Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya in Israel aim to change that, with a new system that automatically turns CAD files into visual models that users can modify in real time.
Once the design meets the user's specifications, they hit the print button to send it to a 3D printer.
"We envision a world where everything you buy can potentially be customised, and technologies such as 3D printing promise that might be cost-effective," said Masha Shugrina, an MIT graduate student in computer science and engineering and one of the new system's designers.
The new system, called Fab Forms, begins with a design created by a seasoned CAD user.
The system samples enough values of the design parameters to offer a good approximation of all the available options.

The researchers also developed some clever techniques to exploit similarities in design variations to compress the data, but the largest data set took up 17 gigabytes of memory.