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Shapeways – Back to the future with 3D Printing Written by Charmaine Li on 19. January 2012

3D Printer

3D Printer
You no longer have to be a tech geek or a fully-fledged product designer to become part of the sci-fi concept of 3D printing. Shapeways is making technological and social advances, with its online community marketplace for personalised production. The New York startup is a rapidly expanding operation which holds reputable investors to its name, such as Soundcloud‘s founders, Union Square Ventures and Index Ventures.
While the product has been around for close to two decades, it was traditionally used to create small prototypes or parts of large products. Shapeways’ catered-production for the masses is a relatively new concept. The doors have been opened for everyone who’s anyone with cash, to create and print out their own jewellery, accessories, and home décor.

3D printing for the masses

It’s hard not to get excited and hyped about the plethora of possibilities of 3D printing. With the market advancing innovation by innovation, it’s getting easier to imagine a future where 3D printers become the new must-have household appliance. Just broke a vase or need a new outfit? No problem, just 3D print it!
The product has been around for close to two decades, but only in the past five years has it been made accessible to the general public. Australian-based company Any Dimension has gotten in on the action, and just recently, French startup Sculpteo has released an app which allows you to 3D print from a selection of company-modelled designs.

Create, upload and place your order

What started off as a platform for 3D software users, is now divided evenly between sophisticated designers and hobbyists without the tech modelling know-how. Professional product designers can also use Shapeways to sell their products, creating anything from puzzles to furniture pieces. The introduction of free 3D software packages like Autodesk 123D and Google SketchUp, has also contributed to the rise in the 3D printing market.
For those without a full-bottle knowledge on 3D modelling software, Shapeways released a Creator that allows users to design home décor and kitchen products such as tumblers, vases, plates, and even your own Sake Set. Once the design’s in place and the order – placed, a food-safe 3D printed ceramic is on its way or any number of materials for that matter, including; plastics, stainless steel, glass, and silver.

3D print me a house?

Okay, so Shapeways isn’t heading down that direction just yet, but another company is. Californian-based business Contour Crafting, is actually exploring the idea of 3D printing houses. Like a giant lego piece, the house would be automatically constructed in a single run with all the conduits for plumbing, electricity, and air-conditioning. The ambitious idea is still on the drawing board, but it gives us ‘in the future’ dreamers a taste of what’s to come…
For a look at other online marketplaces, check out our VillageTV report on DaWanda
Image credit: Flickr user jabella