Category Archives: How To

How I made a keychain bottle opener: Iterative product design

When I started working at Shapeways earlier this year, I knew that I wanted to model something to make for sale in our marketplace.  It had been years since I last tried my hand at 3d modeling, so I wanted to make something simple and practical that was something I would use on a day to day basis. I decided at last that I was going to model a keychain bottle opener.

I set out with a few small goals for my bottle opener: I want to be able to attach it to my keychain, must be able to print in our stainless steel and cast metals, and the base model must cost less than $30 to keep it within a reasonable price range to sell after my markup is added.

Initially I thought the process would be easy: make a quick model, upload to Shapeways, order a prototype for myself and make it for sale. As anyone who has created a product from scratch would know, it is never that simple. After firing up Blender and recalling how to 3d model I was fairly happy with my prototype: the model looked like a bottle opener, it had a hole in the handle to reduce material and add to a keychain. After then uploading to the site I realized that I broke one of initial goals: it cost around $35, more than my plan of under $30 . Back to the drawing board.

When making a 3d printed product the easiest way to reduce the cost of the product is to reduce the amount of material that is being printed. This can be done by making the product itself smaller or by removing material from the product, for example hollowing out a solid object. My bottle opener was already a little smaller in size than the bottle opener I already had attached to my keychain, so I was a little worried about making it smaller. However, I took another look at the design of the product and found a few places where I could easily remove some material in the handle and in the opener head. So I was able to remove a large portion of material from the handle while still keeping the overall shape of the model.

Before Removing Excess Material

Before Removing Excess Material

After Removing Excess Material

After Removing Excess Material

With version 2 ready, I upload and see that the price is now under $30, while still allowing the model to be printed in stainless steel and cast metals. Awesome! This is the part where I wanted to make my bottle opener for sale to the world and wait for people to start buying. However, working at Shapeways and all of the challenges with making sure products are printable and functional, I couldn’t just leave it there.

How do I know if this thing actually works? What if it is too small? What if it snaps in half when someone tries to use it? I had to order a prototype for myself first and check the integrity of the model. I ordered my first prototype in White Strong and Flexible Plastic, as it has a shorter lead time and is cheaper, making the prototyping process faster than with Stainless Steel.

After waiting about a week for my prototype to arrive I was ready to unbox and test. I checked the bottle opener all over for design imperfections. I held it in my hand and of course I tested it out on a bottle. I did not actually expect the plastic prototype to be able to open the bottle since the material is way too flexible (in fact the handle easily bent in my hand), but I needed to check was how it fit onto a bottle. Does it catch on to the cap how I expect? Unfortunately, this prototype did not. The opener was not curved enough to fit on the cap exactly as I would have liked, so back to the drawing board to curve the model up a little.

Non-Fitting Bottle Opener

Non-Fitting Bottle Opener

After Curving Model

After Curving Model

Great, version 3 now ready, back to the site to upload and check pricing and printability. Everything here is perfect again and in fact the price dropped slightly on this new version since curving the opener made the bounding box a little smaller. I again printed another prototype in White Strong and Flexible Plastic. Another week later I received the new prototype and gave it the same checking over I did the first. This time however, it fit much better on the bottle opener, perfect.

Fitting Bottle Opener

Fitting Bottle Opener

Now this is where I wanted to just enable the product for sale to all. I was able to print it, the design seems like it works and it is in the price I wanted. However all that I have done was still not enough. I needed to order a test print in the target material family I wanted to enable for sale. I knew the product would never cut it in the plastics, it would just bend and break, I needed to make sure the same thing didn’t happen when printed in Stainless Steel. So, I ordered the model again, this time in Stainless Steel and again waited for the prototype to arrive.

Bottle Opener Progression

Bottle Opener Progression

The Stainless Steel version in hand and now to give it the same, but more rigorous, checks as the previous 2 prototypes printed. The first and most important test I tried to do was bend it in half and luckily I failed. After trying and trying to break the product I finally gave in and decided to try and open a bottle with it. Success, works as advertised. I now have the final product I was looking for. Having the final working product ready I went right to my account and enabled the product for sale in all of the various offers of Stainless Steel.

Stainless Steel Bottle Opener

Stainless Steel Bottle Opener

I chose to make my product for sale just in the Stainless Steels as they share the same printing process, so I knew if one worked well and was printable that print success rate is shared among all stainless steel materials. I could have also made available for sale in the Precious Metals, but I was not confident in their ability to print and be functional without ordering a prototype for myself and the price of a test print in gold or platinum slightly higher than I was willing to spend. However, luckily enough for me, I had a co-worker who loved the design of my bottle opener and wanted to order it in Raw Bronze. I was a little worried since I have heard the material is softer than stainless steel, but my co-worker was more than willing to be the first to try my design in raw bronze.

