This House would ban the sale of 3D printers to households

3D printing is a revolutionary method of manufacturing. It is an additive process, meaning that it builds layer over layer of material in any shape using a laser, and does not waste as much material as cutting or drilling larger blocks into the desired shape (subtractive manufacturing). Recently, they have begun to become accessible to households, and the price has dropped from several thousands to several hundreds of dollars.1 However, the industry is still massively underdeveloped. While 3D printers have been known to produce truly ground-breaking things, such as food or human organs2, these are the exceptions. 3D printing still faces many limitations: it is slow, materials can be very expensive, machines are highly specific so you need different ones for different purposes, and they mainly produce brittle products with a rough surface.3

Nonetheless, the industry is developing tremendously fast, and the possibilities, both positive and negative, seem endless. A particularly loaded question is that of the domestic use of 3D printers. On one hand, they may eventually provide people with cheap access to endless necessities from home and allow individuals to produce anything they like enabling them to compete with large corporations. On the other, very shortly after 3D printers became a known concept, people began spreading blueprints of plastic printable guns on the internet. This allowed anybody with a 3D printer to produce their own weapons without any skill or great effort.4 As printers develop, producing guns, drugs or any dangerous product will be inexpensive and impossible to regulate. Such a new type of technology seems to call for drastically adapting existing regulations: but is it sufficient to justify a ban on 3D printers in households while this is still possible?

[1] Bilton, Nick. “Disruptions: On the Fast Track to Routine 3-D Printing”, Bits, The New York Times. 17 February 2013.

[2] Quigley, J. T. “Chinese Scientists Are 3D Printing Ears and Livers – With Living Tissue”, Tech Biz, The Diplomat. 15 August 2013.

[3] Allen, Nick. “Why 3D Printing Is Overhyped (I Should Know, I Do It For a Living)”, Gizmodo, Gawker Media Inc. 17 May 2013.

[4] “‘Wiki Weapon Project’ Aims To Create A Gun Anyone Can 3D-Print At Home”, Forbes. 23 August 2012.

3D printers promote uncontrolled consumerism

While 3D printing may revolutionise professional manufacturing and lead to less waste, in the household it promotes mindless consumerism. By producing anything desired cheaply and more accessibly, without even having to leave your house, they encourage people consume much more than they otherwise would. This happens because individual consumers tend not to be concerned about the sustainability implications of every purchase: they will do so even less when 3D printers allow instant gratification.

On one hand, it can make people more dependent on material possessions, which makes it harder for them to attain more sustainable forms of happiness. Additionally, this eventually leads to more waste and overproduction, reversing all the potential benefits of industrial 3D printing.


Yes, perhaps in the short term the excitement of a 3D printer will make people print more than they can make use of. In the long run, however, it is likely that by making goods more affordable for everyone 3D printers will be able to reduce problems of scarcity. When people have a more equal access to necessities, material possessions cease to become such a symbol of power, and they become less important for people.

Private 3D printers make it impossible to regulate illegal products

As the technology develops, it seems likely that guns like the one created by Defense Distributed will continue to appear, becoming cheaper, more functional and more accessible. While the US succeeded in promptly removing the blueprints, removing blueprints from the internet will quickly prove impossible as the phenomenon inevitably becomes more widespread.5

This is dangerous for all the same reasons that we do not allow people to produce their own weapons: we cannot ensure criminals or mentally ill people do not gain access to them, and we cannot track them after they have been used to commit a crime. Furthermore, they can be made of plastic, thus making them essentially undetectable to most security scans. When weapons become so easily accessible, crimes become easier for terrorists or criminals to commit, and thus more crimes take place. By banning printers before blueprints spread, we could avoid disasters such as the 2004 bombings in Madrid, in which the bombs were produced from instructions on the internet6.

Similarly, the production of drugs and other illegal substances becomes impossible to regulate when anybody can produce anything in their own homes from plans on the internet. Restricting the spread of blueprints online is impossible, so the physical means of production must be regulated before they become irreversibly accessible. Banning household 3D printers, therefore, is a necessary step to uphold the rules we find important to our safety.

[5] Winter, Jana. “Homeland Security bulletin warns 3D-printed guns may be ‘impossible’ to stop”,, Fox News. 23 May 2013.

[6] “Online University: Jihad 101 for Would-Be Terrorists”, Spiegel Online International. 17 August 2006.


