Category Archives: 3D Modeling

Back to the basics: Designing my Pluto Pendant


“Shapeways University” designed by Ittyblox


In honor of Back to School season, we’re kicking off the semester by introducing a set of tutorials that will prepare you for all of the design, engineering and art projects in your upcoming semester. Over the next few weeks, we’ll cover a range of information starting from planning your project, designing for different materials, and finally, merchandising & selling your products on Shapeways.

For my project, I chose to create a necklace pendant of our beloved escaped-moon, Pluto. In case you forgot, NASA released its first high resolution photos of pluto this summer – only to reveal a giant heart cratered on its surface, which perfectly represented my love for this former planet. So, I figured why not combine my planetary love + 3D modeling and make a piece of jewelry that would compliment any fall wardrobe.


Follow along with my process in picking materials, creating a 3D model and marketing my pluto pendant by clicking the links below (links will be updated as tutorials are released):

  • Materials 101
  • Software 101 (coming soon!)
  • Marketing 101 (coming soon!)

If you’re a student don’t forget to check out our new education discount, and tell your friends to participate in our campus battle over the course of September.

Happy making!

Get $15 by completing the Keychain CustomMaker Challenge

Join the Keychain CustomMaker Challenge by Sunday September 13th at 12 PM EST and get $15


Liberty Bell Ornament by WesJA

3D printing enables anyone to create amazing products – from jewelry and figurines to drone accessories and keychains. Now, with the release of CustomMaker, every product can be instantly personalized to every shopper.

Over the next few months, we’ll be putting out design challenges to our community to challenge you to use CustomMaker to make the best products for shoppers! Our first CustomMaker Challenge for phone cases was great, you can see the results and join the conversation here. For this challenge, design a keychain, upload it to, enable CustomMaker to let your customers personalize it and share it with the community to get $15 in Shapeways Money. No purchase is necessary to participate and receive the credit – all you need to do is upload a case you designed and enable CustomMaker.

Shapeways will also choose our favorite models to be printed, professionally photographed and included in promotional material. By participating in the challenge you grant us permission to do so. Models be picked on the basis of creativity, manufacturing feasibility and presentation.

All Submission are due by Sunday September 13th at 12 PM EST. Shapeways Money will be processed the following week.


Share Submission


How to Join the Challenge



Design a keychain

  • Using your favorite 3D modeling software, design a keychain. Keychains do not need to be new, you can use keychains you’ve already designed. Feel free to design for whatever material you think is best.


Upload Your Design to Shapeways

  • Open up a Shapeways shop (if you don’t already have one). Upload your model* using the upload button. Put your model in the ‘Accessories’ and ‘Keychains’ categories and tag it as is relevant. Set your model to ‘public’ and ‘for sale’ in your Model Details page. Set the prices with your markup for the materials you want to offer in (we’d recommend the Strong and Flexible family) Models must be *.stl or *.obj


Activate CustomMaker to Personalize Your Design

  • In your model’s ‘Customization’ field, enable CustomMaker so shoppers can personalize your phone case with text and/or an image. Make sure that the text or image fits on the case correctly and that the shopper has instructions to understand the maximum number of characters they can use. Remember to set an adequate embossed or engraved depth for the materials that shoppers could purchase


Share Your Entry!

  • Share a link to your product in the keychain CustomMaker Challenge thread along with a photograph or render. Remember you can share as many products as you want, but only one credit will be given per shop. Then help choose which you think are the best entries.


  • Credits are limited to one per person.

  • By participating in the CustomMaker Challenge you are granting Shapeways a perpetual, nonexclusive, sublicensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to use your model, description, and photographs, as well as print and distribute prints of your model, for promotional purposes.

  • All submissions must be awesome

  • All submissions must be submitted by Sunday September 13th at 12 PM EST.

  • All submission must comply with the Shapeways Terms & Conditions and Content Policy.

Sketchup tips from Steven Gray: Part 2, viewing your model

Shapeways Shop owner Steven Gray of MyGadgetLife shares some advice for designing with the amazing free design tool Sketchup. This is Part 2, click here for Part 1.

6. Don’t be afraid to change the camera type often. While the Perspective View can be used most of the time, it’s often useful to see plan or elevation views of the model. Switch to Parallel Projection view, then choose one of the Standard Views from the menu, or click the corresponding view icon (Windows – with the ‘Views’ toolbar open) or press Cmd-1 to Cmd-6 (Mac) to switch between orthogonal views quickly.

