The Pizza Comparison, or why HP 3D printers are pizza ovens

Shapeways wants to do for 3D printing, what CSI did for petechial hemorrhaging. Luckily we are not alone, there are many companies working towards similar ends. These fellow travelers all want to in some way enable personal production and give people the ability to make anything. This post is meant to explain my personal view towards those fellow travelers, the future and pizza. It is long, my apologies. 

There has been a lot of discussion about what the HP & Stratasys distribution deal will mean for 3D printing. Will it make 3D printing mainstream? Will it put a 3D printer on every desk, or is it just a limited marketing deal that will not change anything? Joseph Flaherty at Replicator thinks that the HP & Stratasys deal is, literally “no big deal.” Al Dean at Develop 3D is more optimistic, while giving a good overview of the industry and challenges. Jeffry Mathias is more optmistic still, and thinks it will be huge. My own opinion on the matter was described as enthusiastic also. This may strike some of you as strange, given that previously I have gone on the record saying some potentially stupid things about desktop 3D printing. In the Singer problem I imply that the desktop 3D printer is basically irrelevant and in the Milk analogy I ask why we don’t all have mini cows at home. Today I will go considerably further out on a limb.

How can I rhyme these seemingly disparate viewpoints of mine? By thinking of pizza. You have a lot of different types of businesses making pizza. 

There is the fine dining restaurant where beautiful surroundings, linen tablecloths and jacketed waiters envelope you. This is a place where most come only on anniversaries or special occasions, places that are meant to take your breath away. They serve pizza here, with a twist, a wink of an eye and an eye popping price but pizza all the same. The service, the experience, the feeling of being in good hands and their expertise in cooking is why people go here.

You can also get pizza from Domino’s and Pappa Johns, You order it and it arrives. The pizza is inexpensive, easy and the variation is enormous. This is a scale business that is efficient and competes on value for money, scale, scope, selection and distribution. Technology, innovation and what’s under the hood matter as well as marketing. Within this segment there is variation such as NakedPizza that competes on health and ecology while retaining essentially the same model.

You could also build a pizza oven in your back yard. You could do this in two ways. You could hand build it yourself or get some professional company to ship it to you. In both cases the issues are similar. The initial start up costs are huge, especially compared to the other options. This will leave out a great many people unable or unwilling to make the investment. It will take up a lot of space and require a lot of effort to maintain. Initially you will have to train yourself to use it. You have acquired an asset and this could break, depreciate quicker than you thought or it could, simply not work as hoped. The risks are much higher, as is the effort. But the perceived payoff is higher. The dream of making one’s own. You have to love the idea of it. Just look at the guy above smiling.

And what off the ultimate pizza company? A pizza with all of the taste, skill and pizazz of the fine dining restaurant; with the low cost, variation, innovation and ease of the delivery service; and with the feeling of having made it yourself. This ultimate pizza competitor would for $1.99 instantly produce a pizza anywhere you wanted it to be, to any specification, with any ingredients with an unmatched taste. A kind of ultimate frozen pizza. Would that be cool? Would that be awesome? For shizzle. Where would such an ultimate pizza be more likely to evolve initially? Who would have it first? Would it be accessible as an inexpensive product for everyone to buy? Or would lets say a restaurant somewhere or one of those delivery services be the first to implement it, the first to afford it? While waiting for this ultimate pizza, what would be the best course to take as a consumer?

At one point during our lifetime there might very well be a device that can manipulate at the molecular or atomic level. There might be a Tea, Earl Grey, Hot device, a proper replicator. This will change everything. But..if such a device does not exist a desktop 3D printer is a technophile’s bread baking machine. A space & time consuming device that will bring a limited number of people immense enjoyment for limited use but be unused by the vast number of purchasers and people in general. Even people with a bread baking machine eat bread baked elsewhere. You can not make all bread with a bread baking machine. Skill is an element when baking bread. And just because there were other devices that used to be very expensive and limited and are now cheap and sophisticated does not necessarily mean that 3D printers will automatically follow the same path. Where is my $100 Rolls Royce? Nike shoes would cost less than a dollar and fly me to work if they were chips but they are not.