This harm, realistically, is minimal. Those who want to buy guns would still buy them illegally without 3D printers. Guns can be cheap in the black market since they can be mass produced, and to print a gun one first has to purchase a printer, the materials and often also the blueprints. This is similarly the case for other illegal substances. The risk that things can be used for harmful purposes is not a sufficient reason, because those who want to harm themselves or others have the means to do so already. That is why the Madrid bombers were able to develop their own bombs from the internet before 3D printers had been developed: where there is a will, there will always be a way, and it is the will and not the way that it is ever useful to tackle.

Technology should not circumvent consumer protection laws

The great appeal of 3D printers is that they make consuming more efficient than normal methods: however, normal methods are inefficient in part because they undergo important checks and balances. Without proper regulations, standards are quickly dropped to save money and the health of thousands of consumers is put at risk. Such is the case in China, where consumer protection regulations are inefficient.7 Through 3D printing this becomes a global problem. Any company, real or fake, can sell products online without them having been approved. This means that people may buy dangerous products from unidentifiable, and thus legally unaccountable, companies. Shifting the burden of ensuring safety standards away from companies and onto consumers, who have significantly less information, is a threat to consumers’ health and safety.

[7] “China again heads EU’s dangerous products list”, EUbusiness. 16 April 2010.


If you purchase a poor quality product, you are the one to blame: this is already the case now if one chooses to buy a cheaper product from a less reliable source. Under a 3D printer market you are still likely to be purchasing most of your products from reliable brands with an incentive to keep producing quality products as they want you to return and buy more of their products. If you choose not to, you are aware of the risk you take, and can easily inform yourself of the risks on peer review websites and forums before making your choice.

Household 3D printing can, in the short term, destroy developing economies

All nations to develop economically depend on the importation of capital. In most cases, this takes the shape of labour-intense manufacturing. In fact, scarcely any countries have developed without transitioning through having a large manufacturing sector.8 It takes time for these countries to develop the capital and infrastructure to enter higher barrier to entry markets, such as the service sector. Transitioning without of manufacturing is therefore not an option for the majority of developing nations, and the exceptions that have succeeded in creating economic growth without large scale manufacturing, such as India and Sri Lanka, relied on spectacular luck.9 As a result, many developing nations depend on exporting cheap products to the developed world, where consumption is the highest.

If demand for the goods they produce is satisfied in the developed world, such countries will be unable to export. Because of the labour intensiveness of the manufacturing this will affect a large number of people. Short term drops in growth are particularly harmful in the developing world, where social security is too underdeveloped to cushion their effect. People who work long hours for minimal wages do so because unemployment is not an option. Were these factories to have to close suddenly, the social consequences would be devastating.

3D printers provoke this to happen by satisfying all demand for cheap products. When individuals in Western liberal democracies can get access to cheaper products from their own home, developing nations will be unable to compete, and their exports fall substantially. 3D printers should remain at the industry level, where companies are more likely to rationally prefer importing cheap products over the extra costs of using 3D printers, such as electricity, and are likely to continue trade with the Third World.

[8] “Breaking In and Moving Up: New Industrial Challenges for the Bottom Billion and the Middle Income Countries”, Industrial Development Report, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). 2009.

[9] “The Service Elevator”, The Economist. 19 May 2011.


This argument ignores the massive impact 3D printers can have on long-term sustainability, by providing access to the goods the Third World needs to get out of poverty.10 Food, water, medicine and shelter are examples of things that are expensive to transport and difficult to spread, and yet can be produced by 3D printers at a much lower cost. When the things that are scarce in the third world become less scarce, developing countries will be able to compete more fairly with the Western world.

Even in the short term, these harms will not happen. The only short term consequence will be a shift from this labour-intensive form of production into another labour-intensive sector. A massive surplus of cheap labour will still attract new investors in other sectors where 3D printers do not have a monopoly. This is already the case with investment into call centres in India and the Philippines11, and tourism throughout the developing world12.

[10] “A third-world dimension”, The Economist. 3 November 2012.

[11] McGeown, Kate. “The Philippines: The world´s hotline”. BBC News. 17 July 2011.

[12] Samimi, Ahmad, Sadeghi, Somaye, and Sadeghi, Soraya. “Tourism and Economic Growth in Developing Countries: P-VAR Approach”, Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research. 2011.

Solid piracy will become as problematic as virtual piracy

Intellectual property law is split into copyright, design protection, patents, and trademarks. All areas can be easily infringed by 3D printing.13 There is no meaningful way of sustaining these laws against individuals who choose to use 3D printers to benefit from the hard work of others. Much in the same way one can steal music online, blueprints for products can be decoded or stolen and subsequently reproduced at almost no expense. It may be impossible to determine where this has been done.14 This is unjust in itself, but it also creates a large deterrent from innovating by removing the profit incentive. Corporations and individuals will be pushed away from creating high quality innovative products if they know their blueprints can be pirated and spread online for free or for less than they themselves charge, making their effort in creating them worthless.