Don’t be afraid to change the shading view often either. So switch away from ‘Shaded Textured’ to X-Ray or wireframe to see if there’s any pesky stray geometry inside your model. Use the Hidden Geometry option to reveal edges incorporated into curved faces (with this selected, individual facets of a curved face become selectable).


Note that you can change camera or shading type during a tool operation – handy if you’re zoning in on an area of complex geometry while drawing.

This leads me to the last and most important tip about the camera. Remember the early 3D video games where the camera would suddenly and disturbingly clip your character or a piece of scenery and you’d see ‘inside’ the model? Well don’t be afraid to do that on purpose in Sketchup. If you zoom in on a part enough, the camera will clip the geometry and you’ll be looking at the ‘inside’ of the model – the part normally occupied by whatever material the object will be printed from. You can use this ‘feature’ to your advantage and seek out stray or unnecessary geometry that might affect your upload success. This camera clipping only works when the ‘Perspective View’ is selected. If you get lost, use Ctrl-Shift-E (Windows) or Cmd-[ (Mac) to show the whole model.


It was suggested to me that the Section Plane tool does this too (and in a lot of ways, is easier to use!), but I guess I just prefer ‘walking’ through the model. Try both techniques and see what you prefer.


What’s This Fair Use Thing I Keep Hearing About?


This is the second in a series of posts about different types of rights that may be involved with models and files here at Shapeways.  Today we’re going to go a bit deeper into one aspect of one of those rights: fair use of copyright-protected work.

Before we begin, a quick note.  The posts in this series are written from a U.S. perspective.  Most of them are written in a way that the general concepts will apply in many (if not most) other countries.  That is probably the least true for an issue like fair use. While some other countries have similar concepts such as fair dealing, fair use tends to be a bit U.S. specific.  As is the case for all of the posts in this series, it is always a good idea to talk to a lawyer about your specific case.

Generally speaking, if you want to make a copy of all or part of a work that is protected by copyright you need to get permission from the person who owns that copyright (often referred to as the “rightsholder”).  But that is not always the case.  Sometimes you can make copies without permission because the copies you are making are protected by a concept in U.S. copyright law known as fair use.

Fair use is an important, although slightly complicated, aspect of copyright law.  Without fair use, a rightsholder could prevent a critic from quoting part of a work in a critical review, stop a news report from showing a clip of a controversial video, or interfere with fans reimagining characters from a favorite work of fiction.  Fundamentally, fair use is designed to make sure that copyright does not get in the way of free speech.

Applying that fundamental principle to any specific situation can be a bit complicated.  Fortunately, there are a number of great guides out there to try and help, from the Fair Use App from New Media Rights, to a massive collection of best practice guides from the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University, and Stanford University’s Copyright and Fair Use Center (just to name a few).  All of these resources build on the four elements that courts are supposed to consider in determining if a use is a fair use. These are written into U.S. copyright law.  Remember that these factors are weighed against each other, and that no single factor can determine if fair use applies.

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use in question is commercial in nature or nonprofit and educational;

This element looks at how a work protected by copyright is going to be used by someone else.  Generally speaking, uses that are noncommercial, critical, and/or educational will fare well in this element.  However, there are still plenty of commercial uses of copyright-protected works that can be protected by fair use (watch pretty much any segment on the Daily Show for an example).

2. The nature of the work being copied;

If the first element looks at the copy, this element looks at the work being copied and recognizes that some types of works are more likely to trigger fair use protection.  For example, a speech given by a political candidate is generally riper to be reproduced under the protection of fair use than a commercial television show.  Again, however, that general rule does not mean that commercial television shows are exempt from being remixed under fair use.

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion of the copied work that is used; and

Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, there is no “rule of thumb” for fair use, where as long as you use below X percent of a work of less than Y seconds of a clip you are protected.  This element looks at the amount of the source work that is used in the context of the new use in question.  It can be thought of as a rule of “take only what you need.”  Sometimes that is only a few words.  Other times it can be that the entire source work is needed to achieve the new use.

4. The impact that the copy has on the potential market value of the copied work.

This final element looks at how the new use impacts the source work economically.  If the new use directly competes with the original work in the marketplace, it may undermine its case for fair use.


When judges are trying to decide if a use is a fair use, they weigh the facts against all of these elements.  Importantly, these principles aren’t a straightforward checklist – sometimes fair use can be found when three of the principles cut against a finding of fair use but the fourth is particularly persuasive, and sometimes one or two of the principles do not even apply to the specific situation.

