After CES, the future of 3D printers seems just a bit brighter. But how bright? Let’s play out the best- and worst-case scenarios for four top 3D printers.
1. Formlabs Form 1
The crowd-funded CES darling continues to win tech headlines and geek’s hearts across America. Its laser-based, liquid-goop printing technology—stereolightography—briefly outranks #Bieber on Twitter: it’s the catalyst 3D printing always needed. Consumers overlook the awkward, orange design while drooling at the 25-micron print height, twice as good as the next best device on the market. A teary-eyed HP exec lights his latest 2D printer on fire, takes a swig of scotch, and resigns in favor of an open position at Formlabs.
Consumers laugh at the Form 1’s $3,000+ price tag, opting for the $600 RoBo 3D. A billionaire Kickstarter investor admits his $2 million investment in Formlabs was meant for smartwatch-maker Pebble, and the funds are promptly transferred. Everyone forgets the definition of “micron.” One customer goes blind after staring for too long at the Form 1’s violently orange exterior.
2. MakerBot Replicator (5th Gen)
The most familiar name in the industry, the MakerBot Replicator (5th gen) becomes the iPod of 3D printers, synonymous with sleek design, luxury, and ease-of-use. Stories about manufacturing defects turn out to be paid placements by Formlabs. Somehow, everyone agrees to buy the $350 MakerCare protection plan. Jony Ive quits his job at Apple, and joins MakerBot to design the 6th-generation Replicator, to be built out of a giant slab of aluminum.
MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis calls an emergency press conference after growing reports of manufacturer defects. Consumers realize they could buy four iPads and a gaming laptop for the price of one Replicator. In a rare interview with FORTUNE, Jony Ive insults the Replicator’s design, and announces Apple’s plans to crush the 3D printing industry. The next day, Apple sues MakerBot for partially stealing the name of its own protection plan, AppleCare. MakerBot loses in court.
3. Flashforge Creator 1
Cost-conscious consumers skip the buzz, and buy the Flashforge Creator 1, a Chinese-made alternative for less than half the price of its top competitors. Loyal MakerBot customers slowly switch over, intrigued by the Creator’s multiple print materials (PLA and ABS), dual extruder heads, and .x3g and G-code file type capabilities. The tech community praises the printer’s unfinished design—with screws, wood, and exposed wires—as “a new statement” in “technological fashion.”
“It brings us back to a simpler time of VCRs and record players,” writes a popular tech website. The 113-word story is picked up by 17 top-tier outlets and categorized as “breaking news.”
In a wave of patriotism, U.S. consumers ignore the Flashforge’s low price and selection of features, insisting that they want something “American-made.” A trans-pacific shipment of Creator IIs catch fire due to the product’s exposed wires, prompting an impulsive Flashforge crisis team to cancel the new line altogether. Five members of the Coast Guard rescue the trans-pacific crew, then—intrigued by the concept of 3D printing—go on to buy Form 1s, Replicators, and RoBo 3Ds.
4. RoBo 3D 1 PLA
With its $600 price tag, the RoBo 3D gains mass-market appeal. The product pops up just about everywhere, from designer studios to home offices to smoothie shops. President Obama hails the RoBo 3D as an example of American innovation at its best: cutting-edge technology at an affordable price for “all the folks on Main Street.” In a bipartisan resolution, Congress agrees to pump millions into 3D printing technology, with a special sum reserved for RoBo.
Penny-pinching consumers order the RoBo 3D, then wait eight weeks for the shipment to arrive. During week #7, a rival model comes out at $400. Fickle and impetuous, these same consumers cancel all RoBo orders, ignoring specifications, features, and file types simply to secure the lowest possible price. President Obama forgets to mention 3D printers during a U.S. technology summit. A lone, tech-savvy congresswoman proposes a bill with ambitious 3D printing initiatives, but the proposal dies in a polarized congressional committee, never to be discussed again.
This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.