3D printing is growing. You’ve probably seen it starting to get coverage in mainstream media — but that’s nothing like the storm that’s coming over the next 5 years. It’s going to replace unauthorized media downloads as the number one hot-button issue for corporate copyright panic. 3D models shared online can lead to endless perfect replications of physical objects. The genie is already out of the bottle, but only a few have realized it. One startup that has realized it is Shapeways.
The 3D printer world is currently dominated by the 21st century equivalent of Radio Shack hobbyists, who use devices like the Makerbot (which I covered in this entry from January of this year). A low-end, consumer version 3D printer costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000, give or take factoring in the raw materials to be used for printing. Certainly affordable as a specialty item, but limiting. Only certain materials are available, and your production is limited in size and complexity.
Shapeways is a service provider — they offer production of your 3D models on a variety of industrial (rather than consumer) 3D printers, in a staggering array of materials including glass and metal, as well as also offering Etsy-style storefronts for creators to sell their wares, and forums for communication between members, sharing 3D designs, and more. The image on the upper left, for example, are three starship miniatures (the 29mm Alliance Pursuit Frigate by user “admiralducksauce”).
Here’s a promotional video from the folks at Shapeways:
The site offers tutorials on all aspects of 3D design, using most 3D programs with Shapeways, tips on materials, finishing, running a storefront on Shapeways, and more. There is a constantly-updated blog with creator spotlights, news, tips, etc.
For any Insurgent Creative looking to have their ideas produced as three-dimensional real-world objects, Shapeways is the way to go. It’s already being used for the production of gaming miniatures, toys, jewelry, household goods, and art. The potential here is astounding. Pricing per-unit is definitely in the “print on demand” scale — you’re not going to get your costs down low enough to enter into a traditional wholesale distribution system, but for direct-to-consumer business? Damn near perfect.