Investors gave Stratasys (NAS: SSYS) the cold shoulder yesterday. While earnings came in strong, the company didn't sound the right note for the coming year. It's no longer enough to meet analysts at their projections -- companies have to guide higher. But there's a lot to like about Stratasys' report, especially if you're a fan of its fascinating technology. Let's take a look at some key points.

Breaking down the basics
Stratasys has managed to consistently grow both top and bottom lines over the past few years, and last quarter continued that trend:

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Sources: Morningstar and Stratasys news release.

Quarterly revenue and net income both grew by about 30% from the year-ago quarter, with non-GAAP net income up by 50% over the same time frame. Research and development spending was also up, rising from $9.8 million in 2010 to $14.4 million last year. Long-term investors should be happy about that figure. A focused commitment to R&D is going to be critical to fend off the company's many challengers.

A few interesting tidbits
Some of the notes to Stratasys' earnings are more interesting than the earnings numbers, at least in my mind. Parsing the information could shed a little bit of light on how Stratasys and the 3-D printing industry might do in the next year or two.

The fourth quarter saw 700 units shipped against 632 for the year-ago quarter. Each printer was worth about $51,700 to Stratasys last quarter, on average. That's up from the $43,300 each printer was worth in the same quarter of 2010. CEO Scott Crump noted that consumable revenue grew 25% during that time frame, which is a great statistic. The razors are using more blades. However, 2011 only sold 47 more printers than 2010, which might be a bit disappointing for anyone expecting 3-D printing to take off soon.

Crump also noted a push to sell more affordable printers, including an initiative to hire 90 sales agents by midyear to push the machines. The cost-effective printers, dubbed uPrint, are functionally (or at least visually) identical to the printer Stratasys supplies Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) . HP's DesignJet 3-D is only sold in the EU at present, so an American sales team pushing uPrints won't run into much competition. However, if the uPrint matches HP's $17,500 price point, that device won't be challenging 3-D Systems' (NYS: DDD) $1,300 Cube for the starter market. HP's DesignJet 3-D sales grew by 15% in the fourth quarter, better than the uPrint, so a better distribution network seems like a smart idea.

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At the time this article was published Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter @TMFBiggles for more news and insights.The Motley Fool owns shares of 3-D Systems. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of 3-D Systems and Stratasys. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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