by Jim Lyons | 6/30/14

As I complete this long-contemplated post about a “plain-paper 3D printer,” I recently discovered Amazon has just announced its Fire Phone, which had been rumored to be a “3D phone” prior to its launch. So before taking a closer look at the Mcor Technologies 3D printer and its interestingly juxtaposed description, let’s look at what’s in a name. 

The importance of a name

The Amazon product more or less lives up to the rumors (see "How 3D Works on the Amazon Fire Phone"), but instead of “3D,” the company named the viewing feature “Dynamic Perspective” to describe its integration of multiple cameras and software that give the user a 3D effect on the phone’s screen. I applaud Amazon’s precision in naming, even if (or because) “3D” is so widely used these days in describing so many diverse products and features. But one wonders if “Dynamic Perspective” is going against the tide. From my perspective as a long-time tech industry veteran as well as more recently a professor of marketing, naming, more than just branding, really can make a huge difference.

I have often asserted that for a new product or service to be successful in the market, it needs to have a good descriptive name or at least catchy label, either at the category and/or brand level. A recent example for me was the Apple iPad, which, despite some early disparagement, hit upon a simple, catchy product name to go with a nascent category moniker ("tablet computer"). Another of my favorite examples comes from way back, and that is the solution category called “desktop publishing.” This two-word phrase really captured much of what was going on in the early days, with products like Apple’s LaserWriter, with its Adobe Pagemaker, the Mac and Aldus PageMaker. Another negative-turned-positive example was the development and launch of scanning products meant to be shared in the office by multiple users. Apparently the best name that had floated to the top for this product during its development was “network scanner,” following in the heels of successful “network printers.” The Network Scanner was far from successful, but a few years later the small number of customers who actually had figured out how to use it described their activity as including “digital sending” documents. Thus the product in its newer version was renamed as a “Digital Sender” and became quite popular.

Mixing labels – the plain paper 3D printer

 So back to the plain-paper 3D printer. Whether or not 3D phones (or 3D TVs, or whatever) make sense or become popular, we do find “3D” a very pervasive buzzword these days, and that includes its combination with “printing.” 3D printing has been around for quite some time, of course, but the last couple of years has seen the interest spike tremendously among technology futurists, Wall Street analysts, and Kickstarter enthusiasts, among others. But when I came across a story about a “plain-paper 3D printer” I felt like I had entered a time warp!

The revelation about plain-paper 3D printing came from well-known investment news-and-opinion source Motley Fool and its article about MCor Technologies, “Meet the 3-D Printer That Disrupts 3DSystems Corporation and Stratasys, Ltd.'s Business Model.” I was well aware of the “disrupted” companies, 3D and Stratasys, but felt a bit chagrined that MCor was new to my radar (despite coverage at least a year prior), as was its potentially revolutionary plain-paper 3-D printing approach. The article describes how the company chose the source material for its supplies, plain office paper, as a cheap and widely available material for their products, the output of which is suitable for modeling and prototyping, using, per the article, “selective deposition lamination, or SDL, [which] involves a water-based adhesive and a tungsten carbide blade to precisely adhere and cut paper one sheet at a time to create a 3-D dimensional object after many repetitions.”

The importance of plain paper in the rise of laser printing

Despite the company and the concept being far from new to the world, the descriptor “plain paper 3D printer” was new to my ears, and got me thinking that if there ever been a confluence of industry buzzwords from different areas this was it. For me, “plain paper” printing goes back to the advent of the LaserJet for sure and even a few inkjet printers slightly prior. The HP LaserJet printer made its claim to fame based on the three “Q’s”: it was quick, printing relatively quietly, and with very high print quality. This was brilliant positioning, with product performance that made good on the promises, as it compared this new desktop laser printer to the technologies and products previously available, most common among them the typically noisy and slow dot matrix printers. Beyond the three Q’s though, another secret ingredient to its usability and customer acceptance was the LaserJet's ability to print on plain copier paper, already available in virtually every office. It didn't require the special paper of thermal and other technologies, nor did it require the tractor-feed paper of the dot matrix world, making LaserJet and its follow-ons all the more popular with millions of users.

I learned about this especially well while managing HPs aforementioned desktop publishing program. The strategic relationships with Aldus and Microsoft were the cornerstone of our program, with what I thought to be natural and sensible extensions being alliances with some of the well-known paper vendors, who offered very high-quality paper appropriate for DTP output. These plans were shut down, however, by the consensus of slightly more senior management, who had been in place from the beginning and enlightened me on what I had not realized — that anything that implied the LaserJet worked better with one type of "plain paper" than another would start to weaken the plain paper claim, something like, “when we say we print great with plain paper, we mean ALL plain paper.”

So will plain paper 3D printing provide the disruption the Motley Fool foresees? None other than Staples has initiated an in-store 3D Printing service using MCor machines, for a prominent example of a B2B early adopter. But as far as mass acceptance, time will tell. But it’s interesting that what worked with toner-on-plain-paper a generation ago, may just work with plain-paper-sliced-and-diced in the current age.

 Jim Lyons has been writing, analyzing and blogging about industry developments since 2006. In his monthly Observations column he comments on business and marketing developments in the printing and imaging industry, combining many years of experience with an ever-enthusiastic eye on the future. In the Jim Lyons Observations column on The Imaging Channel, highlights from that blog appear monthly. Lyons is also a faculty member at the University of Phoenix, teaching marketing and economics at its school of business, and is a regular contributor to both The Imaging Channel and Workflow. Follow him on Twitter @jflyons and read more of Jim Lyons Observations at http://www.jimlyonsobservations.com/.