A few weeks later after my co-worker received his print of the product we gave it a try. It looked beautiful! We were excited to try it out and we soon discovered remembered why it is important to test in many materials– the handle was too thin for bronze and bent the opener instead of opening the bottle. I felt bad that he went out of his way to help me try my product in a new material and it did not work. I wanted to fix it for not just him but anyone else who might want to purchase in one of the Precious Metals, so I went back to create a new version with a slightly thicker handle, I uploaded and ordered for myself in Raw Bronze to see if I fixed the issue.

Another few weeks later after receiving my new version in Raw Bronze, time to test. Unfortunately again the handle was too thin and it bent easily, less easily than the last, but still much more than anyone would want for a bottle opener. I then decided to give up on trying for the Precious Metals. It would be nice to be able to have my product printable in those materials I would have to again make the handle thicker to try and get it to work which would continue to raise the price of the model which was something I wanted to steer away from.

However, at last I now have what I am calling my final product. A design that meets all of the original goals I set out to accomplish which is also printable and functional for the end user. Even though I now have this “finished” product for sale I am not done quite yet. I am still awaiting for both good and bad feedback from shoppers on how I can continually iterate on this design to make the product better and better. You can see my final product here: Keychain Bottle Opener.

When I started this adventure I assumed having the idea was the hardest part of the process. I didn’t yet recognize all of the necessary steps for making a good product. Product development is not a linear process. It is iterative and usually requires more than one attempt to get everything perfect. This process can easily be both time consuming and expensive depending on what you are trying to make. I personally decided to take on this entire iterative trial and error design process by myself, but the good news is you do not have to go it alone. Now with features like Beta Products Shapeways is working to make that iterative process more collaborative between designers, shop owners and shoppers. As I found out, collaboration and feedback helped me make a better product. Have you bought a product on Shapeways and offered the designer feedback? For designers, how have you further refined a product based on user testing and feedback?


Help with 3D Printing directly from Photoshop CC

You may recall back in January, we announced our partnership with Adobe, who enabled 3D printing directly through Photoshop Creative Cloud to Shapeways.

Using this feature, artists, photographers, designers, and other Photoshop users can create and prepare designs for 3D printing.

Adobe has created two custom video tutorials to help you use Photoshop CC for 3D printing:

Designer Paul Trani, Adobe’s Senior Creative Cloud Evangelist, shows you how he made a custom iPhone case directly from Photoshop with a personalized message: “Create Now”!

Custom iPhone case designed by Paul Trani

Custom iPhone case designed by Paul Trani

To get more hands-on, this Photoshop Creative Cloud Tutorial on 3D Printing is a three-part video course that takes you through an entire design-to-print project in Photoshop.

Source: Adobe HelpX

Source: Adobe HelpX

No matter what your level of design experience, we encourage you to check out the tutorials and give it a shot because they’re super informative and easy to follow.


Tweet Your Best Tweet Forward

We recently added Twitter to your Shop Owner profiles to allow you to share updates with your followers. You can have a shop/brand handle on your Shop page and your personal handle on your profile page. As the social media specialist at Shapeways, I believe that Twitter is an exciting platform for Shapeways Shop Owners and users to showcase work, market products, and generate conversation around your Shapeways Shop.

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 11.16.13 PM

If you’re already on Twitter and follow @Shapeways, I’m often the eyes that get to see all of your tweets. My favorite part about Twitter is that it’s only 140 characters and it’s a great way to provide frequent updates to your followers. If you’re a Shop Owner or designer looking to tweet about your work, following these best practices for composing a tweet will significantly increase the likelihood of engagement (retweets, favorites, mentions, replies).

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 11.25.38 PM

Here’s an example of a quality tweet by Brandon George, the owner of the Shapeways Shop 3by3D. Let’s breakdown what makes this tweet a great tweet in my opinion.

1) It includes a quality photo relevant to his tweet. Everyone is competing for eyeballs on your Twitterfeed so having a attractive visual image in your tweet gets twice the response rate than a tweet without a photo.

2) The tweet uses hashtags like #Flower #mensfashion #Style which relate to the product being promoted, and using popular hashtags increases the chance of exposure of your for people searching for that hashtag.

3) The tweet includes a shortened URL linking back to his Shapeways Shop where interested followers seeing the tweet can be directed to find his shop.

