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It's time to review a MakerBot

Is the best-known 3D printer maker ready for mass consumption?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Why now? Because I finally got approval from CBS corporate to buy a MakerBot Replicator. Then it took a few weeks for MakerBot to build the unit.

MakerBot isn't loaning out Replicators for review. The company says it can't produce them in enough volume yet, citing an eight-week lead time because of current demand. (MakerBot did expedite my order.)

I picked up our unit yesterday from the company's office in Brooklyn, sparing us shipping costs and the risk of damage in-transit (you can check here for Daniel Terdiman's report on his own visit to MakerBot HQ). Total cost with the dual-extruder head was $1,999.

How do I justify spending $2,000 of CBS money on a niche product like a 3D printer? If you believe the hype, these devices have the same consumer/professional cross-over potential as Adobe's Photoshop. And through its enthusiastic, infectious marketing of both itself and 3D printing in general, MakerBot has become the industry's flagship company.

So I'm going to review a Replicator. I'll look at all the usual factors: performance, design, value. I'm most interested in ease-of-use. Part of the recent media surge surrounding 3D printing comes from their growing affordability. 3D Systems announced its forthcoming Cube printer at CES for $1,299. You can buy a DIY 3D printer kit for less than $1,000. Another Brooklyn-based 3D printer maker, Solidoodle, will sell you a preassembled unit for $499.

I haven't used a Solidoodle 3D printer yet, but that's the kind of price point that will see this category explode. MakerBot has also explicitly said that it wants to cross over from its DIY, built-from-a-kit roots. Apply to be the company's director of product marketing, for example, and it will help you to have experience "taking a company from early adopter to mainstream marketplace." If MakerBot wants to take 3D printing mainstream, its products better be easy to use.

I need more time before I can speak to the Replicator's usability, but I can report on the unboxing and initial hardware setup. MakerBot has secured the printer neatly in its box with cardboard packing material. It's also easy to put together. If you can build Ikea furniture, or install a game console, you can set up a Replicator's hardware. See our slideshow for the box contents and step-by-step assembly.

I have a few more steps to go before I can print something on the Replicator, but expect lots of test prints over the next few days. I hope to have the review up by the end of next week. Anything you'd like me to print, link to your STL files below. I have about 3 kilograms of ABS plastic ready to go.