Where does this leave you?  First and foremost, fair use is real.  Not every use of a work protected by copyright requires permission, and fair use is like a muscle – the more it is used the stronger it gets.  Second, rightsholders – even ones acting in good faith – don’t always consider fair use as thoroughly as they should (or at all).  Don’t assume that just because you receive a copyright takedown notice that the rightsholder who sent that notice considered the fair use aspects of what you are doing.

That being said, fair use can be complicated.  Simply saying that “no infringement is intended” or not being able to get a license from a rightsholder does not give you fair use protection. Neither does simply wanting to use a work.  If you are going to claim fair use, make sure you understand the basics of how it works.  Take a look at some of the guides mentioned above to get a better sense of how the rules apply to situations similar to yours.  The exercise of coming up with answers for each of the four fair use elements can be incredibly helpful in understanding how fair use applies to a given situation.  Consider discussing your specific case with an attorney who can focus on and identify any important details.  This is doubly true if you are planning on asserting fair use in a formal legal context, such as a counternotice to a copyright takedown here at Shapeways.

Tips ‘n tricks for painting miniatures

Shapeways Shop owners Joris and Maurice of RailNScale share some advice on preparing and painting miniature models. This is an an abridged version of their tutorial found here.

Although 3D-print models do not differ so much from ‘ordinary’ kits, its rich details and material may cause surprises.

1. Check the model

Are all parts apparent and do the parts fit together properly? Please contact Shapeways  ( when the kit is incomplete or damaged.



2. Clean the model thoroughly

The 3D-print models will feel a bit greasy. In this condition the paint won’t attach properly. Therefore clean the parts thoroughly with dish washing liquid. Use warm water (max 70ºC/max 158ºF)). Let the parts soak for quite some time (3 – 6 hours). Meanwhile the water will turn cloudy. That’s the wax. Repeat this procedure if needed. In the end the the kit won’t feel greasy anymore and show an almost complete white colour. It is of utmost importance that the models are properly degreased – otherwise the paint will not stick! Small remainders can be removed with a swab or toothpick.

2a 2b
A better alternative is to use a hydrosonic cleaning machine. It is also possible to clean the models in acetone (max. 5 minutes). Please clean the model afterwards with water.

3. Polish if needed

If needed the kit can be polished gently with fine sand paper 400. Small bumps can also be polished with toothpaste and toothbrush.Please mind that you do not rub away the fine details.


4. General painting tips

The ordinary model kit paints can be used. Mix the paint properly. Apply only a thin layer of paint and let it dry for 6 hours. It is better to apply several thin layers of paint rather than one fat layer. It is best to dilute darker colours. Always start painting the deeper surfaces. The chassis can preferably be painted with heavily diluted matte paint first. The paint will creep in the deeper surfaces.
Usage of gloss paint should be avoided. Satin and matte paints will improve the looks of your kit.


5. Specific painting tips

If desired the interior can be painted too. Please mind that the material is semi-transparant. which means that the interior colour will be visible on the exterior too.Therefore apply the exterior colour first on the interior side. The second layer should be the final interior paint.
To improve the looks it is advised to paint the inner and ridges of the pillars in a dark grey or brown paint. This will make the pillars appear much slimmer.



The final step is painting details such as lamps, bumpers, striping, licence plates, etc.

Understanding Shapeways materials for scale models

Shapeways shop owner Dain Penman of MadasU shares some insights into choosing the right material for printing scale objects meant to be part of a larger train set.

When you are looking at a model to purchase, the material choices available can be confusing.  While some models are offered in only a single material, others are offered in multiple materials which have different characteristics.  Where a model is only offered in one material, sometimes you want to understand why.  Let’s explore the main material options used for scale models:


HO scale 44-gallon drum groups

HO scale 44-gallon drum groups

Strong and flexible plastic – this plastic comes in a variety of colors and finishes.  The finishes available are unpolished which is only black and white or polished which includes white and a range of seven great colors.  This material is fairly flexible, depending on thickness but quite strong.  The finish does show print lines or ‘stepping’ although this can generally be taken care of with some post-production light sanding and painting.  This can be seen in the barrels.



1000 gallon watertank (HO)

Metallic plastics – available in both polished and unpolished. Very similar to strong and flexible plastic, although comes in a metallic finish.  This can be great when the model is either entirely or in part based on a metal prototype as you won’t need to paint the model before placing it.  Have a look at the corrugated iron water tank for an example of metallic plastic.



Scale HO luggage set

Acrylic plastics (black, white and transparent) – These are more detailed plastics than the strong and flexible plastics, but still have thicker wall requirements.  So they are good for showing surface detail on a model, but not good for fine pieces like thin walls or wires.



