Thoughts on 3D Printing
It seems incredible to me that I’m looking at a bronze sculpture of YodaBuddha created by 3D printing. I conceived the idea in the morning, sculpted it in ZBrush, and uploaded the file to Shapeways in the afternoon.
The “buzz” about 3D printing has been on the technology, the printers themselves, and those start-up companies like Makerbot and Formlabs who have entered the hardware market in the last few years. The story of the individual designer with his home factory creating limited edition or bespoke items is just beginning.
From a designer’s perspective, it is very empowering to be able to go directly from an idea to a manufactured product–No set up fees, tooling costs, or minimum quantities. While it is possible that the technology could bring some manufacturing back to the US from Asia, I think that something like a home-factory craft business may emerge here.
If you have a great product idea, it should be possible to produce it directly with 3D printing. What comes to mind are short-run items like garage kits, designer toys, miniatures, collectibles. The kind of art objects that are done with silicon molds and casting resins. The same companies doing that type of product now are also places that might provide some freelance opportunities… Artistry and skill come with years of practice. The ubiquity of 3D printers doesn’t change that, but it does create a market for designers who can turn an idea into a printable file.
I was (like many artists, I’m sure) eagerly reading the brochures and specs of the latest machines–excited by the prospect of getting my own. I was about ready to place an order for the Form1+ when a news article gave me pause…Auto Desk announced their intentions to enter into this marketplace as well… Now, they create great tools–don’t get me wrong–but the majority of folks buying their content creation tools are dreaming of being artists and animators. The spectacular Hollywood animated features and the blockbuster visual effects have them inspired–but not everyone is going to end up with a job at Pixar… Similarly, people are excited by the technology of 3D printing and rushing to get one of their own–many inspired by remarkable artwork that they see posted on ZBrushCentral –as though the right software and the right magic box is going to turn them into the next Michelangelo…Rather than being fleeced, those artists might be better served by a modest investment in some watercolors and a box of Sculpy….
Keeping this in mind, I thought I better figure out what I am going to make and who I’m going to sell it to before I plunk down the money for my own printer. Our public library has Makerbot Replicators that you can use if you have a library card ($50/year if you live outside the city), and Shapeways has lots of material choices that I can experiment with for now….
After all of that, I finally broke down and bought an awesome Printerbot Simple Metal. for $599– It was in the top 4 in Make Magazines 3D Printer shootout!