What is 3d printing? Remember when in the movie IronMan, Tony Stark designed his new armor on a computer and then had it created for him while he was at a party? He used a fancy 3d printer–a machine that can create three dimensional real world objects from a computer design.
But isn’t Tony Stark rich? In a word, yes. That is why for the most part, 3d printers are still really expensive for the everyday Joe. In time, we can all expect to have a 3d printer in our home setup. Until then, Shapeways lets you use their 3d printer, for a reasonable price.
The service: Simply use a professional Computer Assisted Design (CAD) program, or the free Google Sketch up, to create a 3d model of what you want in the real world. Upload your design to Shapeways. There you can choose the material with which to print your object. The price quote will then be made based on the type and amount of material needed to create your model. Order, wait and boom! Like magic, your design is at your door.
The store: Users can make their designs available to others in the store, for a royalty-like payment. But for someone with no design who wants something unique and personal, Shapeways has a store with easily manipulatable designs that incorporate monograms or specialty text. For instance, there are napkin rings and candle holders that are made out of large text characters, not simply monogrammed on top of your item but built into the item itself. To create one, simply choose the design and then input the text–Shapeways does the rest.
Trial: To test the service, I decided that I would use the customizable gifts feature instead of starting with a design from scratch (what can I say, I’m lazy). The process was easy and quick. I decided on a monogrammed pair of cufflinks where the cufflinks itself is molded into my initials. I chose my initials and metal as the material and proceeded through checkout. When placing the order I was also given an estimate of when the item would be ready, which was a bit longer because it was printing in metal. I received the cufflinks within the estimated time. The product itself was sturdy, something I was worried about, and had a lot of detail without rugged sharp edges. The cufflinks start at $49, pretty reasonable for a custom made gift.
Summary: A great way to make anything you can imagine and a super easy way to make customizable one of a kind gifts.