Materializing information: 3D printing and social change


  • Matt Ratto University of Toronto
  • Robert Ree Sheridan College



information, materiality, 3d printing, rapid prototyping, creative economy, user-generated content, co-creation, prosumer


Digital desktop fabrication technologies such as 3D printing are currently being lauded in the popular press as a potentially socially transformative technology. We somewhat agree, arguing that 3D printing holds great socioeconomic implications, but also that more sustained attention should be paid to the ways in which 3D printing is entering into our creative environments. Our focus in this article is on the use of rapid prototyping by creatives such as architects, designers, and DIY advocates, since it is within these contexts where the popular themes of 3D printing are currently most concrete. To this end, in section one we provide some background for desktop digital fabrication, contextualizing 3D printing within industrial processes and Maker subcultures. In section two, we summarize our environmental scan of relevant popular and academic literature, using this to identify key trends in this area. We supplement this discussion in section three using our analysis of a ‘critical making’ session that took participants through a process of designing and printing simple objects as well as follow–up interviews with these participants. In the concluding section, we target four areas in need of future research.

Author Biographies

Matt Ratto, University of Toronto

Assistant Professor Faculty of Information University of Toronto

Robert Ree, Sheridan College

Professor School of Animation, Arts and Design Sheridan College




How to Cite

Ratto, M., & Ree, R. (2012). Materializing information: 3D printing and social change. First Monday, 17(7).