We've just read not one, but two articles from reputable publications that appear to dismiss the notion of personal 3D printing. TechCrunch's Jon Evans wrote "3D Printers Are Not Like 2D Printers: A Rant", while Scientific American's Gary Stix wrote "3-D Printing: The Great American Tchotchke Machine".
Stix's premise is that personal 3D printers are not particularly useful and would typically be used to print tchotchkes (a slavic word meaning trinkets). He says:
The ability to create the tchotchke of your choice doesn’t seem to measure up exactly to the changes wrought at work and home by XyWrite, Visicalc or other early PC applications.
Having a tchotchke maker in the basement workshop or the family room seems like kind of a non-starter. The world is not hankering after more hands-on access to a wonderful world of clutter.
Meanwhile, Evans says:
People. Listen. 3D printing is not just 2D printing with another dimension added on. Yes, the names are very similar, but their uses are not even remotely analogous. We may reasonably conclude, therefore, that 1) 3D printing will not recapitulate the history of 2D printing, 2) as soon as you make an argument along those lines you lose all credibility and look like an idiot.
He suggests that paper printing is simply manipulation of information, while 3D printers produce "real stuff". That's pretty much true.
We agree and disagree with these points. Yes, personal 3D printing is not particularly useful to the general public - at the moment. One must remember that this is still the very earliest stage of development. It's so early that we still haven't even settled on the basic technology to be used by personal 3D printers: Is it extruded plastic or optically fused liquid resin? We Don't Know Yet. There are a host of companies experimenting with these and other approaches, both technological and business. This could be a time analogous to 2D printing prior to inkjet tech or even dot-matrix tech.
Two conclusions: First, it's way to early to make any calls on this. Secondly, it's still a ton of fun. Start printing. Now.