Editors' pick: Originally published April 1.
When 3-D printing first started receiving widespread attention in the past several years, the hype was overwhelming.
The ability to create three-dimensional objects using a digital file was both exciting and ground-breaking. The potential uses felt endless, too -- from industrial prototypes to inexpensive medical devices to everyday household objects.
Some in the media even claimed that a third industrial revolution was upon us.
For investors, 3-D printing seemed like a great opportunity, and stocks skyrocketed accordingly. But alas, it wasn't meant to last.
In 2014, share prices for 3-D printing companies cratered. The technology remains as innovative and important as it ever was, but the rapid rise in share prices proved to be a bubble that burst.
But 3-D printing stocks are enjoying a surge, and short interest in the industry is down. Although share prices are nowhere near the levels they were before the collapse, prices appear a lot more realistic and sustainable.
For investors turned off by the volatility of the 3-D printing industry, now might be a good time to take a second look.
Here are some stocks to consider:
Last year was mostly bad for 3D Systems, and 2014 was even worse. The company, which produces 3-D printers for both consumer and industrial use, is starting to turn around this year.
3D Systems strongly exceeded fourth-quarter expectations, reporting adjusted earnings per share of 19 cents, compared with the average analyst estimate of 3 cents a share, on revenue of $183.4 million, beating the $166.38 million forecast.
Shares are up about 73% for the year to date.
Proving the versatility of 3-D printing, 3D Systems announced a partnership with sports apparel company Under Armour to print sneaker soles. Production is limited on the sneaker, but it could mean more to come for 3D Systems.
ExOne provides 3-D printing products and services to industrial customers. This year so far, its stock price has increased about 29%, partly due to beating fourth-quarter revenue expectations.
That is positive news after the company failed to meet expectations in previous quarters. Although the company still posted a loss of 8 cents a share in the fourth quarter, sales were up 2.8% compared from a year earlier.
If ExOne continues to beat or at least meet expectations, the company could start gaining some of the share value lost when the 3-D printing bubble burst.
When 3-D printing stocks began to decline two years ago, Voxeljet was hit especially hard. The German industrial 3-D printing company has posted losses in previous quarters, and missed fourth-quarter earnings estimates by 3 cents a share when it reported on Thursday.
However, the company's share value is up about 17% for the year, thanks to stronger-than-expected financial guidance for the rest of 2016.
There could be some big new players in 3-D printing. For instance, Hewlett-Packard launches its first 3-D printers this year and hopes to attract business customers.
On the consumer front, Apple has been rumored to be planning an entry into 3-D printing. Rumors often swirl around Apple with varying degrees of truth, but at the very least, it is known that the company is interested in 3-D printers.
A patent application filed by the company in 2014 is for a 3-D printer that can both create an object and color it.
Whether Apple actually releases its own product remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that there is a lot of potential for the technology.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.