Wednesday, 6 March 2013

What is Shapeways?

I've mentioned it a few times, but I should probably explain what Shapeways is. Shapeways is a company that provides a 3D printing service. They have a big selection of 3D printers that can do different things. What you do is upload your 3D CAD design to their website, it gets checked, you then select the material/process that you want to use, then Shapeways prints out your design and mails it to you. This is all for a price of course. There are a few other companies that do this, even some with storefronts like 3DPhacktory in Toronto.

What's interesting is the Shapeways store. If you have some designs that you'd like to share or sell, you can open a Shapeways store within the framework of their website and peddle your creations without ever having to go into production in the traditional sense.

It's really very simple. You upload your design, add some photos, a description, etc to dress it up. You can add a mark-up to the cost of printing the object, which acts as your designer's fee. Shapeways handles customer service, production and shipping. They offer a variety of print materials from plastic-like-resin, nylon, sandstone, metals, wax, and ceramics. It's very convenient, and the advantages are obvious.

The drawbacks are higher cost. A 3D printed object is generally more expensive than a cast object, so you can't really add a big mark-up since you can easily price your designs out of your market's budget. Some people just like to share, and some objects have no mark-up. Some people also offer their CAD designs for free download.

After struggling with pricing sets from my own 3D printer, Shapeways seemed like the ideal solution for selling my little space fighters. It was around this time I was getting the most requests. If I was going to run a set on my own printer, the sale would have to be more than $20 + shipping or I'd lose money. Once my time and effort was calculated, it wouldn't really be worthwhile printing anything for less than $50 -- which is a lot for little space fighters! From Shapeways I could provide sets of 10 identical fighters for around $5 per set. So I set up a shop! Cheaper for the buyer, more printing options, less work for me.

I had tested my designs on my own 3D printer, but I ordered a few samples from shapeways to see what they'd look like. I don't want to sell crap, plus I wanted to have an idea of what the different materials did.

They all turned out rather well. The Strong White Flexible is the most economical option. Frosted Ultra Detail is very high quality. In fact it's so good, that the parts turned out better than many metal castings I've seen -- the edges are clean and crisp, and the details are very fine.

So if you are in to designing your own things, Shapeways (or some other company like it) might just be the way to go.

Here you can see the same samples primed grey. The SWF is a little grainy, but not bad for it's size.

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