Makerbot’s Replicator Versus 3D systems’ The Cube

Rapid Prototyping Services
Picture credit: 3D Systems

While Makerbot entered the 3D printing market in 2009 with the aim of making 3D printing accessible to everyone; 3D Systems have been around since 1986 serving a very different part of the market, primarily to those wanting rapid prototyping services.

Makerbot’s early success obviously attracted the attention of 3D Systems who have now moved into the same entry level sector as Makerbot with their Cube 3D printer, ideal for small businesses and individuals such as hobbyists and amateur designers. Despite 3D Systems most expensive offering coming in at around $1 million and them having a wide range of different printers for direct manufacturing and rapid prototyping services their new offering has undercut Makerbot’s Replicator coming in at $1299 compared to the $1799 for the Replicator.

The Replicator does offer 2 color printing which the Cube doesn’t meaning the choice isn’t obvious for consumers, the Replicator can also be modified by users, its even possible to add more colors, and it can print larger items than the Cube.

Perhaps then it was inevitable that a face off between the two companies would come and it came at CES this year at the roundtable event hosted by CNET.

The attitude of Cathy Lewis of 3D Systems still seemed very commercially minded and perhaps the Cube will appeal more to small businesses wanting rapid prototyping services in house. While the two tone Replicator is better for creating finished models and art the monotone printing of the Cube lends itself to rapid prototyping services more.

Bre Pettis of Makerbot in contrast to Cathy Lewis seemed to want to talk much more about making 3D printing for everyone and accessible to those even unable to do their own designing. While Bre mentioned Google Sketchup as a free product available to everyone Cathy was quick to plug 3D systems’ own CAD offering, which is far from being free software.

When you look at the availability of CAD files as well though Makerbot’s Replicator starts to look like better value despite its higher price tag. Makerbot’s Thingiverse is an online repository of open source CAD files shared by users, the collection has been building for four years and is impressive it also means that those unable to do their own CAD or still learning can print straight away or customize an existing design: which takes a lot less time and is a good way to initially hone skills.

Cubify is the equivalent to Thingiverse that 3D systems offer. Showing 3D systems different approach to 3D printing: CAD files on Cubify have to be paid for to be used; despite this it has a smaller repository, though this is partly through being a more recent service. Again though it points towards The Cube being more io an Enterprise Printer and a tool for designers who want to make money from design, or advanced users such as those wanting to use it for Rapid prototyping services in house with no need to have files to get them started. 3D systems take 40{ed34752d3d9237811f2899a265685e36705e4e86722207f201c96dd1cfc4a167} of the money made on Cubify as well though, perhaps explaining how they can afford to sell their printer for less.

Overall Makerbot came out looking better, 3D systems’ Cathy Lewis falling back on The Cube looking better Ergonomically than the Replicator, a matter of opinion anyway and really not the point.

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