MindBullets 20 Years

Seeing the 3D Future

3D printed prescription lenses cut out the manufacturers

Prescription lens manufacturers have been hard-hit by the latest trend in 3D printing – stick-on prescription lenses. Since 2015, when 3D printed lenses first entered the market, the landscape has been dominated by a few large players. Recent advancements in substrate technology saw them hit the consumer market in a big way.

The 3D printed stickers enable consumers to ‘script’ any pair of glasses, without the cost of expensive lenses, coatings, or optometric consultation fees. Thousands of small print shops have opened, seemingly overnight, enabling consumers to cut out several middlemen. All you need is your glasses script, a pair of off-the-shelf frames or sunglasses, freely available open-source software, and the right ‘inks’ – which are now widely available.

As Dale Cunningham from Zeiss Vision Care’s US office said in a recent tweet, “With lens ‘printing’ going mainstream, the only thing left for the established industry to do is to innovate like crazy to come up with something Jonny Consumer can’t do for themselves.”

The self-adhesive prescription film was developed by building on the technology pioneered in 3D printing contact lenses. 3D printing of contact lenses first emerged in the early 2020s as an alternative production technique to the traditional spin-casting, molding, and lathe machining processes developed in the 1970s. Like traditional lens processes and technology – first developed in the 1880s – 3D printing of contact lenses has come a long way. Without the advancements in microfabrication techniques, miniaturization methods, and hydrodynamic mediums of the last decade, it’s unlikely ‘print-your-own lenses’ would have come about.

As technologies continue to be democratized, they become cheaper and more readily available to end users. With mainstream availability of the raw materials, it’s only a matter of time before some innovative ‘Jonny Consumer’ – as Cunningham put it – bridges the gap. Now, it’s left to established lens manufacturers to find a way to differentiate themselves and their offering again, or face seeing things from the other side of redundancy.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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