London-headquartered VC firm Balderton Capital is betting on popular demand for 3D printing with a seed-stage investment in 3D printing network 3D Hubs.

The rate of growth for 3D printing is tremendous. About 23,000 printers were sold in 2011, according to a recent McKinsey report, which is up 300% in average annual growth since 2007. The industry as a whole could have an economic impact of $230-$550 billion per year by 2025.

3D Hubs, a six-person team based in Amsterdam, is building a global network that connects people who want to print with 3D printer owners. Here’s how it works: 3D printer owners sign up to be listed on their local “Hub”, which sets its own price per print plus material used. 3D Hubs performs a quality check for each uploaded digital model, delivers the order and processes the payment. It adds a 15% charge on top of the quoted price for each print.

The community aspect is a big part of 3D Hubs’ offer — unlike centralized services, customers know they’re supporting local makers and can pick up prints rather than wait for them to be shipped. Expansion follows supply and demand, with cities “unlocked” once a certain number of printers become available. The network currently spans over 500 printer locations in cities including London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Antwerp and Copenhagen.

Other options for those without a 3D printer to call their own include Shapeways, an online marketplace for making, buying and selling 3D printed products that ships anywhere in the world. Staples in the Netherlands and UPS in the US, also plan to offer on-demand 3D printing services.


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This story originally appeared on VentureVillage. Copyright 2013