Think of 3D printing as erosion in reverse. Bodies of water wear substances down layer by near-imperceptible layer; 3D printers build substances up in a similar way. Like all technology, of course, 3D printing isn’t nearly as old as the tides.
The concept dates back to the early ‘80s, when Dr. Hideo Kodama almost patented it in Japan. Due to a bureaucratic issue, though, Kodama’s patent never went through. Consequently, credit for 3D printing typically goes to Charles Hull, an American engineer who founded 3D Systems, the original 3D printing company, back in 1986. It made the first machines that could translate digital designs into 3D cured-resin artifacts.
Nowadays, 3D printing is a thriving industry. Modern printers range from desktop models to industrial giants to “bioprinters,” which can create human tissue. That’s not to mention the 3D-printing software, where objects get designed and optimized, and on-demand printing shops.
Here are 23 companies that are thriving in the 3D printing space.
Top 3D Printing Companies to Know
- 3D Systems
- Desktop Metal
23 3D Printing Companies to Know
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
The GE Additive team specializes in hardware, software and consulting services for 3D-printed metal parts. Utilizing direct metal laser melting and electron beam melting processes, the company’s additive machine hardware melt and layer metal powders to build custom part solutions. GE Additive products have created parts for use in orthopedic implants, aircrafts, automobiles and industrial manufacturing tools.
Location: Palo Alto, California
Known for its PC and related hardware, HP also offers personal 3D printers as well as 3D-printing software, services and varied materials. HP’s Jet Fusion printer series are multi-material compatible and scalable to manufacturing needs, with its Jet Fusion 5210 model able to print approximately 550 parts per week. The company’s 3D printing services have come in handy for industries ranging from aerospace to consumer goods and electronics.
Location: Somerville, Massachusetts
Formlabs makes various 3D printers, which range from desktop to industrial formats. The Form 3 and Form 3L, two of the smaller styles, rely on laser light and a flexible tank of resin to print quickly and precisely. Both can create features as narrow as one thousandth of an inch, which comes in handy for printing New Balance’s new midsoles. Made from a substance called Rebound Resin, these bouncy creations look less like traditional foam and more like sprays of Spiderman’s webbing.
Location: Watertown, Massachusetts
Many 3D printers use plastic filament, but not those made by Markforged. Its industrial printers can print hardier substances, including nylon, carbon fiber and even metal — hence the “forge” in Markforged. (Continuing the metal theme, it also makes AI manufacturing software called Blacksmith.) Integrated into factories worldwide, this company’s printers reportedly have helped transform supply chains by accelerating prototype and replacement part manufacturing.
Location: Gaithersburg, Maryland
Xometry began as a way to simplify prototyping. Its software eliminated the need for companies to slowly and laboriously gather quotes from manufacturers. Instead, they could access six different types of 3D printers on demand and at instantly-quoted rates. That model has attracted high-profile clients like car manufacturer BMW, which relies on Xometry for custom trim, logos and other unique and tooling-heavy touches that are printed from carbon fiber tubing.
Location: New York, New York
Focused less on 3D printing hardware than software, nTopology’s NTop Platform can be integrated into 3D printing engineering workflows. A standout feature: It can autonomously tweak and streamline existing designs, removing clunkiness and excess weight so designers can focus on more important problems and avoid busywork — whether they’re printing medical devices or rocket nozzles.
Location: New York, New York
Shapeways 3D prints designs on demand in a choice of more than 50 materials, including plastic, sandstone and platinum. Customers simply log in to the site, upload a design and place an order, which prints in one of the two Shapeways factories and arrives via mail. It’s online shopping, really, but instead of browsing the wares, shoppers design them. Shapeways also has a team of designers on hand to help users bring their visions to fruition.
Location: Rock Hill, South Carolina
The original 3D printing company remains on the cutting edge of the field. 3D Systems Corporation makes a broad spectrum of 3D printers, which work via stereolithography, a liquid-to-solid process, and a powder to solid process called selective laser sintering. Printers make everything from metal artifacts to plastic filaments to custom dental implants. 3D Systems also offers a constellation of related products, like 3D scanners and design software.
Location: Seattle, Washington
This company’s namesake 3D printer, Glowforge, can print with almost any material. Kid-friendly and intended for home use, it creates custom designs from plastic, wood and even chocolate. Though it allows for creativity, that’s not required; the hardware comes pre-loaded with a catalog of cool designs for everything from monogrammed macarons to a wooden Settlers of Catan game board.
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Fast Radius has replaced old-school, centralized factories with a network of smaller “manufacturing lighthouses” — a move for which the company was named one of the globe’s leading factories by the World Economic Forum. At each of its fabrication plants, the company 3D-prints and injection-molds parts for industrial use and quickly ships them off. Its partnership with UPS, paired with the company’s distributed structure, means it can often offer next-day delivery, even on custom builds.
Location: Redwood City, California
This startup has a minimal web presence — it’s still in stealth mode — but it focuses on 3D printed buildings. Specifically, Mighty Building makes tiny-house-esque “backyard studios” with a massive printer that barely fits in a warehouse. The company offers three studio models so far, which max out at less than 600 square feet. That’s smaller than many studios, but the pint-sized standalone structures are surprisingly stylish and functional, outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows and working bathrooms.
