingly likely that both may soon be printed, rather than built, in American factories. 

Click on the interactive chart below to view analyst ratings over time. 

Which 3D printers are doing the best at making products for typical consumers? Use the interactive list below to begin your analysis. 

1. Proto Labs, Inc. ( PRLB): Manufactures computer numerical control (CNC) machined and injection molded custom parts for prototyping and short-run production. Market cap at $1.97B, most recent closing price at $77.80.


2. 3D Systems Corp. ( DDD): Engages in the design, development, manufacture, marketing, and servicing of 3D printers and related products, print materials, and services. Market cap at $5.17B, most recent closing price at $53.72.


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