2024 Hopes to See Global 3D Printer Industry Revived by Pent-up Demand

London, 17 April 2024 - The fourth quarter of 2023 was a difficult period for many systems’ manufacturers across the global 3D printer landscape with printer shipments across three of the four main price-classes falling from a year ago.

Traditionally, around 30% of all 3D printers sold each year are shipped in the fourth quarter. This trend was bucked in Q4 2023 against a global landscape marked but shifting buying patterns, sticky inflation and the high-cost of capital.

While there was a small (1%) quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) increase for global Industrial price-class ($100K+) printer shipments in Q4-23, volumes were down -13% from Q4-22 as high interest rates across the globe led to businesses waiting for the rate decreases before investing in new capital equipment. Struggling with similar issues seen from Industrial printers, Midrange ($20-$100K) printer shipments were down -7% year-on-year (YoY.) Shipments of Professional ($2.5-$20K) models dropped by -32% as companies impacted by ’sticky’ inflation sought out cheaper alternatives. This had a positive effect on sales of Entry-level printers costing less than $2,500 - however, with shipments of these products up 35% YoY.

In spite of inconsistent regional economic growth and recovery, many aspects of key economies around the globe remain positive. We’re seeing strong GDP growth projections for China and stronger than expected GDP growth and high stock market levels in the US for example. All indications are that demand has simply shifted out.

In aggregate across all price-classes, North America is still the biggest market for 3D printers with shipments to this region generating 41% of all systems’ revenues in Q4 2023. For comparison, shipments into Western Europe were responsible for 26% of revenues and those in China for 18%. Of these three leading regions, the market in China has seen the most growth recently and it remains the top market for the all-important Industrial price-class. From a unit shipment perspective, 33% of the global shipment total for Industrial price-class printers in the period were shipped into domestic China. China’s dominance in the metals space is even more impressive with 43% of the global shipment total of Industrial Metal 3D Printers shipped in the last quarter shipped there. Most of this huge demand is met by domestic suppliers.

Chart 1: Regional distribution of Q4-23 3D printer unit shipments by price class



This price category remains key, accounting for just over 50% of all systems’ revenues in 2023. The fourth quarter saw global Industrial shipments drop -13% YoY largely due to a -25% drop in polymer systems with particular weakness in the polymer vat photopolymerization space. UnionTech (in China) and 3D Systems (predominantly in the West) both experienced falls in sales of vat photopolymerisation machines. Shipments of Industrial metals printers were actually up 4% because of growth of the powder bed fusion (PBF) market in China and increasing sales of directed energy deposition (DED) systems worldwide. For the full year, this price-class has been severely impacted by reductions in capital expenditures (due to high interest rates), resulting in aggregate
shipments of Industrial systems dropping -9% from 2022.


Although shipments of Directed Energy Deposition (DED) systems grew by 30% YoY in Q4 2023, Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) was still the most common metal technology in class, representing 72% of all Industrial metal additive manufacturing (AM) machines shipped in Q4-23. An overall fall of -1% in shipments of PBF systems in Q4 masks the detail that while unit shipments were down in North America and Europe, shipments were up YoY in China.

Chinese vendors had a weak Q3 last year but bounced back in Q4, shipping 25% more PBF printers that a year ago (mostly to their home region). Indeed, the four top shippers of metal PBF printers in the period - BLT, Farsoon, Eplus3D and HBD – were all Chinese and three of these saw YoY increases: 3% for BLT, 23% for Farsoon and a sizable YoY shipment jump of 100%+ for Eplus3D. Over half (52%) of all Industrial metal PBF printers dispatched worldwide now come from vendors based in China. Western vendors in the space saw unit shipments drop −20% from Q4-22. For the full year, Industrial Metal system shipments dropped -3% as fewer Metal Powder Bed fusion systems shipped globally in 2023 than in 2022. Other metal modalities, including Directed Energy Deposition (DED) and Binder Jetting saw healthy or moderate growth (up 15% and 2% respectively.)


Vat photopolymerisation shipments fell by -39% YoY in Q4 2023 as the two leading companies both faced challenges.

Shanghai’s UnionTech, which has a 49% share of this category, principally sells into mainland China and is still seeing an uneven recovery from Covid lockdowns in H1 2022 that have left shipments fluctuating unevenly from quarter to quarter.

The Western leader in the category - 3D Systems - continued to be challenged by weak demand from dentistry, its key end-market for this technology. Economic pressures have shifted consumer spending away from cosmetic dental procedures so few companies in the sector are investing in new machines.