Four single station lights (HO scale)

Frosted detail plastics – the two frosted detail plastics (ultra and extreme) allow for the finest level of detail, with the smallest thicknesses of any product.  This makes the material perfect for models with a lot of fine detail including thin walls or wires.  While these models look great raw, they will need to be painted for a realistic effect.  This material is the most expensive in terms of volume, but allows for finer details and thinner walls so the models are not necessarily more expensive.


So which material is best?  The answer to this is entirely dependant on the model and how it was designed.  Firstly, have a look if multiple options are available as often the designer will make the choice on your behalf.  This will usually be a balance between the design and the cost, with the quality of the design the most important of the two.  If you do have a choice, look at the price of each material as there are no absolutes with pricing.  Some of my models are cheaper in the more expensive materials!  Now you can compare the qualities of the different materials and determine the best choice!

Sketchup tips from Steven Gray: Part 1, scaling and measuring

Shapeways Shop owner Steven Gray of MyGadgetLife shares some advice for designing with the amazing free design tool Sketchup. 

Sketchup Make is a great free tool for getting into 3D printing. And the export output is compatible with ‎Shapeways!

So here I’ve put together a few tips that I discovered along the way that will help you big time on the road to your first 3D print.


1. Choose the right template. Sketchup will prompt you to choose a template the first time you start it. This choice is remembered on subsequent sessions (but it can be changed) – and there’s even one for 3D printing! But I wouldn’t select this template, preferring at first to have a completely clean canvas to work from. So what’s the best template to choose? Personally I go for the woodworking template. It offers a neutral background, no horizon and clean corners (choose an architectural template to see what I mean).

If you want to change the template, go to the Window>Preferences>Template (Windows) or Sketchup>Preferences>Template (Mac) and pick another one. The chosen template will activate on the next new window opened, so you can’t update an existing design to different template. But (top tip) you can cut and paste objects from designs using a particular template to another window with a different template.


2. Use the metric system. Of course I’m in the UK so we use metric anyway, but seriously, if you’re not already, why not? It will improve [your 3D printing] life immeasurably (no pun intended!).


3. So you’re using metric? Good job! Now think 1000x times bigger! The thing is, ‎Sketchup is/was aimed at the building design sector, and as such it’s accuracy starts to break down when you begin to work with sub-millimeter values. The solution is to work in *metres*! That’s right, for every mm multiply by 1000 – Sketchup can handle it.


In fact when I’m designing I don’t think in dimensions as such, rather than units of measure. So half a mm is 500 units in my Sketchup model. 10cm would be 10000. And so on. (Don’t get confused by rotation – 90 degrees is still 90 degrees, no scaling here!)

The great thing about this scheme is that when you go to upload your model to Shapeways, all you have to do is choose ‘millimetres’ as the scale and, boom, the systems Shapeways use scales the model to the correct size. You will not receive a 20 meter diameter ring in the post!

4. Type in your dimensions. When you start a line with the pencil tool, or begin a circle, you’ll quickly notice the cursor ‘sticks’ to one of the axes (this is the Sketchup ‘inference engine’ at work). Once Sketchup ‘knows’ which direction you’re taking the line, just start typing in the dimension – it will appear in dimension field at the bottom right of the window. The same approach works for moving, rotation and scaling, the push/pull and offset tools – just type the value you require, then press Enter.


5. While talking dimensions, use the measure/guide tool often to get a handle on wall thickness, separation distances etc. If you’re having trouble getting the tool to ‘stick’ to one of the axes, or perhaps you’re trying to measure from reference point, hit a cursor key on your keyboard – this has the effect of constraining the tool to an axis. (You can use this constrain tip in other situations where you need a tool to ‘stick’ to an axis.) The keys are left – green axis(Y); up/down – blue axis(Z); right – red axis(X).


Q: What Brings Cheerleaders and 3D Printing Together?

Image courtesy petful.

A: Copyright law, of course.

There is a new legal decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States that brings together cheerleading uniforms and 3D printing.  It isn’t a game changer – the decision doesn’t fundamentally rewrite legal rules – but it does shed some light on what is likely to be one of the thorniest issues around 3D printing and intellectual property law: a copyright concept known as severability.  The question addressed by the court was seemingly straightforward: are the decorations on cheerleading uniforms a critical part of their functionality?  The way the court found an answer to that question will help us understand what types of 3D printed things are – and are not – protected by copyright.

I clicked on the link but now am thinking I don’t want to read all of this: what’s the short version?