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 12.25.26 AM

(Shop Owner Jeremy Mallin tweets about his Mobius Cinquefoil Knot Pendant)

I plan to continue to share more social media tips and tricks to help the Shapeways community win on social. In the meantime I can be reached at if anyone needs any advice on social media strategy.

Remember to tweet your best tweets forward and you can engage with us on all of our other social media channels below!

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Facebook Groups For The 3D Printing Community

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If you are active on Facebook, joining a 3D printing or 3D modeling group would be a great way to show off your work on Shapeways, share ideas, or find inspiration through what others are doing.

Facebook is the largest social networking site on the planet and is a goliath platform for engaging and interacting with people who share the same interest and hobbies that you do. One of the very early features of Facebook prior to the fan page were Facebook groups. There are still millions active of Facebook groups out there which you can join and be part of to interact with people around the world who share common interests.

By doing a simple search on Facebook you can find a list of groups that best fit your interest. Before joining a group be sure to read the “about” section of the group to make sure you know the rules for posting and participating on the group.

Joining a 3D modeling group is a great way to show off your 3D designs and get feedback from the fellow members in the group. It’s a great way to see what people think of your work before you upload your work to Shapeways.

Think of Facebook groups as an open platform like our Shapeways forum where collaboration and discussion related to 3D printing is encouraged.

How are you currently showcasing your shop and 3D printed work on social media? Let us know! Feel free to email me at

Check this this video from Facebook about finding your niche because whatever you’re into, somewhere out there is a group for you.




More 3DP Resolutions: Make your first 3D model with TinkerCAD

Hard to believe we’re about halfway through January! So, how are those are #3DP2014 Resolutions coming along? If you still haven’t tried to design anything, it’s okay, we forgive you. But now’s a great time to step up your 3D print game. And with TinkerCAD, it couldn’t be easier.

Why TinkerCAD?

    •    It runs right through your browser—no need to download anything.
    •    It’s video game-esque…you embark on a series of quests to design cool stuff.
    •    You’ll learn about the software as you use it.
    •    It’s FREE! (Unless you upgrade to the paid option.)
    •    You get confetti when you complete a design.

To start designing, just select a Lesson.

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Create your own holiday gifts: Part 2

For the second installment in our three-part DIY 3D Print gifting series, we are rewriting the 12 Days of Christmas song: “…Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, create your own gold-plated rings!”

Yes, Shapeways has an app for that: The Custom Ring Creator. Regardless of whether you’ve ever designed anything, you can make a unique ring in minutes.

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Create your own holiday gifts: Part 1

With the holidays approaching, now’s a better time than ever to design your very own 3D Printed gifts. Never designed anything before? Not to worry. We’re here to help. This is the first of our three-part series on our easy-to-use apps that’ll have you creating in no time. No tricky modeling skills required!

We’ve all gotten dad a mug, bought a tea set for grandma, or perhaps a vase for a friend. But have you actually designed a gift for them? With the Sake Set Creator app you can do just that. Your creation will be 3D Printed in Ceramics, our only food-safe material. Did we mention you won’t even have to get your hands dirty?!

The tool enables you to select a base design, then adjust shape, smoothness, and twist intensity. You can design everything from cups and saucers to tumblers and vases. Then choose from 5 different colored glazes to personalize even further.

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Learn Design for 3D Printing with Shapeways Using Maya with Ryan Kittleson

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3D modeler expert and all around creative genius Ryan Kittleson has just released a series of tutorials on to Learn 3D Printing on Shapeways Using Maya.

how to 3D print with Shapeways

Learn how to prepare your models in Maya and then send them for 3D printing on Shapeways.  Ryan shows how to hollow out models, define an object’s thickness to reduce cost, and work with texture maps for full-color prints. He shows you how to export the model, upload it to Shapeways, and view the finished result. Once you have mastered the basics, Ryan invites you to test your skills in a series of challenge videos.

Topics include:      

  • What is Shapeways?    
  • Setting up Maya for 3D printing    
  • Checking model scale    
  • Understanding why thickness matters    
  • Adding precise thickness    
  • Strengthening thin structures    
  • Fixing common mesh problems    
  • Exporting models with texture maps    
  • Making a wireframe model    
  • Publishing to Shapeways

 Check out the video on


3D Printing Masterclass with Mode Lab Brooklyn, NYC

Ronnie Parsons, co-founder of NYC based Mode Lab is running a 2 day, 3D Printing masterclass in their studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, September 12th and 16th 2013.

Learn about the fundamentals of 3D printing, the free tools available to get started, and the materials and processes used to bring your ideas out of the computer and into the world.  This hands-on class will introduce participants to the world of 3D printing, the available software for model preparation, and the various types of machines and cloud-based services available today. The last hour of the course will be reserved for a hands-on demo using our Makerbot Replicator2 and Formlabs Form1 3D printers. 

