You’re hearing a lot about 3D printing lately, right? As a designer, you probably see it everywhere — and while 3D printers aren’t going to become as commonplace as computers any time soon, they are likely going to continue to grow in use and popularity.

Do you know what that means for you? How will 3D printing change the way you do work? How will it affect the design word? Why does it matter? To help answer those questions, consider the following examples of how 3D printing is already affecting the design industry today. By seeing what it’s already impacting, you’ll get a pretty good clue as to what’s ahead.

1. Major brands are using 3D printing for design

According to Steinar Killi, doctoral candidate at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, larger corporations are already using 3D printing. Killi, who wrote his thesis on ways 3D printing is affecting design, said “Major brands such as Nike, Nokia, and Ittala have already started to deliver products that are manufactured and designed using 3D printing.”

What these big brands are finding is 3D printing streamlines their manufacturing process. Rather than needing to receive products then design specifications, then ship the products out for manufacturing, and waiting to receive them back to sell, they can now design and manufacture products in-house through 3D printing.

What this means for designers: If the big guys are doing something, the small guys are next to follow. You can bet at least some of your clients will be using 3D printing to produce your designs soon, if not already.

2. Companies are designing and creating their own products

Companies are now able to custom-design their own products based on specific client needs, and they can do it faster than ever. Take Nike, for example. Through 3D printing technology, it is able to create models in two days that once took four to six weeks. Likewise, brands can use 3D printing to quickly create prototypes of new designs, to create samples to use as marketing tools, and more.

What this means for designers: Expect an increasing push toward faster design-to-product timelines. The amount of time it takes for your design to become a prototype will be shrinking.

3. 3D printing is accessible even to consumers

As it grows, 3D printing is becoming increasingly accessible. As a result, even consumers are about to try it. Just look at this NPR article in which the reporter scans a person and turns her into an action figure as an experiment. The more accessible 3D printing becomes, the more it has potential to grow.

What this means for designers: As 3D printing spreads to the masses, the need for quality design to print will be greater than ever.

4. The rules are changing about what can be created

According to an article published at Design News, NASA’s partner company, Made in Space, is working on printing materials to be used in space. North Caroline State University researchers are creating liquid metal structures that remain liquid yet stable, and MIT is testing multi-material 3D printing in more than one lab. The rules are changing about what’s capable of being printed — opening up all kinds of possibilities for the design realm.

What this means for designers: There’s more opportunity than ever for creativity and innovation in design. Let your mind run wild with possibility!

5. The production of designs is getting more efficient

Thanks to the accessibility and speed of 3D printing, companies can create small batches of new design quickly, test them, and adjust accordingly — without wasting valuable time or money in larger-scale tests. As a result, production is becoming more efficient. What’s more, designers are getting more opportunities to refine and improve their original concepts.

What this means for designers: In a world where 3D printing is the norm, designers or business owners would be able to design, create, and test multiple times before final production. Without wasting a great deal of time or money.


Look at what’s already changed in the design realm through 3D printing, what does the future hold? As 3D printing grows more common, what will happen to designers? According to Siobhan O’Flynn from What would the internet do?, 3D printing is good news for the design realm.

The blogger writes that we can expect a future in which “the printers will be dirt cheap, [and] the ‘Brand’ owners will make their [money] back on selling the design files and the necessary customized materials, potential add-ons, or patented polymers.” In other words, the way designs are distributed may be changing, but one thing’s for sure: designers aren’t going anywhere.

About the author: Steve Erickson, Vice President, Sales & Engineering brings more than 20 years of experience in the plastic injection molding industry to First American Plastic Molding Enterprise and Quad, Inc. First American Plastic is a custom plastic injection molding manufacturer and assembler for the automotive, food, medical, and industrial markets.

Featured image: Matt Neal (via Flickr)