3D printing has undergone huge growth since the millennium, with more and more hobbyists turning to 3D printing, especially in the past decade. In the past 5-10 years in particular, 3D printing has reached a sweet spot where price and useability and both as accessible as they’ve ever been.
But in this guide, I’m going to turn back the clocks and shine the spotlight solely on when 3D printing was invented. I’ll bring you an overview of who invented 3D printing, what it was used for and why it was invented. Climb aboard the Delorian and strap in as we take a look at the invention of 3D printing.
When Was 3D Printing Invented?
Before we look at the actual invention of 3D printers, the real story started in May 1980, when the first-ever patent related to 3D printing was filed. This patent was filed by a lawyer named Hideo Kodama, and it was for a new technology called Rapid Prototyping (RP). This was the original name given to what we now call Stereolithography (SLA).
The Rapid Prototyping (RP) technology used photosensitive resin and a UV light to harden the resin. This is extremely similar to modern-day SLA printing, which builds up a 3D model layer by layer using UV light.
Unfortunately for Kodama, his patent wasn’t granted due to him missing a filing deadline. The patent was rejected by the patent office, and Kodama missed out on this breakthrough technology.
A few years after the failed patent from Kodama, a group of French researchers picked up the technology and continued to develop it. They utilised a very similar method but replaced the original resin that Kodama had used with liquid monomers.
After a while of developing this RP technology, the French researchers abandoned the project stating the lack of requirement and interest in 3D printing as their reason.
Due to the original patent application being tracked back to Hideo Kodama, he is often unofficially credited to have first invented the 3D printer.
Who invented the 3D printer?
In 1986, six years after Kodama’s original patent application, an American inventor called Charles (Chuck) Hull filed his 3D printer patent.
Hull named his technology Stereolithography (SLA) which gave birth to the name that we all use today. And in doing so, Charles Hull became the official inventor of the first 3D printer in 1986.
Hull invented the technology as he was trying to build furniture but was struggling to create custom small parts of the furniture. He used the newly invented SLA 3D printer to print these small parts from a 3D model file. Much like the original RP technology Kodama invented, it also used a laser to cure photosensitive resin.
The SLA 3D printer that Hull had invented was the first machine to ever print a real object from a 3D file. After filing the patent Hull co-founded a 3D printing company named 3D Systems Corporation, which went on to sell many different types of 3D printers. In fact, 3D Systems still sells 3D printers to this day, including machines for home and commercial use.
The first commercial 3D printer gets launched
Fast forward a couple of years to 1988. This is the year when the first-ever commercial 3D printer is launched onto the market. Hull named this printer the SLA-1 and it went on sale by Hull’s company 3D Systems Corporation.
How much did the first 3D printer cost?
In 1988 when the first 3D printer, the SLA-1 went on sale it cost upward of $300,000.
This SLA-1 was designed entirely for commercial use and was groundbreaking at the time. It allowed companies to start manufacturing parts directly from digital models, saving a lot of money in labour costs.
What happened after the first 3D printer was invented?
Not long after Hull invented the first SLA 3D printer, the first patent was filed for an alternative 3D printing technology. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) was invented by Carl Deckard from the University of Texas.
It differed from the SLA technology by using powder rather than liquid resin. Instead, the laser fused powder together to create a solid object.
In the same year, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) was patented by Scott Crump. This technology is one of the most accessible forms of 3D printing today and is generally everybody’s first introduction to 3D printing.
The original FDM technology was also known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). And much like modern-day FDM 3D printing, it used a filament that is extruded from a heated nozzle. This nozzle melts the filament and deposits it in layers to build up a solid object. These layers then harden and adhere to one another to create a solid object.