Location: Redwood City, California
Every 3D printing process involves fusing layers into a whole, but Carbon has reinvented the fusing process. Called Digital Light Synthesis, the technique smooths away the “seams” that 3D printing often produces. This creates a seamless finish, and a stronger product — traditionally 3D-printed objects’ strength can vary, depending on whether the nozzle moved clockwise or counterclockwise in production.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Divergent 3D aims to streamline and decentralize car manufacturing. That means moving production out of multi-million-dollar factories and into a networked cluster of 3D printing shops. In these smaller, warehouse-like spaces, the Divergent 3D team relies on end-to-end design software and industrial printers to create light, safe, fast cars. As of 2017, the company had prototyped two vehicle models: a motorcycle called the Dagger, and a sleek low-riding sports car called the Blade. (Cutting-edge, indeed!)
Location: Burlington, Massachusetts
Desktop Metal condensed a steel mill into a box smaller than a refrigerator that easily fits through an office door. No special ventilation is required, and there’s no open flame, laser light or loose powder involved. It just needs power and an internet connection to 3D-print with steel. More specifically, this company’s printer extrudes rods of a powdered steel alloy, wax and polymer binder. (The company is developing copper and nickel filaments, too.) The printer first cooks away the binding. It then welds steel layers together in its furnace. Though it’s a very contained process, it’s also transparent — users can watch it unfold via livestream.
Location: Waltham, Massachusetts
Nano Dimension’s combines 3D printing products with AI to create streamlined 3D-printed circuits and devices. Imbued with its DeepCube neural network, the company’s printers are able to detect and correct manufacturing errors in real-time, improving part quality and reducing material costs. In addition, Nano Dimension hosts surface-mount technology hardware and software for automated assembly needs.
Location: Solana Beach, California
With 3D-printed tissue, this company takes lab testing to the next level. Organovo’s bioprinting technology builds fabricated multicellular tissues, giving a wider three-dimensional view of cellular function and structure in comparison to views in a two-dimensional petri dish. Specialists can utilize these tissue creations to assess pharmacology and structural factors of a disease, and have already been able to simulate liver, kidney, bone and other cellular environments.
Location: Miami, Florida
Rokk3r has helped more than 30 companies streamline their business plans with “exponential technologies.” (That means tech that helps them outperform competition by a factor of at least ten.) Those technologies include blockchain, Internet of Things connectivity, and, you guessed it, 3D printing. The latter can exponentially reduce the number of parts required in complex manufacturing, which accelerates and simplifies the whole process.
Location: New York, New York
Though MakerBot printers have many industrial applications, the company also makes a newbie-friendly desktop printer, the Replicator+, that’s found in more than 7,000 classrooms. Makerbot complements that popular hardware with free lesson plans that incorporate 3D printers and are available via download or book form. In one suggested earth science lesson plan, for instance, students print models of different cloud types to literally grasp the distinction between cumulus and cirrus. And that’s just one of the new options Replicator+ opens up for students who learn best through touch and action.
Location: San Mateo, California
This company specializes in 3D printing for gamers. Whether clients want custom board game pieces or 3D-printed replicas of their ship in the Star Trek video game, Mixed Dimension’s printer can make it happen. Capable of more than 10 million colors, it’s high-resolution enough for photo-caliber projects. Users can upload screenshots or CAD designs of their desired spaceship, or work with staff artists to turn imagined gaming tableaus into 3D realities.
Location: Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Stratasys has been in the 3D printing industry since 1988 — almost as long as 3D printing has existed. During that time, it has racked up more than 250 granted or pending patents worldwide. Today, the company helps clients like Audi and Lockheed Martin perfect their manufacturing process with 3D printing. It also manufactures printing hardware for Hewlett-Packard as well as its own brands. Ever the industry leader, Stratasys remains on the cutting edge, especially when it comes to recycling. Clients can send used cartridges, print engines and other parts back to the company for green disposal.
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
CELLINK focuses on “bioprinting,” the 3D printing of bone, cartilage, and, maybe someday, functioning human organs. Any and all of that is possible with the company’s patent-pending universal bioink — a soup of stem cells and alginate derived from brown seaweed. More than 700 labs worldwide currently use the substance. The company also makes complementary technology: 3D printers, software and specialty inks designed for specific types of tissue.
Location: Maple Plain, Minnesota
Protolabs speeds up the manufacturing process. As its name suggests, the business began as a quick-turnaround prototyping company. In 2014, however, it added a 3D printing shop to speed the transition between the prototyping phase and small batch testing. That shop now has more than 100 printers that can print metal, plastic and other materials.
Location: Leuven, Vlaams-Brabant, Belgium
Materialise focuses on 3D printing software, which makes complex printing hardware accessible to engineers, healthcare professionals and even fashion designers. Designer Anoul Wipprecht, for example, used Materialise software to print a surreal, bubble-wrap-like dress that also tracks the wearer’s mood. The company’s comprehensive digital suite includes tools for drafting and optimizing designs, controlling printers mid-job and managing 3D printing workflows.