This paper considers the social practices of 3D printing by comparing consumer perspectives and practices with legal scholarship on intellectual property regimes. The paper draws on data gained through a mixed-methods approach involving participant observation, focus groups, and social network analysis of 3D printing file-sharing practices. It finds that while consumers display a level of naivety about their 3D printing rights and responsibilities, they possess a latent understanding about broader digital economies that guide their practices. We suggest that the social practices associated with 3D printing function through communication networks to decentralise manufacture and reconfigure legal capacities for regulation. The paper concludes by introducing nascent paths forward for policy frames across industry, government and consumer concern to address the opportunities and challenges of 3D printing’s evolving interface with society.