Desktop 3D printers, will be a tax on “makers” living in the early 21st century. Don’t get me wrong, I will happily pay it. I am enthusiastic about open source 3D printers and HP. But, look at your toolbox. What is the best tool? The best hammer? For all use cases? I know you have a dream tool, an ultimate but is this the best tool for everyone, in all cases? Could you even imagine an ultimate hammer, a screwdriver? A tool that could do everything? A tool that could do everything better than every other tool, no matter how specialized? How about a factory that could make everything? More likely, but improbable. How about a service with lots of factories, could they make everything? More likely still but even they could not simultaneously be the best at pizazz and afford ability. They would have to make choices, choose a path. They would, Oh I don’t know opt for building a service and a community instead of a machine. Indeed this is why I work at Shapeways. Because if a replicator comes on the market we will be the first to buy it. Because if the dream is to let everyone make everything the challenge is (counter intuitively) not one of machinery but rather one of infrastructure such as software, helpful community members, designers, scale and scope. There is a broad host of problems that we are tackling and this will be essential for making 3D printing mainstream. Confused, at this point during the diatribe? Try win Command and Conquer with one unit. Try find a shirt that fits all your friends. Try find a shirt that everyone you’ve ever met will like (and no, not everyone likes the Wolf Moon shirt). To make everything is an almost insurmountable mountain of complexity, to let everyone make everything adds a plethora of pitfalls, to limit your solution to within the confines of a desk is delusion. A desktop 3D printer will for some use cases for some people provide a completely compelling way to make something of any shape less well than larger machines owned by people who have more space or money.     

So why am I going to buy a desktop 3D printer at one point? Because its cool. I’m a 3D printing fan boy. I’m like one of those people with every Barbie, all the Pokemon, I’m compelled. And this is where my enthusiasm for the HP deal comes in. If enough people believe that desktop 3D printing will happen, then it will. This, like the internet in the 1990s. This is the: no matter what the economics and technical challenges are, if we all go nuts and act like lemmings we are capable of incredible achievements. The hysteria, millions of people working towards the same goal, billions more to go into things like, dark fiber, data centers, coders, code, software, routers and the marketing, PR and news that brought everyone to the internet. The internet became a frenzy, a self fulling prophecy that defied any economic logic. Anything that brings people closer to believing that desktop 3D printing is inevitable, is great. Because a massive investment of time and money in one thing, in one dream, is bound to do amazing things. started this talking about pizza? Yes, I did and may I congratulate you on your perseverance as well as thank you for it, in this part of the story.

If I asked you about the pizza industry you might think that all companies that made pizza compete with each other. They don’t. Each slice is consumed by different people for different reasons. Yes, there could be overlap. I could buy a Pizza at night because I’m too lazy to fire up my pizza oven or order one from this one place because they have flavors or ingredients I don’t have. But, essentially these companies do not and will not derive significant gains or losses in revenues from these other pizza category companies. These companies would not thrive or fail if they did well or badly as compared to or in opposition to the overall pizza market. Each of their futures will be determined by different tactical and strategic choices and in competition with different players. Even if the market was saturated, they would not predominantly compete. Domino’s is more worried about McDonalds than fine dining. The “build your own wood fired oven” pizza people actually compete more with hot tubs, hobbies & vacations more than the other categories. 

Shapeways aims to be Dominos of 3D printing. The guys at RepRap & Make@Home are the “build your own pizza oven crowd.” Stratasys, Objet, Zcorp, 3D systems and EOS are the professional pizza oven retailers. Makerbot is a unique hybrid of the two. 3D printing service bureaus such as Materialise are the fine dining restaurants. We all would like to offer the ultimate in production technology. We all would love to have or sell the ultimate replication machine. If there is an internet-like hype we might all get the chance, eventually. But, our energies are wasted in competing across categories. 

We are all fulfilling a similar need but essentially not exactly the same need, and not to the same people and not in the same way. The differences between those needs and how we meet them will mean the difference between success and failure for individual companies and products in this industry. Domino’s might be the most excellent pizza delivery company out there but they could not do fine dining. There are six billion people on this planet that have no concept of what 3D printing can do. Lets divy these up first and then start thinking about the other guy.  

