The company now prints in 30 different materials, including silver, full-color sandstone, stainless steel, and glazed ceramics. One of the most popular items on Shapeways is " A Little Sad Keanu Reeves," a tiny sandstone version of the actor in a blazer and jeans, his face and hands perfectly flesh-toned, with separate fingers and lines to texture his hair. At Maker Faire, the company showed off a lighter, a pair of sunglasses, and a detailed replica of the Nyan cat meme sailing on an 8-bit rainbow.
How did Shapeways's production get so good? Machines have improved, said marketing director Carine Carmy, as have the post-printing process and the company’s design guidelines. Design software is also getting better and more usable, she said.
HOW DID SHAPEWAYS' PRODUCTION GET SO GOOD?
Shapeways has a few machines in New York as well as a factory in the Netherlands, and it will open a factory in Long Island City later this month. For some of the tougher materials like ceramic and metal, Shapeways partners with companies like 3D Systems, which manufactures a range of printers from desktop to industrial-grade. 3D Systems bought the pioneering printer-maker Z Corp last year, and has also been improving its machines and processes.
With Shapeways now printing out shelf-ready products, the economic power of 3D printing is easier to see. For example, a jewelry designer could use a 3D printing marketplace like Shapeways, Sculpteo, or i.materialise to collect orders on demand and avoid keeping a drawer full of inventory. "I think 3D printing as a sci-fi technology might be reaching its peak," Carmy said. "But 3D printing as a revolutionary game changer, I think we’re just starting to see the beginning of that."