When Was 3D Printing Invented? A brief history.

3D printing, though now a fairly mainstream term, is still a growing and developing technology. In fact, the enormous hype surrounding the industry may prompt you to think it is a spanking new thing. But did you know that 3D printing is not as new as many think?

The general concept of 3D printing was imagined back in 1945, but the first documented iterations were developed in 1981 by Hideo Kodama. Kodama invented two additive methods for fabricating 3D models with a photo-hardening thermoset polymer, where UV light was used to induce curing.

His invention didn’t catch on either. Nevertheless, several patents were taken out in the 1980s that would make the foundation of today’s renowned 3D printing industry. 3D printing is now a real and seemingly super futuristic technology. Read on to learn about the history of awe-inspiring 3D printing technology.

The History Of 3D Printing.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a tremendously exciting technology that is changing the face of modern manufacturing. The idea behind the technology dates all the way back to 1945 when Murray Leinster accurately described the concept and procedure to be used in it in his short story “Things Pass By.” In his short story, the sci-fi writer envisioned a device that would follow drawings and replicate them using a moving arm to form 3D plastic objects.

The ideas ceased being fiction in 1971 when Johannes F. Gottwald developed the Liquid Metal Recorder, a continuous inkjet metal material device.

All in all, it was not until the 1980s that 3D printing ideas became a reality. In 1981, Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute filed the first prominent 3D printing patent. Kodama coined a rapid prototyping device that used UV light to harden photoreactive polymers. The system would build a layer above a layer to form the final product, and the idea was that the system would be useful for creating models and prototypes. Sadly, the patent didn’t succeed due to a lack of funds, but regardless, the seed was sown.

Hideo Kodama is most often credited as the inventor of 3D printing, even though he was not successful in patenting the 3D printing technology. His rapid prototyping system is recognized as the early version of today’s Stereolithography (SLA) device.

Subsequent 3D Printing Inventions

Up next in the coining of 3D printing technology was a team of three French researchers. The trio — Jean-Claude André, Olivier de Witte, and Alain le Méhauté — filed for a patent on the stereolithography method in July 1984. However, due to a lack of interest from employers, they were unable to fund their project, which consequently forced them to abandon the idea.

Around the same time, the trio’s idea, which was rejected on the basis that it lacked a significant business perspective, would benefit Charles Hull, the man now credited as the father of 3D printing. Hull advanced on the idea to create a system that cured photosensitive resin layer by layer to create 3D models. The stereolithography fabrication system used UV light, particle bombardment, impinging radiation, or chemical reaction to cure photopolymers.

Notably, Charles Hull filed his patent for the 3D printing technology on 8 August 1984, barely three weeks after the trio had submitted theirs. He was awarded the patent in 1986.

First 3D printers.

Besides making 3D printing technology a reality, Charles Hull is credited for developing the STL file format — a digital format that can be read by 3D printers. Actually, it is this invention that has made 3D printing what it is today.

In 1988, two years after he was awarded a patent, Charles Hull established the 3D Systems Corporation, which has grown to become one of the world’s largest 3D printing companies. During the same year, the company commercialized the first ever stereolithographic apparatus (SLA) machine, the SLA-1.

Stereolithography paved the way for 3D printing technology to grow. Actually, it seems that other technologies were being developed at the same time: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printing technologies. The SLS technology was patented in 1988, but it wasn’t until 2006 that the first commercially viable SLS printer was released. On the other hand, FDM printing technology was invented by S. Scott Crump in 1989 and patented the same year. Crump co-founded Stratasys with his wife, and the company released the first FDM printer, the 3D Modeler, in 1992.

With three technologies widely accepted, 3D printing continued to grow in popularity as additive manufacturing. Many companies also invested in the technology propagating its spreading.

Popularization Of 3D Printing.

3D printing was still in its infancy, almost 20 years after it was coined and patented. However, in the late 1990s and the start of the millennium, the technology generated the interest of many investors and companies. Its proliferation can be attributed to a number of events, including the renowned RepRap project.

A new breakthrough was accomplished in 2000 when scientists successfully produced the first 3D-printed kidney. The 3D-printed kidney was implanted in the human body.

In 2004, Dr. Adrian Bowyer launched the RepRap project, which significantly popularized 3D printing. Bowyer’s open-source initiative focused on creating a self-replicating 3D printer — a 3D printer that would print most of its components. The 1.0 “Darwin” was the initial practical application of RepRap’s philosophy, and it made 3D printers more accessible, allowing people to print virtually anything they could dream of.

3D printing saw another major development in 2005, the year Zcorp released the Spectrum Z510, a 3D printer that could print colorful HD 3D objects. In 2008, the first prosthetic leg was printed in 3D, giving the technology even greater media presence.

Many of the patents that launched this tremendous technology expired in the 2000s, creating room for a large wave of innovation. Ultimately, this made the technology more accessible and lowered the cost of 3D printers. Continuous developments and innovation have resulted in the 3D printing industry of today.


Forty years old but looking brand new, 3D printing technology is still evolving. New 3D printers are being released regularly, and advanced additive manufacturing materials are being included in the industry every while. Technology is revolutionizing the architecture, automotive, and medical industries and is still promising. Although we can’t predict the route the 3D technology will take in the future, we appreciate the incredible journey it has already been on.

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