Creative Commons Attribution: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6    


  1. Michael Williams

    Wow, this speaks to me on so many levels Joris. For one, I work at night as a pizza delivery expert as we are called at Domino’s (I also drive a Civic). And for two I want to build myself an outdoor brick oven/grill. I agree with many of your points to a certain degree, but I must disagree on a few things. Yesterday, I went to the local super market, and got some microwave dinners (buy one get one woot) produced by Boston Market. Boston Market is a restaurant chain. Why would they make microwave dinners? What did the Microwave dinners do to the restaurant chains? Before the Microwave, if you wanted to eat, you had to prepare a dinner. Time consuming, pricey, and then you burn the roast. Or you could go out and eat, or order delivery. Less expensive, Still time consuming but no where near as much, and if your roast is burnt you send it back till it’s right (and be polite so as not to get added ingredients). Then the Microwave comes out. For a dollar or so a person, you pop them in the microwave, 3 minutes later your sitting in front of the tv watching your favorite show eating hot on the outside frozen on the inside Salisbury steak. You don’t care cause it took 3 minutes and you wanted to see if Lassy could get Timmy out of the well. So the Restaurants adapted. They provide better service, take out, tv’s in every corner, and their own brand of microwave meals. Your comparison compares 3 methods that have been around for several years now. They have created there own niches. If a 4th niche comes along, it could swallow one or more of the other 3 or they’d have to adapt to stay alive. You have people right now using shapeways, that if a desktop 3D printer were available, they would jump ship in a heart beat to have their models on there desk today instead of 10 days, and cut out the middleman for shipping to customers. Shapeways would have to evolve. Maybe it will become just a market for people to come and download items to print to the HP’s? If the 3D printer becomes feasible, and they find a market, it will affect shapeways.

    And Joris, were you comparing Nike’s to potato chips? tsk tsk, in our world of commercialism, you pay for demand. Everyone wants Nike’s, everyone wants a Rolls Royce, so you find that price that people are willing to pay for them. If you look at a bag of Lays chips to a bag of super market brand. The lays will be twice the price. Why? More chips? no probably less. Better chips? can be, usually taste the same. Because the name on the bag. If you have “generics” I guarantee someone will say “ewww” regardless if they’ve had them before. You know the canned vegetables? Green Giant costs more then the super market brand. You know they come from the same processing plant? So what is that extra 50 cents a can for? To have that Green half naked giant on your can.

    1. Joris


      I agree completely. If tomorrow there would be a microwave version of a 3D printer: easy to use, applicable, fast, inexpensive etc. things would change for us. We’d have to go buy a bunch of them. And along with our other production processes and scale we’d be an easier and better solution for the community we cater to. Even if everyone was given a 3D printer tomorrow this would still apply. Everyone would have to be able to 3D model also and know how to design. Even with that scenario the infrastructure that we are building will still be very relevant. The Creators, Shops, model checking, community etc.

      Also love the Green Giant comparison, this is of continual fascination to me. How much does unique cost? How can a Shop owner create a brand?

  2. Marc M

    Michael and Joris both have valid points.
    If there’s a 3D printer on every desktop of course it will affect Shapeways. :-(
    But not as much as we all think if, and this is a big if, the desktop 3D printers only print in plastic. :-)
    When they start doing full colour, different materials like steel etc… then it will affect Shapeways. As printers that can do this already cost more than what even most 3D addicts can afford, I think we are panicking over nothing. A storm in a tea cup.
    Time will tell and prove me wrong no doubt!
    Now, where did I put that number for the pizza delivery place?

    1. Joris


      Exactly. I could have put it that way and saved everyone a lot of time, but where would the fun in that be?

  3. Jeffrey Matthias

    I don’t think panic is the right word.

    High end restaurants wouldn’t sell nearly as much pizza if the Dominos of the world didn’t sell the “low-end” version. Since all the products are slightly different, the only thing that is important is that the world’s desire for pizza is built up. As long as the overall appetite is there, all of the “competing” products can thrive… leaving it up to the individual company to find their niche and connect with their market–something increasingly likely with worldwide communication.

    Michael makes a good point about a new technology coming around and usurping the market except that once again, no one is even going to be looking for a new technology unless the current technology is seen to be profitable, and that will only happen when the overall market grows. And that is why ANY market growth from HP jumping into the 3D printing game is a big deal.

    Joris, I like that you are actually longer-winded than I am.

