3D Printing Needs its Windows 95 Moment

At least it does for the types of printing we modelers would like to do. Here is my completely uneducated opinion about 3D printing as it relates to hobbies in general and scale models in particular: 3D Printing is now at the stage computers were around the time of those 1980s “Computer Clubs”.

Let me explain:

Way back in the early 80s, before your Macs and PCs, before your Dells and HPs, before mice and touchscreens, even before the iconic personal computer ‘stack’, computers were not yet all the rage they would soon become. Most of the users were best described as ‘enthusiasts’. They were inventive, clever and, shall we say, ‘driven’. But most importantly, they were interested in putting in the time and effort to build, improve, understand and dream up of better computers and how to use them.

Where most of us were far too invested in who shot JR, these guys tinkered away for hours on their rigs and they developed their own practical (though usually clunky) software. They met and showed off their work in various libraries, church basements and community center computer clubs. I can only assume all club members were inspired by these innovations and shared their thoughts amongst their peers.

I’ll admit, I am probably mashing up history to try to make a point, but here it is: At one time there were ‘home brew computers’ but only the truly devoted used them. The possibilities of computers were limited by an individual’s desire and ability to build a computer and code software for it. Smelling the potential for a dollar, computer makers popped up and eventually shipped fully assembled systems. At first these commercial computers did not come with software and when they did, it was not the easiest to pick up and learn. DOS commands eventually gave way to early Windows products which were easier to use. But at one point in the mid 1990s, it all changed.

Some will argue that any number of factors may have been in play but when you boil it down, everything changed around the time Windows 95 came along. Before Windows 95 there was a decent market of home PC users but to many these machines were still intimidating. After Windows 95, grandparents went out to buy computers to send “electronic mail” to their grandkids. 3 year olds were able to easily load and play ‘Barney’s Monotonous Adventure’ with only 2 clicks. The market was absolutely flooded with all sorts of software that was easily installed and worked seamlessly with this operating system. People no longer required courses to use computers. Computers became intuitive and users just used them. In other words, after Windows 95 the personal computer became a required home appliance.

I see 3D Printing in this sort of ‘pre-Windows95’ stage. It has moved beyond enthusiast clubs but it has not yet become a home appliance. 5 years ago, 3D printing hardware was clunky and the prints were blocky. Today the hardware is capable of printing parts with extremely impressive resolution.

But the user has to master the software to harness these capabilities. I have seen some excellent prints being made by scale model builders but I am positive there was a steep learning curve to get there. I don’t know what the initial design programs were like and I’m sure the modern ones are far better. However, the software demos I’ve seen on YouTube show these programs have a ways to go before they can be used intuitively by the masses.

Sigh… Unfortunately, I am one of those masses.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to tech, I fully support the development of better gadgets that make life easier and more enjoyable. Anything that makes model making better gets my full support. But for now, 3D printing and tinkering with software will have to be done by others. That said, when 3D printing gets its Windows 95 moment… I’ll be lined up with the grandpas and their “electronic mail”.

Last thing

Yesterday evening I attended an excellent presentation on 3D Printing for scale models that was held during our monthly online IPMS meeting. The presenter was a friend of mine who dipped his toe into the world of 3D printing a little over a year ago. He had some background in graphic design but admitted there was still a steep learning curve and that he had to use an array of software products. At first he started with the basics, then designed his own replacement parts for his tanks.

He now doesn’t build commercial kits. Everything he does is printed and he’s having a ball.

9 thoughts on “3D Printing Needs its Windows 95 Moment

Add yours

  1. Yeah, I remember the earlier days of home computers. PCs were called “clones” because they were off-brand versions of IBM machines. I hope you’re correct about your prognostication regarding grandparent-friendly 3D printers (because I’m old enough to be directly in that demographic). I have a friend whose major source of income is making Cosplay clothing and accessories. He’s VERY good, particularly the accessories and he’s been trying to get me to go to the dark…er…invest in 3D printing. I watched him simply set up a new printer. Yah. NOT for me. And then he trotted out the software needed to get something he could use. To his credit, he does very nice stuff. Frankly, I should live so long as to become conversant with this new tech. It would be wonderful! But my days of steep learning curves are either behind me or now being applied to simply getting out of bed without soiling myself (or the bed).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It feels more like 3D printing needs it’s Macintosh moment. I remember the days of the rise of PC, but it’s wasn’t until the Macintosh all in a box computer that making a computer not only user friendly, but functional and low footprint did the “computer on every desk” take off.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good point. My memory may be a bit hazy. Back then the mac pushed the intuitive use thing but it always seemed to be niche and much more expensive with less software support. I remember using a mac in my first adult job. Definitely functional but ‘weird’
      compared to what I was used to.


  3. Great article. I’m right there with ya. As an old DOS user who is now in his 60’s I do not want the frustration of learning the software. I believe you’re right, 3d printing is a fabulous tool for us modelers, but until they make it more intuitive or make it so we can just buy the design and print on our own, I’m going to look for those skilled enough to buy from. Some guys out there are reasonable in pricing their items, but others are going over the top expensive. Thanks for a great walk down memory lane.

    Liked by 1 person

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