Crowded malls. The eternal search for a halfway decent parking spot. Waiting for hours—only to see the gift your son or daughter desperately wants sell out right before you get to the front of the line. Who needs this version of the holiday spirit?
Imagine if you could buy yourself a gift that makes whatever you want for others—it's not the ingredients for a home-baked fruitcake to send to friends and relatives, either. 3-D printing companies like MakerBot are making a bet that you won't need Amazon.com, a bricks-and-mortar retail giant or a bunch of Santa's elves in the North Pole workshop to cover everyone naughty and nice. A holiday trend of the future will be stockings stuffed and trees underlined with your own 3-D printed designs.
MakerBot, which opened its first retail store in Manhattan last year, has opened two more this holiday season—in Boston and Greenwich, Conn.
"[Our buyers] have traditionally been a lot of early adopters, but now it's shifting," said Jenifer Howard, MakerBot spokeswoman. "You can make incredible pieces of art," she said. Or you can make a practical stocking stuffer—an iPhone case, for example. And for gifts that are better to buy yourself than to rely on someone else to select for you—say, a husband—3-D printing can take the place of a gift card. "You can even make clothing or print yourself a pair of high-heeled shoes," Howard said.
(Read more: Looking like an iPad Christmas)
Printing out gifts at home may sound like a perfect way to escape some of the holiday bustle, but it does present some obstacles. First off, there's the etiquette question.
The Miss Manners of the MakerBot era
Two years ago, when Groupon was in its heyday, some shoppers would present the vouchers as gifts and be a bit confused when the recipient didn't do cartwheels. Will 3-D gifts be viewed as the presents of cheapskates as well?
Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas, said she thinks 3-D printed gifts pass the "cheapskate test."
"It's art," Gottsman said. "I think it's different than someone giving a discount coupon. [With Groupon] it wasn't only a gift certificate but a discounted one. So that tended to send the message that it's cheap. But with these machines, you can actually make a gift and it's something you thought someone would want. It's very similar to a craft item someone would make—very similar to a DIY project."