I recently ordered a 3d printed kit from one of the dealers who sells through Shapeways (www.shapeways.com).
Whilst I have mo illusions about 3d printing being of equivalent quality to injection moulded or resin kits at this time, I wanted to gain some practical experience of what is available, rather than just relying on what others say/guess/opine.
Shapeways generally offer products in 3-4 different 'grades' of printable material. The best quality reprodiction and finest printing makes use of a material they call 'frosted ultra detail' (FUD) but this is also the most expensive. Another option is their 'hard strong and flexible' white plastic which still offers high levels of detail but is not as refined in terms of the printing quality. Sellers can offer their products in any/all of the materials as appropriate to their products. In the case of the product I ordered it was only available in the white plastic option
A few days ago, my order arrived. It's a Vickers Light Tank Mk VIC from Mpennock. The product costs £27.90 (+p&p)
The 'kit' consists of just two parts - the lower hull including all detail, suspension and tracks, whilst the second part is the complete turret.
First impressions - crisp detail it looks like a MK VIC. I'm also blown away by the fact that so much of the detail is included as part of a single piece in the printing process.
However, the surface is quite rough - a sort of scale 'non-skid' surface in texture. The turret hatches, being domed, also show the layering of the printing process in a more obvious way than the flat surfaces. You will therefore need to sand down every surface and detail (or replace some of the smaller details).
The suspension is well detailed but the tracks suffer from having ridges that run across the track in place of the guide teeth.
The main armament is rough and will need replacing.
I haven't scaled it out against any plans but it looks about right (and that's all that interests me).
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the tank. It's not perfect, it will need work to bring it up to standard and it doesn't match to likes of the Kengi resin item, but it isn't a disaster.
3d printing isn't going to transform modelling overnight, but it is clearly moving in the right direction and I'm confident that over the next decade or so, we'll start to see printed kits of similar standard to more traditional ones. Where it is already making an impact is through aftermarket manufacturers creating masters in 3d printed form, that they then clean up and cast as resin items. That I think will be the primary focus over the next few years.