NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- 3D printers are riding a year-long wave of media hype and consumer awareness, but several important steps need to be taken before these devices can become a mainstream product.
The technology's first hurdle is for the printer to become more than a novelty item capable of attracting only early adopters. Unlike the first inkjet and laser printers, which immediately proved their usefulness by cranking out all manner of documents, the current crop of 3D printers are able to produce only small, plastic items like toys. While it is amazing to watch the process happen, the fear is that people will quickly tire of the technology.
Must Read: 7 Stocks Warren Buffett Is Selling in 2014
"There is a tremendous amount of media coverage giving consumers the idea that they should have one, but unfortunately for the consumer market there is no compelling reason to go out and buy one," said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at the tech research firm Gartner.
Gartner expects 217,350 3D printers to ship worldwide in 2015, up from 108,151 units in 2014, with around 2.3 million leaving factories by 2018. The majority of these will be sold to consumers, Basiliere said.
One reason consumers have been and will continue to buy the printers is what they are reading online. Stories about how biotech firms are using 3D printers to create replacement body parts -- as Autodesk (ADSK) is planning to do -- are frequent fodder for Web news sites and give the unaware the idea that the 3D printer for sale at Staples (SPLS) or Amazon (AMZN) will have somewhat similar capabilities.
In reality the 3D printer market is now at the same level of development as personal computers were in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Basiliere said. At that time people could go out and buy a build-your-own PC kit or purchase a complete model from one of the very few manufacturers that were in the business, but once the computer was up and running at home there was not much the average person could do with it.
Must Read: 10 Best Uses for 3D Printing