[13] Gehl, Mary. “The Implications of 3D Printing”, Technology, Koinonia House. September 2012.

[14] Lawrence, Jon. “3D Printing: legal and regulatory issues”, Economic Frontiers Australia. 8 August 2013.


For the people for whom the illegality of piracy is not a deterrent, the illegality of owning a domestic 3D printer will not be an obstacle either. Banning 3D printers may only result in large scale 3D printer manufacturing piracy.

Under this model, on the other hand, even if there is a slight infringement on intellectual property, a tax can be imposed on the private ownership on 3D printers that is used for rewarding innovation.15

[15] See “This house would abolish intellectual property rights”, Debatabase.

Democratising manufacturing gives people more freedom

Individuals are the most fit to decide for themselves what they need and what they want to be happy. When corporations attempt to match demand they do so imperfectly because they have to cater to large numbers of people. Letting people create and customise whatever they want gives them, quite literally, an infinite selection to choose from. This maximises freedom for the consumer and leads to a better quality of life: most of your needs can be met exactly as you want them, without even having to leave your home.


There is still a need for expertise: although they make manufacturing easier, 3D printers require knowledge that most people do not have. Most people will still be unable to create most products from scratch (and it may be dangerous to try). Individuals will therefore still have to rely on companies for their everyday needs. It is also untrue that they will never have to leave their home, since they will also need to purchase and transport printing materials.

Banning 3D printers wastes a chance for innovation

Right now, there are large barriers to entry for individuals and small companies trying to enter any market. Economies of scale make it hard for them to compete with large manufacturers, and they are additionally bound to slow and inefficient quality regulations. This severely limits any kind of innovation. The collective possession of 3D printers would facilitate creation. Anybody could have an idea and implement it into a solid product, which is cheap to produce in your own home without economies of scale. There are already examples all over the world of people creating innovating prototypes and attracting investors16. 3D printing therefore means that anyone can set up in manufacturing without large start-up costs. This means that the flow of ideas in society and the discussion that accompanies it – such as people posting blueprints on blogs and forums and improving each other’s products – would develop infinitely faster than when it is limited to large manufacturers.17

[16] Palermo, Elizabeth. “10 Amazing 3D-Printing Startups”, Business News Daily. 18 June 2013.

[17] Wainwright, Oliver. “Is DIY design more than a passing fad?”, Architecture and Design Blog, The Guardian. 24 July 2013.


Household 3D printers will, in practice, hamper innovation both from companies and individuals. Firstly, individuals will still be faced with the large barrier to entry of lacking sufficient expertise to produce much of what they want. Any “flow of ideas” that may arise will only be composed of low-quality designs. Secondly, individuals will have less incentive to innovate when the market is out of control and free designs are floating all over the internet. Any attempt at differentiation is impossible.

Thirdly, and more importantly, the problems with copyright law once 3D printers are domestic will deter both companies and individuals from innovating. Revolutionary products require effort and knowledge to design: they will not be created without a profit incentive.

Household 3D printers would reduce the environmental harms of consuming

The more is produced by 3D printing, the better: it makes consuming much more environmentally friendly. They involve less transportation costs, no large scale factories, and by involving additive manufacturing, they can use as little as only a tenth of the material that subtractive manufacturing would require.18 When households, and not only companies, have access to 3D printers, companies will no longer have to move products around the world, but can sell electronic blueprints instead. Furthermore, things are only actually produced after they have been purchased, reducing waste even more.

[18] “Print me a Stradivarius”, The Economist. 10 February 2011.


The difference is minimal between only companies having 3D printers and extending them to households. Printer owners would, for example, still have to purchase and transport printing materials. Many printers still involve large levels of waste19, and these are probably the lower quality printers that individual consumers are more likely to afford. Furthermore, household printing can actually harm the environment by provoking people to consume more than they would if price and convenience were deterrents. Industrial printing on its own can make a significant difference in terms of eco-friendly production: this should not be compromised by dropping all limits on production.

[19] Faludi, Jeremy. “Is 3D printing an environmental win?”, GreenBiz. 19 July 2013.

3D printing opens the doors to a post-scarcity society

Industrial 3D printing allows for a cheaper, faster and more sustainable form of production, but somebody still has to sell and purchase the products. Household 3D printers give people the possibility of producing otherwise inaccessible things for a minimal cost, up to hundreds of times cheaper than their current store price20. Numerous websites, such as Thingiverse21, already act as databases for free printable designs. This trend would allow people to save thousands on necessities: food, appliances, medicine, and human organs are some examples. Even systems for power production or more efficient ways of collecting sustainable energy could be created. This would make scarcity disappear as we know it, and thus tackle one of society’s greatest problems. This is a very long way off even with 3D printers but if it is to occur it is essential that the means of production not be monopolised by companies.

