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3D Print-to-Order


Whenever I talk about the rise of low-cost 3D fabrication, one inevitable question (after "how expensive is a printer?") is "does anyone do print-on-demand fabbing?" Real soon now, the answer will be yes. (Update: As Sven notes in the comments, print-on-demand fabbing has been around for a bit, but this one seems to be the first aimed at non-professional users.) Shapeways is a new startup service that promises to take your dusty old X3D or Collada-format 3D design files and turn them into shiny new physical objects. Mashable has more, including invites to the closed beta program.

Prices range from $2.50 to $3.44 per cubic centimeter, depending upon the chosen material (which can be solid, flexible, or transparent) and whether or not you're ordering from the EU. That's not cheap, if what you're looking for is a finished consumer item (they use the cute/creepy "monkey baby" dolls shown above as samples; they measure just a couple of inches tall, and run upwards of $60), but it's terrific if you're looking to get a one-off of a unique design. Many of the pages on the Shapeways site remain locked to non-beta visitors, but the blog is open. The blog is good even for folks not about to get stuff printed, as it provides photos of and details about the 3D printers they use, and discusses the stumbling blocks Shapeways has encountered as they get this thing rolling.

This won't be for everybody. You'll have to do the hard design work, in a 3D program that outputs their preferred formats, so I really don't expect this to be the Next Big Web 2.0 extravaganza. Make an app that will convert Second Life (or other Metaverse environment) objects into fully-qualified X3D files, and we'll talk. I'm just fascinated by how fast this market evolves.


"does anyone do print-on-demand fabbing?" Real soon now, the answer will be yes.

Technically, the answer has been "yes" for some time. There are already online service bureaus which will allow you to upload a file, get a quote, and place an order.

A couple of years ago, Pete Cashmore (of Mashable) and I were looking at starting a 3D fabbing service together, so I did some research into the additive rapid-prototyping services then available ... and there were plenty. Shapeways is just another, but aimed (and marketed) at average users instead of professionals (though the professional service bureaus very likely don't discriminate and would gladly fab and ship to non-professionals).

Of current interest to me is Replicator. They're not offering additive processes yet, but they're chasing the market which I wanted to chase with Pete: jewelry (he wanted to pursue avatars ala Fabjectory's service). I still think it's the jewelry market that has the greatest potential to break this technology into the mainstream. And if Replicator takes off I'd venture they'll jump to additive relatively fast.

Have you ever played with 'bindeez' (now re-released as 'beedos' following issues with what happened if they got ingested)?

Fabbing for infants.

Thank you for the article!

I would agree that for right now Shapeways is a place for designers and people with 3D modeling or CAD experience. And that these people still have to "do the hard work".

We are working hard on several tools that will make that work a lot easier, though.

Also take a look at fabidoo ( http://www.fabidoo.com ) who offer 3D printing for the masses. They have nice community features like weekly design contests, a simple to use editor and high quality 3D-printouts.
Cheers Marc

To add a new wrinkle to the mix...

3D Colour printing.

And, if you can define colour, why not other things?

How long before this goes from prototyping to mass production?

did you see the new Shapeways Creator, enabling truly personal objects without requiring 3D modeling skills? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvwFl3ShBrc


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