Although 3D printing only recently became a mainstream topic, its roots trace back to the 80's when Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute published the first account of a working photopolymer rapid prototyping system (1981). Shortly after this, the first form of 3D printing, Stereolithography, was invented by Charles Hull in 1984 (pictured above, image courtesy of industryweek.com). In stereolithography, a digital model can be created from pictures (see the process in the diagram below). This was a huge step forward for engineering and would make waves for inventors. With this invention, users could now test out designs and prototypes more efficiently before investing in large manufacturing batches. Charles Hull went on to found 3D Systems in 1986 which is currently one of the largest 3D printing companies alive today.
*diagram courtesy of solidsmack.com
In 1992 the first Stereolithographic Apparatus (or SLA machine) was produced by 3D Systems