This class is ideal for designers of all backgrounds who are interested in learning more about 3D printing and how this disruptive technology is changing the future of design and manufacturing.

Take a look at the full details on their Skillshare class


How to Design Snap-Fit Ball Joints for 3D Printing with Shapeways

When designing an action figure to be 3D printed the best way to create articulated components that are pose-able is with snap-fit ball joints. 

3D PRinting ball joints Shapeways

 Civil War Ironclad USS Monitor Robot Action Figure by DSnow

Ball joints work as snap-fit components and cannot be 3D printed together as the friction required to make the parts pose-able would result in the parts being fused together.  When designing ball joints it is best to make them an ‘exact fit’ where the positive part (the ball) and the negative part (the socket) are the exact same circumference.  You need to ensure the socket component is not entirely enclosed, more like a C shape to allow the part to expand slightly to snap it into place.  

Shapeways laser sintered Nylon (WSF) is the best material for creating snap fit ball joints as the material is strong enough to withstand the stress of being snapped into place (our Acrylic might just snap).  The Nylon also has a slightly granular surface that also help to make the parts to grip together.  Also note that our polishing and dying process which has a smoother surface than the raw Nylon still grips together for a firm fit, you do not need to change the design to allow for change in surface finish or dimensional changes. 

To see some really good examples of snap-fit ball joints designed for 3D printing, check out the ModiBot shop by Kid Mechano which has many really good examples of ball joints in action.


Learn Foundations of 3D Printing and Introduction to 3D Modeling

Learn the foundations of 3D Printing with an introduction to 3D Modeling with design for 3D printing expert Aaron Trocola.

This class has evolved greatly over the past year and a half. This is an extended version that is essentially two classes: Foundations of 3D Printing, and Introduction to 3D Modeling. The goal of the class is to give a complete primer on printing processes and software, then show how you can apply that knowledge to create your own designs and manufacture them at home or from a service bureau like Shapeways. You will also learn about selling items from your Shapeways shop, custom object co-creation, and the logistics of re-selling printed items through other venues like Etsy and Ebay. 


How To 3D Print at Home with an iPhone and a Magnifying Glass (VIDEO)

UPDATE: It seems like our experiment worked for one day only, Happy April Fools Day.

While looking for a way to recycle our excess Nylon powder we found a way for anyone to 3D print at home with an iPhone and a magnifying glass.

how to 3D print at home with iPhone thanks Shapeways

At Shapeways we recycle most of the Nylon powder from our industrial 3D printing process but sometimes the powder does not meet the standard required for use in our 3D printers.  We were looking at the testing process when we made a really exciting discovery, with a tightly focused beam of light you can solidify the Nylon powder into a solid.  

We did some experiments and discovered a way that anyone can 3D print at home using an iPhone and a magnifying glass with our Nylon powder.  Take a look at the simple video below and email and we can send you (for the cost of shipping) some of our excess Nylon for you to try at home.

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Repairing Appliances with Shapeways 3D Printed Ceramic Parts (VIDEO)

How to extend the life of a kitchen appliance using Shapeways 3D printed ceramic parts.

When a small part for Shapeways community member Mitagaki’s Panasonic Bread maker broke he looked everywhere for a replacement part.  The manufacturer no longer supported the model so what was a $5 replacement part became unobtainable and the $200 appliance was rendered worthless. 

Rather than throwing the entire appliance away, Mitagaki 3D modeled a copy of the broken ceramic part and then 3D printed it in ceramics with Shapeways. 

After successfully testing the 3D printed ceramic component he made a minor adjustment to the design and has now made the Panasonic SD-YD250 breadmaker replacement bobbin available for others to repair their appliance using Shapeways.


Shapeways Ask an Engineer #2: Strength and Structure (VIDEO)

In the second episode of Shapeways Ask an Engineer, we demonstrate how slight modifications to your models can double their strength.

With the help of good old Diet Coke, we see how many cans we can stack on two different cube structures before they break. The first is a basic cube composed of squares, while the second is a little more complicated and composed of triangles. Our test reveals that the addition of a few more lines allows a structure to withstand two Diet Coke cans before snapping, while the basic cube snaps almost immediately after a can is placed on top of it. The difference in price between the two models is only fifteen cents — definitely worth the extra money!

What would you like us to break next time? If you have any 3D printing questions you would like answered by our
3D printing engineer Matthew Hagan please email

For more information on Shapeways 3D printed materials visit our materials hub and and more design tips take a look at our Design for 3D Printing 101