3D Printing and Legal Stuff (Part 1, English version).


The last period of time was fun! “We” nerds made an effort together to make it possible for all to make 3D objects at low costs. We were not dependable anymore off large companies. Companies only willing to make specific stuff in large amounts. We now have our own factory at home! We can make parts, objects and art exactly as we designed and wanted with our 3D printer.

As we know what it took to make that stuff, and what the limits are of 3D printing, we feel being experts, by tweaking our printer, slicer and designs. We took the hard way to learn to print our models.

New users. What are the expectations? 

But for new users of 3D printing it’s different. They didn’t experience the possibilities of 3D printing as part of the development and didn’t experience limits while making a 3D printer.

There are a lot of manufacturers now producing 3D printers. They all claim to have a “plug and play” printer. They present an easy workflow that seems to result in great 3D prints, no matter what.

But it doesn’t. Better said: not always. It really depends what the customer expects. And that expectations are not always fitting in a reasonable field current 3D printing can deliver.

Just for the shape. 3D prints to look at.

I bought my first 3D printer 5 years ago. I hadn’t much expectations, other than that it would spit out a 3D model as I designed. For me it was only a way to print a model of my architectural designs. A scaled model to impress and inform my customers as architect. For that a 3D printer does a great job!

A lot of new users expect the same; just print a model as a shape “to look at. Nothing more wanted. And for them 3D printing is still safe and good.” Maybe.

Mechanical stuff wanted! 3D Prints needs to work.

But people won’t only print models just to see how they look like. They want 3D prints that can be used in real life; to print actual parts with specific mechanical specifications.

The promise of 3D printing was always: print the handle of your car or refrigerator to replace it! Print parts of your robot or quadcopter! Print parts of your 3d printer to make a 3D printer, to make a 3D printer, to 3D print. Print parts of your steps, snowboard, rocket, doll!

But that promises turned into high expectations of customers. After some trying, most of that expectations turned into more reasonable ones of users of 3D Printers. But what if something terrible would happen because of some flaw of a 3D print?

Disasters! Broken parts! Wounded people! 

As manufactures promise us perfect prints and customers expect parts that function as they expect like mass produced parts, it’s a matter of time 3D prints will cause injuries to people or result in some financial setbacks to companies.

If so, it’s very likely that the incident, malfunctions caused by a 3D print, will be taken to court to settle differences and make people liable to compensate damage.

But who is liable?

Participants involved making a 3D print.

There are a lot of participants to consider involved making a 3D print

  1. the manufacturer of the 3D printer
  2. the slicer used
  3. the maker of the used filament
  4. the designer of the model printed
  5. the owner / actual contractor taking the job to 3D print
  6. the client giving the job and his requirements given
  7. facilitating companies as 3D hubs.


1. the manufacturer of the 3D printer

Of course the 3D printer is the base of the 3D printed object. It has to be in good working order and well maintained. It’s most of the time the responsibility of the owner to maintain the printer well.

But a 3D printer also a very stupid machine. It only does what the software tells it. And by that I mean: it only exactly does exactly as the Gcode tells it, as “go to that point and spit out that amount of filament while traveling to that point”. Unless there isn’t a great flaw in the firmware used, (or a mechanical problem as a Z-wobble)  the 3D printer is not the first suspect for me when there are troubles.

2. the slicer used

To translate a 3D model into a file the 3D printer understand, you need a slicer. A slicer makes ‘slices’ of the object (mostly a so called stl file) , so each layer will be 3D printed exactly as determined by the section made on a specific height of that model. The slicer determines as well how fast it will be printed and how much filament will be extruded at all printing lines.

There are several slicers available. Some printers limit the use of a slicer by their own, and others accept the Gcode (output) of other slicers as well. If the slicer is belonging to a specific printer, there is no confusion if problems caused legally belong to the printer or the slicer.

But as long the output of the slicer is as reasonable expected (no way off values) than I don’t see how the maker of a slicer would be responsible for 3D prints that are causing troubles.

3. the maker of the used filament

For a specific job, specific filament will be used. Which type of filament will be used depends what the customer wants, and the operator of the printer advises. For example PLA for objects that are meant to only show the shape of an object, and PETG for more strong objects, and ABS for strong objects that can be smoothed by acetone. Or SBS for transparent objects.

But the quality of the 3D printed result depends a lot of the actual specifications of the filament itself. As the diameter / roundness of it at the complete length of the filament. As deviation of the diameter will result in changes in extrusions in the print and by that causing weak spots. Also the actual general specifications of filament will have a lot of influence, as the Glass Transition Temperature, the flexibility, the mechanical specifications for breaking.

In my experience the make and specifications of the used filament are the most uncertain factor of a 3D print. Not only the specifications doesn’t seem to be accurate with most filaments (as diameter and roundness), also chemical specifications aren’t to the point. If mechanical specifications are important, you have to use well qualified filament. By that you are able to test and investigate if the used filament of your 3D print caused troubles. Only premium filaments will have accurate specifications.

4. the design of the model printed

Of course the 3D print should exactly be as the 3D model used (assuming the slicer etc is working as expected).  So that model has dimensions to be for the given use. But, if there is a too thin part in the model, likely to break, than it’s obvious the designer made a mistake. But that’s only the case if the designer also gave specifications regarding the 3D print of a model. The designer needs to specify with which material the models has to be printed, with which settings and how it has to be tested. If not – and the model is just a 3D object somewhere uploaded on the web- no specs involved, than the designer is not liable.

 5. the owner / actual contractor taking the job to 3D print

At the moment it seems that owners / operators of an 3D printer just import the model of the customer and 3D print it. Exactly as the customer says: in PLA, 0.2mm Layer height and with support. Mostly that’s because the print job is given by a company ‘in between’.  For example like 3D Hubs. That company connects customers with owners of 3D printers. Customers upload a model, determine the wanted print material and let 3D Hubs generate prices for that print. No actual communication involved between the maker and the customer. By that simplification the maker makes exactly what is wanted as determined by the limited selection possibilities by 3D hubs. When it won’t work, you can simply declare that it’s exactly as wanted. And it is.

But, if communicating directly, the contractor taking the job for a 3D print has a lot of influence on the result. He is the first in line to communicate with the customer regarding the wanted result and use. He can question the customer about the wanted result and specifications.

6. the client giving the job and his requirements given

The client has to be clear about the wanted results. Of course the client has to be helped by the experienced owner of a 3D printer to clarify the wanted result, print material  and the specifications of the print. The communication about the wanted results and specs has to be put in a document / email approved by both the client and operator of the 3D printer.

7. facilitating companies as 3D hubs.

All above has to be done as well when a facilitating company as 3Dhubs is involved.  Such a company has to be sure liabilities are secured when taking an assignment for a 3D print.

Health effects

3D printing is new and based on technics just starting to develop. For example: the used filaments as used for 3D printing are earlier used (for example ABS for Lego), but they aren’t investigated further regarding their health effects. Used materials are ABS, PLA, HIPS, PETG, SBS.  These ar sometimes earlier used, but are modified as well to be able to be used for 3D printing.

It’s unclear if the vapors because of 3D printing will cause health issues. Best is to print in a well ventilated room with no people present.

The manufacturers of 3D print materials have to investigate their materials regarding health issues.


Sharieffa Jbiri, a legal master about 3D printing

A while ago I got a text of Sharieffa Jbiri, a legal student of the University Amsterdam. She was guided by mr. dr. A.R. Vlieger. Sharieffa wrote a paper for her master and I commented on it, seen from my experience with 3D pinting. I hope I can add some of her case studies to this post.