[20] Kelly, Heather. “Study: At-home 3-D printing could save consumers ‘thousands’”, What’s Next, CNN. 31 July 2013.

[21] Thingiverse, Makerbot Industries.


A post-scarcity society is unrealistic. 3D printers still come with large costs, in terms of machinery, materials and blueprints. Those that can afford the more complex printers and the higher quality materials will benefit much more than others. While these costs exist, and there is no near future in which they do not, scarcity will continue to be a problem. This is especially the case since the need for expertise remains. The vast majority of products of reasonable quality will still be produced by corporations with a profit incentive, and available only to those who can afford them.

The state should refrain from imposing bans

In Western liberal democracies, we generally consider an individual’s private sphere to be worth protecting. We only give the state license to violate it when something is objectively largely harmful to that person or to society. When something is not very clearly harmful we let people make their own decisions because the state is not infallible in its judgements about what lifestyles are better than others.

Therefore, simply saying that there is a risk that printers will be misused is not sufficient grounds for banning them altogether. If technology makes it easier for people to do what they want, this is a good thing; if people then want to do things that we consider harmful this is a problem in itself. The solution is not to ban an entire means of production in order to stop a minority from producing dangerous things, but to educate people about the risks so they can freely make better decisions. Making it harder for people to do bad things is useless, furthermore, since those that wish to purchase a gun or take drugs can already find ways of doing so without 3D printers. One may even argue that it is better for everybody to have access to a gun, for example, and not only those who are willing to break the law to get one.


The restrictions on what the state can ban are only valid inasmuch as they protect fundamental right. The supposed right to 3D printers is not fundamental, but is derived from a right to own good things, if they are available. If the state can provide an alternative that yields similar benefits it does not actually infringe any fundamental right by banning their domestic use. For example, industrial 3D printed manufacturing also provides cheap and innovative products. On the other hand, the potential harms of domestic printers are exponential, and we do not have a right to anything that causes harm to society. The state therefore has a mandate to ban 3D printers in households.


Allen, Nick. “Why 3D Printing Is Overhyped (I Should Know, I Do It For a Living)”, Gizmodo, Gawker Media Inc. 17 May 2013.

Bilton, Nick. “Disruptions: On the Fast Track to Routine 3-D Printing”, Bits, The New York Times. 17 February 2013.

“Print me a Stradivarius”, The Economist. 10 February 2011.

“The Service Elevator”, The Economist. 19 May 2011.

“A third-world dimension”, The Economist. 3 November 2012.

“China again heads EU’s dangerous products list”, EUbusiness. 16 April 2010.

Faludi, Jeremy. “Is 3D printing an environmental win?”, GreenBiz. 19 July 2013.

“‘Wiki Weapon Project’ Aims To Create A Gun Anyone Can 3D-Print At Home”, Forbes. 23 August 2012.

Gehl, Mary. “The Implications of 3D Printing”, Technology, Koinonia House. September 2012.

Kelly, Heather. “Study: At-home 3-D printing could save consumers ‘thousands’”, What’s Next, CNN. 31 July 2013.

Lawrence, Jon. “3D Printing: legal and regulatory issues”, Economic Frontiers Australia. 8 August 2013.

McGeown, Kate. “The Philippines: The world´s hotline”. BBC News. 17 July 2011.

Palermo, Elizabeth. “10 Amazing 3D-Printing Startups”, Business News Daily. 18 June 2013.

Quigley, J. T. “Chinese Scientists Are 3D Printing Ears and Livers – With Living Tissue”, Tech Biz, The Diplomat. 15 August 2013.

Samimi, Ahmad, Sadeghi, Somaye, and Sadeghi, Soraya. “Tourism and Economic Growth in Developing Countries: P-VAR Approach”, Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research. 2011.

“Online University: Jihad 101 for Would-Be Terrorists”, Spiegel Online International. 17 August 2006.

Thingiverse, Makerbot Industries.

“Breaking In and Moving Up: New Industrial Challenges for the Bottom Billion and the Middle Income Countries”, Industrial Development Report, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). 2009.

Wainwright, Oliver. “Is DIY design more than a passing fad?”, Architecture and Design Blog, The Guardian. 24 July 2013.

Winter, Jana. “Homeland Security bulletin warns 3D-printed guns may be ‘impossible’ to stop”,, Fox News. 23 May 2013.