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The rise of the DIY consumer

A host presents various objects created with a MakerBot 3-D printer at the CeBIT technology trade fair in Hanover, Germany.
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A host presents various objects created with a MakerBot 3-D printer at the CeBIT technology trade fair in Hanover, Germany.

If you think there will be a 3D printer in every home in the next decade or so, think again.

While the technology has received a lot of attention in recent years, we are still a long way off before the devices become as commonplace as home computers, industry experts said. But just because 3D printers won't be something that every household owns doesn't mean most consumers won't be using the technology in 25 years.

In fact, by just 2018 the industry is forecast to surge to $16.2 billion, according to the research firm Canalys. Here's what's driving the growth and how experts think the consumer printing space will evolve.

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Why consumers want to print

The appeal of 3D printing for consumers stems from their desire to want to customize products, something that traditional manufacturing processes limits, industry experts said.

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"Right now, companies have to customize for us. But taking that power in our own hands is something that people want. Human beings are very individual, but it's hard for us right now. Ultimately, it's about empowerment," said Samir Hanna, senior vice president of consumer and 3D printing products at AutoDesk, a 3D printing software maker.

Three-dimensional printing enables consumers to customize everything from apparel to kitchen utensils and eventually the technology will evolve to the point where consumers could even customize their own electronic devices and print them off.

The technology is already being embraced by the fashion industry to make clothes, shoes and jewelry. Nike has even begun using 3D printers to print off parts for certain shoes and has used it to create customized duffle bags.

"It will affect everything we do, I would venture to say regardless of the space you are in or what you are wearing right now, you will have something that is 3D printed on or around you," Hanna said.

But odds are most of this 3D printing for customization won't be going on in their garages.

How consumers will print

The rise of 3D printing in the consumer space over the next two decades will evolve a lot like the paper printer industry, Kempton said.

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"Initially, people needed to go to service bureaus to be able to print off their documents and it will absolutely be the same situation with 3d printing. Some will print in their own homes, but there will be print jobs that are not possible on consumer printers," Kempton said.

People will increasingly begin to go to service bureaus or retailers that have established themselves as 3D print hubs, Kempton said. For example, companies like Home Depot or FedEx may set up 3D print stations where consumers can drop off their digital file and pick up their printed physical object at a later point.

UPS already offers 3D printing services in about 50 locations in the U.S. and Staples has rolled out the same service in two U.S. stores.

"These printing bureaus will be the main protocol for consumers primarily and then they will move into more of a household item," he said.

"You are never going to see a situation where 3D printers will be in every home, I think that is just unrealistic," said Joe Kempton, research analyst at Canalys. "But they will undoubtedly become more common and wouldn't be an unusual thing to see one in a home."

Printing limitations

But there are still a few things that need to happen before the 3D printing service bureau model can take off.

Two of the biggest issues are the printing process is still too expensive and too slow for it to widely appeal to consumers, said Jamais Cascio, a futurist and senior fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.

"Right now it's cheaper to go Wal-Mart and buy a set of cups and plates than having them printed out," he said.

But if costs associated with the production and shipping of material goods goes up, then the ability to print off locally becomes much more attractive," Cascio added.

The speed of printers will also continue to improve, although it will still be awhile before the process for large items only takes minutes.

"We are going to be at a point in 25 years where the speed is greatly enhanced, so you will go to the UPS store and you submit the design and come back in an hour. It's reality crafters, get your physical objects in about an hour," he said.

Another big barrier for 3D printing adoption is the complexity of 3D design tools, said Anthony Moshella, vice president of product at MakerBot, which is a subsidiary of Stratasys.

CAD software, which is the software used to design 3D objects, is very complex making it difficult for most consumers to use. However, as more software companies simplify the design tools more consumers will have access to create objects the same way they can create their own videos now, Moshella said.

"YouTube democratized the creation of videos, if the economy of 3D printing grow correctly, people will be able to show their ideas and those ideas can be objects," Moshella said. "We are in the infancy of this industry so in the next five to 10 years you are going to see a vast improvement in print quality, a dramatic improvement in print speed and an incredible library of new materials."

By CNBC's Cadie Thompson. Follow her on Twitter @CadieThompson.