    1. Joris


      There could always be two guys in a garage that come up with cold fusion or something out of left field. I would agree with you both on that.

      Being long winded is a gift, especially in a twitterverse.

  4. Artur

    I believe that an analogy more close to the subject at hand is:
    - desktop printers
    - publishing houses
    - High end local copy shops
    - (good quality, minimum 1 copy, democratic price books.) -> Shapeways business model.

    I own a desktop printer/copier/scanner by HP. But I still get my portfolios printed at
    I used to get it printed at a high end local copy shop, but that was until Blurb came to existence. I still use my desktop printer, I use Blurb and I still use my high end local copy shop when I need large good quality posters.
    I have no business dealing with publishing houses though.

    1. Joris

      @arthur & Jeff,

      I agree! The big difference with the regular paper printing industry though and why I had to resort to pizza is that this industry is already specialized and the companies that are currently doing well dominate their niches by being good at a very limited well scoped thing: printing annual reports, printing national newspapers etc. Right now in the 3D printing game people are still trying to be everything to all men. This is think is damaging and inefficient for the industry. I hoped that by using a off the wall but more or less correct analogy I could make that clear to other people in the industry. I thought, “we should be like the printing industry, stodgy, old & struggling” would not be a good message.

    2. Anonymous

      Plus it’s more delicious.

  5. Felix

    Interesting analogy. You certainly have a few points there, but as every analogy it also has some weaknesses ;) I think the weakness of the analogy is, if Shapeways wants to be Domino’s they would have to deliver the prints as fast or quicker than the home made variety, but offer less quality. Shapeways trumps on the convenience factor, as Domino’s, it’s quite cheap, but it takes a lot longer to get the print, and they’re better quality than what you’d get at home.
    I don’t have the luxury of overview over the market, all I have is my own experience. I would say the HP printer will mainly help some people to optimise for (time*money). In other words, Shapeways gives you great quality at a good price, but it takes 10 days. There are lots of 3D printing services that will do it over night, for at least 10 times the price. If you buy an entry level FDM from Stratasys you can do it “at home” over night, and the cost in consumables will be a little bit less than Shapeways – but you’d have to do an awful lot of printing to justify the $30,000 you spent. The Makerbot is much cheaper than anything else, also in consumables as you’re not worried about wrecking the machine with “non-approved” materials – but the build quality is nowhere near as good as professional machines. So where does the HP probably fit in? Most likely it will do “pretty good quality”, in probably one material, maybe with colour, and cost about as much as the MakerBot. But the plastic “ink” cartridges will cost more than a spool of plastic for open source printers. Who will buy it? Initially gear freaks who don’t care about the economics of it all, and people who do a lot of low-cost prototyping and want their stuff quickly. I think There’s be a lot of the latter using Shapeways, and they might start using their HP printers for prototype version 1-25… but then maybe print the final models at Shapeways because they look better and are made of steel. Similar to photographers who print some photos quickly at home, but get the large format posters done at a lab.
    Another analogy: PCB making. At my workplace we used to send designs off to get them made (and still do). The choices are a) huge setup fees but 2-4 days turn around or b) quite cheap but takes 3 weeks. Quality is good in both cases. We now also have a PCB milling machine that carves circuits out of copper plated boards. A 2-layer board can be done in as little as 1 hour, or 3-5 hours with through-plating. This means that if you want to try out a quick idea, you can draw a schematic in the morning, make the board, and test on the same day. That’s a speed-up of a factor of 7-10. However, for larger numbers of boards or complex designs we would still send the board off, as it’s too much hassle to do it on the proto mill, and the quality isn’t quite as reliable.

    Long winded story cut short – I think quite a few current Shapeways users (the “power users”) would probably want an affordable desktop printer, as it’s a lot quicker and maybe a little cheaper than ordering elsewhere. I think they will still order from Shapeways as well for high-end outputs. I agree though that as there will be more interest in 3D printing there will be more customers for everyone – there will be more easy-to-use software, more download portals for 3D models, more ideas what one can do with 3D printing, more demand, etc. There’s a lot more non-customers than customers currently, so every conversion will benefit everybody. It’s a bit like the music sharing paradox – i.e. in Australia CD sales *increased* as broadband was introduced and people started sharing their music which is easily explained by that people regained interest in music and started buying more CDs on top of downloading.

