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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On crossing over to the dark side

Seems like it's not a great week to be on the edge of 3D printing with the barrier for entry being raised twice in a week. First TinkerCAD yanks itself out of the range of the hobbiest with a paid subscription program. Then Makerbot just today announced a new Replicator that is more expensive, single extrusion head only, PLA only, and if you want tech support you have to pay extra. For the complainers there is a lot to complain about. I've heard naysayers say they've crossed over to the dark side.

The thing is I am really a fan of both of these companies. The value they've provided always just seemed too good to be true. And as with anything that seems to good to be true it didn't last. However, these are two very different cases and I feel very differently about both of them.

In the case of TinkerCAD I feel like they dyke burst and they're so desperate for funding that they're killing themselves. Their new free "trial" account doesn't even allow you enough storage to finish their own tutorials. and their lowest paid tier is too expensive for the casual, the non-technical, and the children all of whom I consider to be TinkerCAD's target audience. It seems to me that TinkerCAD doesn't understand that the bigger their free user base is the more they can get to convert to paying users. That's the way Dropbox, Pandora, LogMeIn and so many other companies in the modern cloud based economy work, and it's working for them so far. It's fine for me, they've kept all the legacy accounts unchanged, but I can no longer recommend TinkerCAD. In fact I doubt they'll get very many referrals from anyone, and that, I fear, will be their end.

In the case of Makerbot I'm less upset because there's good and ugly but in the end I think Makerbot is going to make it. Every change they've made to their Replicator2 have been to make it easier and more reliable. PLA doesn't need a heated print bed to prevent curling. The dual head thing never really got the development it deserved in the software side and didn't benefit most users. Plus they've written a new easy to use software that goes toe-to-toe with Cube's software and that's a very good thing. Thingiverse is still there and still just as free and awesome as ever. And they're opening a retail outlet. Very exciting stuff.

But then there's the ugly. Charging extra for support? It makes me wonder if every praise their support has gotten recently stung a little knowing that soon they couldn't offer it to everyone the way they have. Plus, I have a lot of ABS and I like it. I don't like PLA's properties in general. And I really like the dual extruders since I'm using mine for a kind of mini-manufacturing and doubling my output it a plus. Plus their new software isn't open source, tho they use Slicer so I don't know how they're managing to do that. No word on if the Replicator2 hardware itself will be open sourced but I doubt it. With the recent Replciator knockoffs I imagine their investors demanded a closed source system but it saddens to see an ideal be abandoned. Mind you the Replicator2 was just announcement a couple of hours ago, so some details are still coming to light.

I still feel like I can recommend Makerbot to others, maybe even more so with their focus on making their printers easier to use, provided the people I'm referring can pay the price. (Maybe Makerbot should offer financing.) When I save up to buy a second printer, tho, it will probably be another Replicator1. There's just not enough in the Replicator2 to draw me in, but I can recommend it to others.

I am grateful for what these companies have provided in the past to me personally so I hope they do well and succeed. But there is a little sadness in both of these announcement as well.


  1. Nice write up. I share a lot of similar thoughts. A company though does need to survive and if competition can spring up with a YouTube video and a Kickstarter account then INNOVATE! Stinks that innovate here might mean to get away from the open source hardware realm.

    YouTube Channel:

  2. Okay, this is kind of a funny reponce:

    Ironic that the Rep2 is shiny and black. Plus it lost an extruder OH MY GOD, IT'S TRUE!


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