Second-Quarter Sees Mixed Results for 3D-Printer Market, as Inflation Concerns Dampen Purchases

HP Inc. Industrial 3D Metal printer.

The second quarter of 2023 saw contrasting patterns in the shipments of Industrial 3D printers, according to the latest insights and research fro global market intelligence firm CONTEXT.

Vendors in the East (such as China) saw strong year-on-year (YoY) growth, especially for shipments in China, while many Western vendors faced continuing reduction of capital expenditure in key end markets with many distracted by mergers and acquisitions.

Efforts to Form First $1 Billion 3D-Printer Company Fail

Chris Connery, head of global analysis at CONTEXT, commented on several vendors attempts to create the world’s first $1 billion 3D-printer company: “Discussions between the likes of Stratasys, 3D Systems, Desktop Metal, and Nano Dimension have so far failed to produce the world’s first $1 billion 3D printing company, but efforts to that end have not yet been abandoned.”

Meanwhile, Connery said shipments of Industrial 3D-printer were weak in the second quarter: “Although shipments of new Industrial systems were generally weak for the quarter (up just 2 percent year-over-year), and those of Professional printers down year-over-year for the fifth consecutive quarter, they were better than expected in the Mid-Range, Personal and Kit&Hobby price classes (up 7 percent, 12 percent, and 3 percent respectively.)

“In general, new 3D printer shipment growth across the globe was limited in the period with the latest full-year forecast showing single-digit unit shipment growth in 2023,” Connery said.

(Please note the following price classes for the 3D-printer market:  Industrial $100,000+; Midrange $20,000–$100,000 (this category was previously known as Design); Professional $2,500–$20,000; and Personal <$2,500; Kit&Hobby printers require assembly by purchaser.)

Industrial 3D Printers

Industrial 3D printer shipments were regionally segmented: China-based vendors met most of the demand in that country, while Western vendors fulfilled orders in the U.S. and Europe and the rest of the Western world. With 38 percent of Industrial printers shipped in second-quarter 2023 going to China, it was again the world’s largest market – followed by North America (29 percent) and Western Europe (23 percent).

In the Industrial 3D polymer printer segment, growth in the quarter was driven largely by shipments in domestic China. Regional COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in Shanghai just a year ago have led to uneven growth of domestic shipments in China over the last year, but, in the second quarter of 2023, sales of Industrial polymer machines (particularly from vat photopolymerization products from leading vendor UnionTech) were up 66 percent against a 15 percent decline for shipments from Western vendors.

In the Industrial 3D metal printer segment, market activity remained focused on powder bed fusion with 74 percent of all Industrial metal systems shipped in the period being of this type. In this category, Western vendor shipments dropped 12 percent year-over-year (YoY), while shipments from Chinese vendors were up 1 percent. Manufacturers have recently been focusing less on how many machines they sell than on supplying larger, more efficient, and more expensive models. 

So, although the number of metal powder bed fusion 3D printers shipped by Western vendors was down 5 percent YoY in the first half of 2023, revenue from these sales increased by 2 percent. The trend toward higher efficiency machines – often characterized by use of a larger number of lasers – largely began in the West thanks to companies like Nikon SLM Solutions and Velo3D.

Major Chinese players, including BLT (Xi’an Bright Laser), Farsoon, Eplus3D, and HBD, have now joined the “laser wars” and are showcasing larger build models with 16, 20 and even 26 lasers. As these new, more efficient machines begin to ship in that region, expectations are that, here too, revenue will increase even if shipments drop.

Mid-Range 3D Printers

Shipments of Mid-Range 3D printers rose 7 percent YoY in second-quarter (Q2) 2023 and were up 2 percent versus the previous quarter. This is largely due to to sales of a sub-class of low-end polymer powder bed fusion machine (most of which come from Formlabs), and rising domestic shipments of vat photopolymerization printers in China (almost exclusively by UnionTech).

However, if UnionTech and Formlabs are excluded from the analysis, then Mid-Range unit shipments were down 17 percent YoY. Although Shanghai-based UnionTech benefited from a weak comparison to a pandemic-affected Q2 2022, accelerated sales of its latest line of mid-priced systems have also contributed to recent growth.

CONTEXT also says Formlabs’ current success is due to it essentially creating a new category, but shipments of these machines are now beginning to plateau.

Professional 3D Printers

In the second quarter, the Professional 3D-printer price class continued to struggle as shipments dropped, down 30 percent YoY in Q2 2023, having seen a similarly precipitous fall in the preceding quarter.

Professional 3D printers using both leading processes were affected: FDM/FFF printer shipments were down 36 percent, while those of SLA printers fell 30 percent. Market leaders UltiMaker BV (owner of brands Ultimaker and MakerBot) and Formlabs both saw steep YoY declines in shipments of products in this class.

Personal and Kit & Hobby 3D Printers

Increases were seen in both unit shipments (up 12 percent YoY) and for system revenues (22 percent YoY) in the Personal price-class in the second quarter, thanks entirely to Bambu Lab and to AnkerMake (which continued to deliver with its very successful Kickstarter campaign).

CONTEXT says Bambu Lab has taken the Personal 3D printer market by storm, and was the market-share leader in this fully assembled class of Personal printers for the quarter. When these two companies are excluded however, aggregate shipments of Personal printers fell 28 percent YoY. Although former market leader Creality saw a marginal increase in shipments of all its models in the Personal class, most vendors experienced double-digit YoY shipment declines.

Creality still dominates the lower regions of the 3D printer market and remains the undisputed leader in the Do-It Yourself Kit & Hobby class, where its 4-percent shipment increase drove growth as other vendors saw sales fall (for example, Prusa Research unit shipments were down 7 percent YoY).


Half of the top-10 revenue leaders for 3D printers costing more than $2,500 – EOS, UnionTech, HP Inc., Velo3D and Nikon SLM Solutions – saw at least some YoY growth in shipments in the first half of 2023. However, others, including Stratasys, Desktop Metal, UltiMaker, 3D Systems, and Formlabs all saw their shipment decline for the first half of the year. 

“In the same way, these companies have outlooks that are mixed, varied, and inconsistent, reflecting the wide variation in macroeconomic forecasts,” said CONTEXT’s Chris Connery.

“Many vendors are dealing with longer sales cycles, some facing a push-out of orders, while others point to strong demand in Q2 2023; some point to early signs of a recovery, but others still see the global economic environment as challenging and uncertain. What is certain is that interest rates remain high across the world and, for many potential buyers, the cost of capital continues to limit spending on new hardware.”

Considering all regions, all material types and all printer modalities, CONTEXT’s projections for the full year now indicate low-single digit unit shipment growth for the year (3 percent), while is projections for the full year now indicate low-single digit unit shipment growth for the year (up 3 percent YOY) but mid-teen System Revenue growth (up 14 percent YOY). 

Focusing on the leading Industrial price-class, growth of 5 percent is expected for Industrial polymer 3D-printer shipments, with revenues on track to climb 9 percent YoY, due mostly to inflationary price increases since 2022.

CONTEXT expects Industrial 3D metal printers shipments to be more or less flat (up only 0.4 percent YoY), but the move to more expensive, more efficient multi-laser metal powder bed fusion systems across the world is expected to augment the effects of inflation and lead to system revenue growth of 15 percent YOY for the full year.

More Resources