    1. Felix

      “Great analogy! I’m uncomfortable with your brevity. Good points only come in novels. ”
      (Jeffrey Matthias)

      ok then…

      Chapter 2

      It was still cold and quite dark as he woke up, but he could see the first signs of sunset. Currently only the highest peaks caught a glimpse of early sunlight, but soon, as the sun would continue its inevitable rise, rays of light would gradually lift the valleys out of the darkness, awakening the large cities and villages below to a new, bright day. …

      Or in other words – I think there are some parallels to the often cited “long tail”. Maybe it’s not going to be an over night revolution, but a gradual shift. Let’s say there are 100 people who can spend $1 million per year on 3d printing, 10,000 spend $10,000, and 1 million people would spend $100. All the HP printer will continue the gradual shift from “expensive for few customers” to “cheap for many customers”. Similarly Shapeways will become more affordable for large models or strange materials, and everyone will slowly adapt as more and more people start using it. Until some day, maybe, most house holds will have some sort of 3D printer. Even if it’s just for printing food according to downloadable pizza recipes :)
      (tried to add link but didn’t work – search for “cornucopia food 3d printer”)

    2. Joris


      The analogy is indeed far from perfect. We would be higher quality but slower than in home.
      I think the HP price point would be much more in the 5,000-15,000 range. The large format group with their sales people and things like that are looking for high margins and sales values, does a device of a 1000 matter to them given their cost structure? Not immediately I think.
      “but then maybe print the final models at Shapeways because they look better and are made of steel. Similar to photographers who print some photos quickly at home, but get the large format posters done at a lab.” this is exactly how I see our role. Also to allow you to sell worldwide easily and efficiently without going to the post office or waiting for UPS or having to do customer service.

    3. Joris


      We heart the long tail and this is more or less how I see the market developing also.

  6. mnpazan

    Ever seen the comic book “Transmetropolitan”? They deal with the idea of a home appliances like this fairly realistically (more so than Star Trek, but then we don’t really see “home” use in ST).

    In the comic, nearly everyone has an appliance called a “maker”. It’s a nanobot factory about the same size and shape as a dishwasher, capable of assembling most anything from raw elements (and disassembling as well, which is where it gets it’s raw material: you feed it trash). They’re about as common and taken for granted as microwaves.

    The appliance comes with stock templates for a variety of objects and foodstuffs, and has an internet link so it can automatically update it’s database or search for requested templates it doesn’t specifically have. Online businesses sell licensed files for people to print out objects they purchase online, like how music and video files are sold through Amazon or Itunes today.

    Most people don’t design objects for their makers to print, unless you count things like dictating a cocktail recipe into it verbally, they just request or buy what they want, and if a template isn’t available, oh well. Just like with the many products today an individual can make for themselves, but most people just don’t have the inclination, much less the know how.

    You can design templates for it yourself, if you want to, but this may or may not involve jailbreaking the machine (it’s not made clear). There are file sharing networks for homemade templates, and even black and gray markets for templates of illegal or proprietary objects/substances.

    I think that’s pretty close to how a home 3D printer scheme would work in reality, market wise. It’s also a good model IMO for what a 3D printer would have to be capable of in order to be useful as an everyday home appliance. You would need a printer that could not only print in a wide variety of materials, but which could also print objects containing multiple materials as a single unit. You’d need a machine that could in an hour or less put an object containing finely detailed glass, steel, teflon, polystyrene, and chocolate components in the users hand with no assembly required.

    I think that’ll definitely happen eventually, but not for a while yet, at least. By the end of the century though, maybe even mid-century, I do think we’ll start seeing home appliances like this in some form. At that point, commercial outfits will be more about offering things the home units can’t do. At first that will probably be materials the home units can’t handle or don’t have access to, later probably mostly objects which are too big for home units to print, even in parts.

  7. Michael Williams

    I have an idea, I’m going to patent the 3D all in one. Scanning, faxing, and printing of 3D models.

  8. mark

    A real question with this HP 3D printer… Will they be open about it? Not likely! They aren’t really open about much. Remember, they are the company that put chips into ink cartridges so they are more difficult to refill.

    Having a big printer player in the market IS a validation of our beliefs that 3DP is appealing to the mass market audience.

