Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

March 13, 2013

Want to try 3D design? Now you can

Shapeways.com bridges gap between 3D printing and the everyday consumer

By Daryl Nelson
ConsumerAffairs.com

Shapeways.com bills itself as the “world’s leading 3D printing marketplace and community.” One thing Shapeways has going for itself is that it’s one of the first Internet companies to jump into the 3D printing industry and offer a way for everyday consumers to take advantage of it.

Quite simply, Shapeways is to designers what websites like KitsyLane.com are to jewelry makers, in that people can sell their own designs over the Internet.

Not just design

Instead of being able to sell just a statement necklace or offer a cool-looking bracelet to someone, you can actually put together just about anything your mind can come up with, as long as it’s under a certain size. From there, you can have it printed and shipped to either yourself or someone who’s willing to pay good money for it.

In case you’re unfamiliar with 3D printing, it’s the concept of taking the blueprints of a design from just about any object and duplicating it through the use of a specially-made 3D printer. We offered a full story on it last year, when the concept was just starting to hit mainstream consumer realms.

The idea behind Shapeways’ approach is to capture people who may be interested in 3D printing, but don’t have the funds or interest in purchasing their own 3D printer, which can easily go for thousands of dollars.

To get started, create an account and then you can pretty much start designing products right away.

If you’re already familiar with 3D printing in terms of what materials to select and how to properly specify the dimensions of an object, you can jump from the signing-in phase to the design phase, and choose to either have your product shipped to you or placed into Shapeways’ store for sale.

The company will determine a price for your object based on design, size, materials and shipping costs, all included in the price, which will be listed next to your design once it’s available for purchase.

User-friendly

In terms of the general Internet reviews about Shapeways and how easy it is to create things, most people have given the site good ratings for being user-friendly for people who know about 3D printing and for those who don’t.

As far as the quality of the objects you’re designing, they seem to be well-made and sturdy according to some who have received products through the mail.

For those who are 3D printing novices, Shapeways has a bunch of tutorial links that users can click on for help. You can also post your questions in the community forum and other users will be able to give you instruction. And if you would rather have another Shapeway user actually create a design for you, you can do that too.

In addition, the site suggests a handful of 3D modeling packages like Rhino, Blender and Maya, which can help walk you through the process of 3D printing from A to Z.

Some of the previous reviewers of the site complained about how long it takes to get finished products shipped, which can be anywhere from 10 to 21 days, depending on the type of material you use for your object.

And although people are now making a lot of things via 3D printing, users aren’t allowed to print any weaponry or distasteful material of a sexual nature. Doing so will get your design automatically removed by the company.

Next big thing

A lot of experts say that 3D printing is the next big thing that will dramatically shift manufacturing, commerce and trade in the very near future. If you’ve been paying attention during the last couple of years, you’ve probably noticed more and more people talking about this huge shift in technology.

So before 3D printing becomes mainstream and a normal part of our society, using Shapeways is a good way to start tinkering around with the overall concept.

Additionally, the site does a decent job of creating a bridge between the idea of design and the average consumer who normally might not give 3D printing a try.

And the site can be useful for the experienced designer who wants to sell products, but doesn’t have the proper technology to do 3D prints, which is a definite plus for the site.

Whether Shapeways grows into a major destination for consumers remains to be seen.

It will be exciting to see where the concept of 3D printing goes from here.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.