Shop Owner Challenge Day 19: Selecting the Best Material for Your Product

We’ve recently launched a bunch of new materials at Shapeways, so for today’s Shop Owner Challenge, Raphael, one of our Materials Geniuses, shares tips for selecting the best material. Enjoy!

When picking materials for your model, think about how the material will help to position it as a product. Is it an exclusive piece that you want to only offer in Premium Silver? Or a versatile design that looks great in a range of materials and price points? Using different materials, a single design can become a variety of different products. For example, a model of a ring could become a fun, inexpensive piece of costume jewelry Alumide, or a precious keepsake in Polished Brass. Each deserve unique photos, descriptions, and price points.

Choosing the right materials for your products isn’t always easy, and has a huge impact on the value and success of your product. Here are some tips from the materials team to help you make the best choices.

Gotham Smith Cufflinks

Bicycle Chainring Cufflinks by GothamSmith in Stainless Steel, Raw Brass and Polished Brass

Brass, Bronze, or Steel?
With our recent launches, there are a wide range of steel finishes, and high-detail cast metals available. Both make for great products, but at different price points and levels of finish. Steel tends to be a bit rough, almost vintage looking, and lower resolution, with a lower price point to match. Our various steel finishes, including Gold and Nickel and Bronze offer the highest surface quality and consistency, while Patinas such as Matte black, and the basic steel is better for more rustic or steampunk pieces. To achieve much higher resolution and surface finish, our Brass and Bronze use the same casting process as Silver, and reproduce the finest details at high-end shopper ready quality.

Polished vs. Raw
While all our steel finishes are polished to improve print quality, Brass, Bronze, and Silver use such a high resolution production product that we’re able to offer both Raw and Polished version of these materials. Both are shopper ready materials, so the choice here is mostly an aesthetic one: Raw is rugged and rustic, while Polished is elegant and refined.
While we offer unpolished WSF and Alumide, you should think of these as low-end materials for prototyping and functional parts. Aside from special cases such as large or delicate designs and functional parts, we’d recommend disabling WSF for shoppers and directing them to polished materials, including Polished WSF, Polished Alumide, Black Strong and Flexible, or Colored Strong and Flexible.
Polished vs. Premium Silver
The difference between Polished and Premium Silver often causes confusion. Both are polished, but the key distinction is the amount of polishing time invested in polishing internal details and hard to reach spaces. A simple ring may look very similar in both finishes, while something like Bathsheba’s Ora pendant will look very different;
Miniatures as Products
Many successful shop-owners already have amazing miniatures on Shapeways that they offer in FUD or Detail Plastic. With cast brass and bronze, you can now offer these models in all their glorious detail to a much wider range of customers, and at a higher price point. When we launched these materials, we bought some popular miniatures in brass and bronze, and they haven’t left our desks since!
While you’re at it, you may want to consider enabling you models in Detail Plastic as well. While FUD offers stunning resolution, functional parts and supports the fine parts that miniatures enthusiasts love, our black and white detail materials offer a more shopper ready finish that can make these designs accessible beyond the finish-it-yourself market.

Choosing Materials that wear well
While great for visual models and items which don’t see extensive wear, our Black and Dyed Strong & Flexible aren’t recommended for things like iPhone cases which see constant surface wear. They look great at first, but eventually the dye can wear through, creating lighter spots in the finish, and potentially disappointing your customers. White Strong & Flexible doesn’t wear through in this way, but because it’s white it can look dirty with wear. For functional parts, or things where you don’t mind a bit of a worn-in look, this can be just fine. If that’s not what you’re looking for, Polished Alumide is a great alternative.
On the materials team we’re surprised Alumide isn’t a more popular material: it’s relatively inexpensive, polishes up to be very smooth, and wears well. The speckled grey color hides wear and helps to prevent discoloration, making for long-lasting products. The powder has the same color throughout, unlike our Dyed Strong & Flexible plastics; you can keep it in your pocket all day and the color will stay consistent. All that, and it sparkles too!
For smaller and more precious items, Brass and Bronze, in both Raw and Polished finishes, are durable solid metals that will wear beautifully, adding to their character. Steel is similarly long-lasting, but offers lower resolution, and a lower cost. Gold Plated Brass, is durable, but can eventually wear through if exposed to constant rubbing on clothing, skin, or when used as functional parts.

2 comments

  1. Glenn Slingsby

    Well, perhaps the reason you haven’t seen more items made with Alumide is because – from your own Materials page: “…but also makes the material more brittle “.

    Brittle jewellery or iPhone cases no-one needs.

    I would like to see Shapeways doing some experimenting with this material and shows us the results. You mentioned that it polishes well, but I don’t recall ever seeing anyone having done that in the forums.

  2. Bobbie Jean Pentecost

    My biggest concerns when it comes to these materials are price, rules, and bounding box limitations. There are many things I’d love to print up in brass or bronze but the bounding boxes are too small and the price is a bit high. Stainless steel has rules that are way too constricting and the resolution is too low for my liking. Silver is totally out of the question as it is WAY too costly and too rule-prohibitive for most things I would want to design.

    For example: http://bobbie-the-jean.deviantart.com/art/Key-To-My-Heart-370053085 I would REALLY love to print this up at 200mm but there aren’t many feasible options aside from the FDP. I like the resolution of FDP but I don’t like the feel. It’s plastic. It has no heft. It feels insubstantial. For some things, that’s fine but for others, I want something weighty and solid.

    Anyway, I’ve babbled on long enough. In the very least I’d like to see a relaxing of the very small bounding box limitations for brass and bronze. That would open up a great deal many more possibilities in terms of design…. at least for me. It might also be nice to see “moving/separate parts allowed” for some of these metals if possible.

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