Chart 2: Full-year global 3D printer unit shipments by price class

(Note different scales)



In Q4 2023, unit shipments of Midrange systems were up 16% sequentially but fell -7% on the previous year. The category was a bit of mixed bag with shipments from half the vendors falling YoY while the those from the other half were flat or increasing. Among those who had a successful quarter were: UnionTech, whose domestic Vat Photopolymerization shipments were strong throughout the year and continued to grow; Flashforge, who saw increased demand for their WaxJet printer; and Nexa3D, which benefitted from the Polymer Powder Bed Fusion business it acquired from XYZprinting.

Over the year as a whole, the category leaders were Stratasys (once again), UnionTech and Formlabs. UnionTech and Formlabs led growth in the category. While these two vendors enjoyed impressive yearly growth in the category (of 88% and 123% respectively)
the overall segment only saw a marginal YoY growth of 2%. Stalwarts Stratasys, 3D Systems and Markforged all saw a double-digit percentage drop in unit shipments of Midrange machines in 2023. Key drivers in 2023 were Formlabs, who successfully created a market for new low-end polymer PBF models, and UnionTech which focused their attentions on the growing China market.


The last quarter of 2023 was another difficult one for products in this price-class. While shipments of Professional 3D printers were 21% higher than in Q3, they were down YoY for a ninth consecutive quarter. Share shifts in this period of globally high inflation have not been so much within the price-class as between this class and the one below. Professional buyers have recognised that Entry- level products, once perceived as being for only for consumers, offer similar functionality to models in this category.

Shipments over the full year dropped precipitously, falling by -33% YoY. Every vendor in the global top 10 - with the exception of start-up Nexa3D - shipped fewer printers in 2023 than in 2022. Over recent years, manufacturers of Professional printers have been able to maintain or increase revenues even as unit sales have fallen by offering new features and raising prices. This strategy proved to be less effective in 2023 as inflation changed end-market purchasing habits however. Key vendors historically focused on this price-class, including UltiMaker, Formlabs and Raise3D, are now poised for product expansions and are aiming to reverse market trends in the coming year.


Nearly a million (993K) Entry-level 3D printers were shipped worldwide in Q4 2023 - a new quarterly record! Although Creality’s shipment increase in the quarter of 38% YoY was impressive, Bambu Lab’s 3000% growth stands out and was one of the main contributing factors to the performance of the category overall. If these two vendors are excluded from the data, shipment growth in this price-class was only 2%. While some companies, such as Flashforge, also experienced nice levels of growth (36%), others saw shipments drop (by -51% in the case of Toybox, for example).

For the full year, shipments rose 19% from 2022 with global inflation ironically expanding the market base for this type of printer. 94% of Entry-level printers shipped in 2023 came from Chinese vendors (up from 88% in 2019) and 89% came from just four vendors: Creality, Anycubic, Elegoo and Bambu Lab.


As Q1 2024 came to a close, many forecasts for 2024 remained conservative. While we expect the projections of Industrial-focused players in particular to remain cautious as they wait to see how interest rates change across the globe, many see strong signs of pent-up demand. GE Additive - part of the newly separated GE Aerospace - has earmarked a good portion of its announced $650M 2024 spend for additive. Other US companies have reported increased demand from defence customers thanks to new federal government investment. In China, UnionTech has announced plans to further expand their product portfolio in 2024 on top of their recent expansion from polymers into metals.

Forecasts for total worldwide shipments in 2024 predict single-digit percentage unit growth in all price-classes (Industrial 5%, Midrange 4%, Professional 3%, Entry-level 8%), rising to double-digit percentage growth by 2025 (2024 to 2025 forecasts are Industrial 16%, Midrange 12%, Professional 13%, Entry-level 11%). However the hope is that the pent-up demand seen on the horizon can be pulled-into 2024.


*Price-class groups: Industrial $100,000+; Midrange $20,000–$100,000; Professional $2,500–$20,000; Entry-level $2,500 (combines former Personal and Kit; Hobby classes)


CONTEXT analytics, forecasts and data management solutions are embedded in the information systems of the world's major technology companies. CONTEXT processes over $200 billion of sales transactions every year for the global ITC Channel, with a team of more than 400 staff operating worldwide from London, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Milan, Warsaw, Johannesburg, Istanbul, Dubai, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Auckland, Singapore, Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo.

Follow us on Linkedin LinkedIn_Social Media Icon [1]