Have you ever had a brilliant design idea that you wished you could bring into the real world? It’s one thing to have a great idea, it’s quite another to turn that idea into reality.
Shapeways does just that – takes your idea and transforms it into an object that you can hold in your hands. Shapeways is a 3D printing company where everyday people can turn their ideas into 3D objects. You can design jewelry, art, phone cases, board games, coffee mugs, or almost anything else you want, then print them into physical objects. You can also sell your creations and purchase other people’s creations on Shapeways.
3D printing is growing in popularity and I recently spoke with Savannah Peterson, Marketing Manager – Digital Engagement at Shapeways, about how 3D printing works. “3D printing is the process of taking a digital file and converting it into a physical object,” she explained. “It’s really a magical experience. When you create a product it’s kind of like creating a baby. There’s an idea, an incubation period, and then you have a moment when you see it for the first time. Feeling is believing.”
Here’s a video showing how Shapeways is redesigning design:
You can design objects for your own personal use or to give as gifts. Anything you can create at Shapeways you can sell at Shapeways. The site is not only a place to create, it’s also a market where you can buy and sell objects printed by Shapeways.
“We’re trying to be the hub for all things 3D.” You don’t have to sell your Shapeways printed objects at their site, you can keep them for yourself or sell them on your own. But Shapeways can provide an instant marketplace if you want to offer your creations for sale.
If you like what you see on Shapeways but want an object customized or made out of a different material, Shapeways can help make that happen. Shapeways works with the customer and the designer to personalize the products so they can be unique. Often customers request that jewelry be customized with a slightly different design or printed out of a different material. Each designer has the discretion to make changes, but according to Peterson, most requests are accommodated. “Our community is very collaborative and cooperative across the board.”
How to Use 3D Printing
To create an object using Shapeways 3D printing, visit the website and upload your design. You can request an estimate of how much it will cost to have the object printed in different materials.
Shapeways reviews the design to make sure it’s able to be printed in 3D and suggests the materials you can use. Shapeways offers over 30 different materials, but not all materials work well with each design. The materials range from gold, sterling silver and stainless steel to sandstone, nylon and plastic.
That’s right, you can literally turn your ideas into gold.
Shapeways tries to make the design and upload process easy for everyone to use. “Any 3D file will work at Shapeways,” said Peterson. “There are a variety of different apps and programs people can use to create their own 3D files.” The Shapeways website has a list of supported applications as well as tutorials to get you started. Shapeways has an app that can take a .jpeg photo file and turn it into a 3D ring made of the material you choose. Peterson also gave the example of a 12-year-old who designed and printed an iPhone case for himself using Shapeways.
You can even design objects with moving parts. Peterson gave the example of a retro iPhone case with a rotary dial made of one piece and actually spins, designed by Joaquin Baldwin.
Imagine having your clothes custom-made to fit you using 3D printing. “I think one of the most interesting uses of 3D printing for the future is in fashion. The ability to customize a garment in a way that goes far beyond any customization or personalization that we’ve had before is impressive. You don’t have to buy clothes in small, medium or large, you can get a dress that fits you perfectly.” said Peterson.
One amazing example of Shapeways’ 3D printing is a dress that was designed by Michael Schmidt with architect Francis Bitonti for Dita von Teese. The dress was printed by Shapeways in nylon and embedded with over 13,000 Swarovski crystals.
Here’s a video illustrating the process of creating and printing the dress:
Examples of 3D Creations
Shapeways put me in touch with two designers who have been selling their creations using Shapeways. Both were pleased with how Shapeways lets them turn their creations into reality and into a business.
The first designer, Joaquin Baldwin, is an animation artist at Disney and a writer, producer and director of independent films. He started using Shapeways when fans of his film Sebastian’s Voodoo wanted action figures of the characters in the film. To keep his fans happy, he looked into creating and selling the figures through Shapeways.
Baldwin’s work in animation gave him experience with 3D software. “I work in animation and I know a lot of people as their creating their films want to be able to hold that figure that they’ve been creating on the computer for so long. It’s fascinating to have that in your hands,” said Baldwin.
The Sebastian’s Voodoo characters were the only items he sold in his Shapeways shop until he expanded to design and create other items. Baldwin channeled his passion for math and designed Mobius strips, including a Super Mario one, a bacon one and a Mobius strip made out of other Mobius strips.
Baldwin’s Shapeways shop also includes jewelry, a coffee mug and origami figures. He relies on inspiration for his designs. “Everything I design has something of myself in it. I can’t think about it commercially, ‘What would people buy next?’ but rather, ‘What would I like to have next?’ I design something I’d like to have or something I feel passionate about. If it sells that’s great, if it doesn’t I’ll be happy with the model I created.”
Baldwin appreciates how Shapeways lets him focus on the creative part of his business. “I’m not a business person. I don’t want to have a catalog of things or a warehouse full of stuff. It’s not my type of life.”
Bernat Cuni is a professional designer who started with Shapeways about two years ago, opening a shop called Cunicode that sells coffee cups he designed. Recently he started a business on Shapeways called Crayon Creatures that turns children’s artwork into sculptures made of sandstone.
“I like to call it digital craftsmanship because it’s something I do with my hands through a laptop,” said Cuni. People can either scan the artwork into their computers and send him the file or take a photo with their cell phones and email the photo to him.
“I use 3D modeling software to translate this 2D image into a sculpture. It’s not an automated process. In some instances I have to go back to the customer and ask for an interpretation from the artist. All the colors are the same as the original drawing,” said Cuni.
After Cuni creates the 3D design of the child’s artwork, he sends it to Shapeways then they print the sculpture in sandstone and send it directly to the customer. He appreciates that Shapeways takes care of the billing, packing and shipping. “My expertise is in design, not in packing boxes,” Cuni explained.
He pointed out another benefit of using 3D printing was a shortened product development cycle. Without a need for tooling and creating molds, the cycle for development and production can be reduced from years to 24 hours, according to Cuni.
“Anyone in the world can have an idea in the morning, design it in the afternoon and in the evening have a commercially available product worldwide. I did this. It’s not only doable, it’s repeatable,” said Cuni.
The idea for Crayon Creatures came from his children. Cuni has a 3D printer at home, but his printer isn’t nearly as powerful as Shapeways’ printers. His kids saw him create objects with the printer and one day his daughter asked, “Hey, Papa, could you make this drawing in your machine?” They were able to print the drawing in one color which delighted his daughter but Cuni wasn’t satisfied with the result. “The attitude of the drawing was lost.”
He decided to try ordering a couple of pieces with Shapeways and was pleased with the sculptures. Within a few weeks he had a global business selling Crayon Creatures. He launched the business five minutes to midnight on New Years Eve 2012, satisfying his desire to start it before 2013. A few weeks later, Crayon Creatures appeared in Wired and The Guardian and on the BBC.
Cuni gave the example of a mother who gave her daughter a Crayon Creature as a gift for the daughter’s 25th wedding anniversary. The mother had kept her daughter’s artwork from when she was a child and surprised her daughter with a gift when she was an adult. “Crayon Creatures isn’t just for children,” said Cuni.
If you’re looking for a way to turn your ideas into physical objects, or want to create sculptures from you children’s artwork, or are looking for interesting items with fascinating design, check out Shapeways. Whether you create or buy an object for yourself or start a business on Shapeways, you can make 3D printing work for you.
What would you create with Shapeways? A unique piece of jewelry? Clothes that fit you perfectly? Custom designed wedding rings? A beautiful sculpture? A smartphone case? Does the idea of selling your creations intrigue you? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below!