Snopes weighs in on ‘unbelieveable’ 3D printing video

Rumor-busting website confirms 3D printing exists. Z Corp reaps a PR bonanza with the help of National Geographic Channel.

A video is making the rounds which some people find hard to believe. It shows the 3D printing of a crescent wrench, which is then used to tighten a nut. Enough people found the video so unbelievable that it made its way to, the famed website that specializes in separating truth from lie on the Internet.

The Snopes verdict? The video is real, but the boring stuff in the middle was edited out.

David Kaplan of the National Geographic Channel show Known Universse examines a wrench he just pulled from a Z Corp 3D printer. (Source: Nat Geo)

The video clip is from an episode of Known Universe on the National Geographic Channel. The 3D printer is from Z Corp. In the episode, host David Kaplan visits Z Corp headquarters in Burlington, Massachusetts and learns about 3D printing, making references to the idea of someday printing tools on demand in outer space. He asks Joe Titlow, Z Corp’s VP of product management, if he can replicate a crescent wrench. Titlow scans the wrench, edits the resulting 3D data a bit, and prints a new one. Everyone goes “gee wizz,” makes reference to Star Trek replicators, and the show moves on.

What we think

A couple of years ago I came home from a trade show with a few 3D printed objects, including a simple bearing mechanism. I gave one to my brother-in-law, a machinist. He showed it around at work. Later he told me, everyone there thought he was lying when he said it was printed, not machined or cast.

The well-known quote from science fiction author William Gibson (Twitter: @GreatDismal) is still way too accurate: “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed yet.” Z Corp wins a PR bonanza for being in a viral video helping convince the world 3D printing exists, and for helping to drag a few more people into the future some of us are already living.


Posted in: Featured, HWD, MFG & PLM

About the Author:

Randall S. Newton is the former Managing Editor of GraphicSpeak. He has been writing about engineering and design technologies for more than 25 years.

7 Comments on "Snopes weighs in on ‘unbelieveable’ 3D printing video"

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  1. Craig Aaker says:

    How does the printer know to produce the moving parts correctly?

    For example, how does the printer know that inside of the rotating “screw” is a shaft that is separate from the “screw” and therefore allows the “screw” to rotate aound this shaft?

    • Todd Blatt says:

      3d printing has been around for over 30 years. this zcorp printer also has been around for a while too. It’s a complex process to 3d scan something, and 3d printing something that size takes hours, but it is totally doable. They had to manually edit the scan data to re engineer that screw, but 3d scanning is real. If you want to 3d print something, it’s easy. They certainly edited the video to cut down the hours that go into scanning and printing and simplified it for public viewing, but what they did is basically entirely possible. If you’d like to try 3d printing something, check out and you can order a 3d printed object today!

    • Brad says:

      To be fair, they did edit out a considerable amount of 3d model editing. While the printing technology is there, the scanning technology is not.

      You just don’t emit binder in certain areas to have an object “float” in the un-bound powder. It doesn’t have to be very much.

  2. Neil G. Barclay says:

    Mr. Aaker asks the salient question.

    I believe the answer is: THE PRINTER CAN’T COPY WHAT IT DOESN’T SEE; such as the shaft inside the rotating “screw,” as Aaker points out. I’d like to see it reproduce my wristwatch.

    • Neil G. Barclay says:


      If you read carefully what Snopes says, you will find it refers to replicating a tool from a blueprint, not the object itself. Rather a different point which makes the video in question not true. Sorry Snopes.

  3. David Prawel says:

    They also fail to mention that the thing printed is not in any way similar except in shape to the source object. There is an implication that you “print” a duplicate object to the source. Try unscrewing a bolt with a hammer made of starch.

  4. Victor says:

    The scan alone can’t tell the printer which parts move and which are attached to each other. If the parts are touching, how does the printer know they are separate or together? That would take considerable input afterward to design in those tolerances. To NOT tell the audience that is to perpetrate magic. If their intent was to mislead or deceive, they succeeded.

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