    1. Joris


      What do you mean be “open about it”, open as in Open Source?

  9. Brent

    Your opening statement was a jumble of incoherent sentences and you lost me there. I didn’t bother to finish this article (though I would have liked to), because the prospect of further syntax had me alarmed that I was going to be left feeling as if I wanted my time back. Remember the greatest rule of writing: KISS (keep it simple stupid –

  10. Rainer

    IMHO there is nothing worse than frozen pizza. Salty and made from the cheapest ingredients. I would not even get close to that stuff if it would be dog food. Why ingest garbage?

    Self made pizza…. I don’t have the equipment for it. Pizza needs that high heat. I would feel bad heating an hour like a mad man till the oven is nearly melting just to create one pizza.

    Ordering pizza is my deal. I get what I want every time. Same quality, same ingredients. Predictable. I pick up the phone and 20 minutes later I have my pizza.

    I do not have to deal with the procurement of the parts, nor with any other drama involved. Did
    the dough rise well that day? Is the ham ordered? Is the oven working? No worries. Insert coin, get pizza.

    My life is to short to milk the tree’s, vulcanize the rubber, mill an engine on my lathe and mill, paint the bus, and then drive it myself to work a few years later.

    I want my idea cast, and then worry what to do with it and maybe sell it. I want a clean break between production and design and marketing. If I have to do everything myself I will fail as everybody else does who tries it.

    The art of making things is also an art of communication and the art of delegation.

    The urge to do everything yourself is a side effect of this self centered and ultra individual society. That urge drives individuals down the wrong path.

    One has to lean back, design and virtually create. Be the artist! Then have an artisan take over and wrangle the bit’s into a physical instance of the artistic thought.

    Being the artist and the artisan at the same time is possible, but limits the artist significantly in productivity and output. And it leads to starving artisans…

    Best of luck creating everybody

  11. mnpazan

    Have to disagree with Ranier in a few ways.

    His is the right train of thought for a business, but not for a hobby.

    I make my own pizza. It takes a little more effort, but it’s not anything close to the crippling ordeal Ranier paints it to be (you can tell he’s not speaking from experience). The advantage is that you get a pizza which is both significantly higher quality and more customizable than what you get from take out.

    Plus It’s as enjoyable and gratifying as eating the finished pizza.

    This follows in art as well. Ranier’s argument only works if money is your only ultimate goal. The market for personal fabricators, and indeed the entire DIY cultural concept, is based on personal individual enjoyment and freedom. It’d based on catering to personal hobby-like interests, not turning individuals into small businesses.

    We can’t project the quality and economy of tomorrows printer tech. If a desktop printer can produce high enough quality work, then there’s no reason why someone at home can’t. One of the advantages of DIY is being able to produce something superior in quality to the mass manufactured equivalent due to cost and complexity.

    Even within a business, it’s a bit daft to suggest that designers shouldn’t be at all involved in production. A process in which the designer has no awareness or understating of how things are being manufactured will not reliably produce manufactureable designs. You will waste time and money getting things sent back and forth for revision, or even waste time on things which are outrightly undoable either technically or economically. Encouraging cross discipline interests makes the whole process more efficient.

    And the idea that the DIY impulse is a detriment to society is laughable. Would you go down to the park and ridicule the kids playing football by saying they should stay home and watch the pros play? Assuming a equal level of quality, would your GF be more impressed by an engagement ring you bought, or a ring you made? Are building contractors really suffering from people who like to do their own repairs, and what about all the jobs and business opportunities created by a DIY culture? Walk down the isle of a Home Depot sometime and ask yourself how many people would be out of work if all such places dissapeared. Not just the retail employees, but the manufactures and distributors for everything you’re seeing on the shelves. How many different people & companies are involved in the manufacture and sale of, say, a cordless drill? How many of those sold do you think are being bought by contractors?

    I suspect Ranier”s attempting to objectively justify his own personal disinterest in production.

  12. Chris Frostt

    Objet Geometries has just announced an extension to its trade-in program. They’re offering up to $80,000 credit for an older Objet 3D printer as a trade-in when buying one of their Connex multi-material 3D printers or a newer Eden machine. And, they’re offering some incentives for trade-ins of non-Objet 3D printers. Worth checking it all out –

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