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3-D printing market to grow 500% in 5 years

Companies specializing in 3-D printing may have been branded the "most hideous" stocks recently, but the sector will continue to produce stellar growth over the coming years, according to latest research.

The size of the global market, including 3-D printer sales, materials and associated services, is predicted to reach $16.2 billion by 2018, according to independent research company Canalys. Its estimates show the sector stood at $2.5 billion globally in 2013 and will rise to $3.8 billion in 2014. And in five years the company believes the market will grow by over 500 percent with a year-over-year growth rate of 45.7 percent.

A MakerBot 3-D printer prints Nokia cellphone cases.
Matt Clinch | CNBC
A MakerBot 3-D printer prints Nokia cellphone cases.

"We are at the inflection point for 3-D printing," Tim Shepherd, a senior analyst at Canalys said in a press release on Monday afternoon.

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"It has now moved from a new and much-hyped, but largely unproven, manufacturing process to a technology with the ability to produce real, innovative, complex and robust products."

3-D printing - creating three-dimensional solid objects from digital models - is gathering momentum and is transforming everything from medicine to home goods. Printers that once cost $30,000 now are priced closer to $1,000 and have the potential to rewrite the rules of global manufacturing.

There has been a wide variety of forecasts on just how much this new industry can blossom. Boston-based advisory firm Lux Research has previously estimated that the overall market size in 2025 will be $8.4 billion, led by automotive, medical and aerospace applications.

Meanwhile, Colorado-based Wohlers Associates expects it to continue strong double-digit growth over the next several years, predicting last year that the industry would reach $10.8 billion by 2021.

The new manufacturing technique has also attracted significant backing on crowdfunding site Kickstarter with some of the top "most funded" projects on the website being 3D printers.

Read MoreWhat investors need to know about 3-D printing

Nonetheless, the space hasn't been without its fair share of hiccups. Stock analysts believe 3-D printing has become home to the "most hideous" stocks in the U.S stock markets, according to CNBC's Jim Cramer. Shares of both Stratasys and 3D Systems saw huge price spikes in the past 12 months, before witnessing steady declines in recent weeks.

But the underlying fundamentals look good, according to Canalys, even if some investors have been caught out by the momentum trade. Shepherd added that the "main barriers" to uptake are being addressed, such as faster print times and the ability of the printers to use different colors, finishes and materials.

"This is a fast-evolving market, but it is still in its infancy. Expect to see new major entrants making a significant impact in the industry in the coming years, including giants such as HP," he said.

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