Severability is the test that US courts use to figure out which parts of things that are both functional and decorative can be protected by copyright (if any).  There is now a new test to determine this in part of the United States.  The test itself (arguably the tenth test currently being used) doesn’t bring a lot more clarity to the issue, but is an excuse to walk through how all of this works.  Most of this blog post just explains how the court applied the test in this one case.

Still with me?  Let’s go!

Background Point 1: Useful vs. Creative

As explained in the Introduction to Rights and Protections post, there is something of a divide between objects that are eligible for copyright protection and objects that are eligible for patent protection.  Creative objects can get copyright protection while functional objects can get patent protection.  In theory these two categories are mutually exclusive.  In practice, some objects can be a little bit of both.  Courts use “severability” to try and determine if the mixed elements of a single object can be separated out and protected individually.

Oh, and as a general matter clothing and uniforms are considered a functional object – they keep you warm and not naked.

Background Point 2: Severability


While a lamp is a useful article, the leg sculpture that forms the base of the lamp can be severed (both physically and conceptually) from the lamp’s utilitarian function and given independent copyright protection. Image from flickr user Spider.Dog.

Severability is key to understanding copyright protection in objects that mix functional with non-functional items.  As a general rule, functional items do not get copyright protection. However, if a court can sever non-functional elements from functional elements, those non-functional elements can be protected by copyright.  This severability can be “physical” (because the parts can be physically separated from each other) or “conceptual” (because the parts can be conceived of separately from each other).  All of this stuff is covered in more detail in the What’s the Deal with Copyright and 3D Printing? whitepaper.

Enough – What is This Case About?

The uniforms in question.

The uniforms in question.

Cheerleader uniforms.  A company named Varsity Spirit designs and sells cheerleader uniforms.  Their uniforms include colors, stripes, chevrons, and other patterns.  Star Athletica makes cheerleader uniforms with similar combinations of colors, stripes, chevrons, and other patterns.  Varsity accused Star of copying their uniforms and brought a copyright suit against Star.  Star responded that it could not infringe on Varisty’s copyright because the patterns on the uniform where not eligible for copyright protection.

Essentially, Star said that Varsity’s patterns were functional parts of the cheerleader uniform.  They helped mark the uniform as a cheerleader uniform as opposed to, say, just a pleated skirt and tank top.

That’s what makes this a severability case.  Varsity says that the patterns are severable from the utilitarian uniforms and therefore should be eligible for copyright protection.  Star says that the patterns are a core part of the uniforms which cannot be severed – and therefore cannot be protected by copyright.

How Did the Court Work Through This?

Severability is easy(ish) to explain but hard to apply in specific circumstances.  After noting that there are at least nine (listed on pages 17-19 of the opinion) different tests of severability in use, the court decided to come up with its own 5(ish) part test.

  • Part 1: Is the design in question something that could be protected by copyright?

Yes. In this case the court decided that the work Varsity registered with the Copyright Office was a “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, ” which is the type of thing protectable by copyright.

  • Part 2: Is the design of a useful article?

Again yes.  Uniforms are a useful article. Their use is to “cover the body, wick away moisture, and withstand the rigors of athletic movements.”

  • Part 3: What are the useful aspects of the article?  Importantly, “conveying information” doesn’t count as a use.

The court decided that the designs on the uniforms were primary intended to convey to people that it was a cheerleader uniform.  Unfortunately for Star, in this court’s opinion “conveying information” like that doesn’t qualify as a useful purpose.  I think it is fair to say that this is not a universally held opinion among courts.

  • Part 4: Can the viewer of the design identify the artistic features separately from the useful features?

The court found that it could.  The designs on the uniforms did nothing to help cover the body, wick away moisture, or withstand the rigors of athletic movement.  As such, they were unrelated to the core functionality of the uniform.  This is where the answer to part 3, and how you define the functional elements of the uniform at the start of the analysis, becomes important.  Once the court decided that helping to identify a uniform as a cheerleader uniform didn’t count as a useful function, it was hard for them to find any other way.

  • Part 5: Can the designs exist independently of the useful object?

This question is really the core of the analysis and, truth be told, the first four parts don’t help answer it very well.  The court walked through a bunch of sub-questions to try and answer this part.  Ultimately they decided that the same designs could exist independently of the uniform and could, for example, be transferred onto things like jackets or pants (or a framed wall hanging).

As a result of all of this, the court found that the designs were severable from the uniforms and therefore were protectable by copyright.

What Does All of This Have to do with 3D Printing Again?

Can the dog feet on this otherwise functional cup by squidbear be severed and protected independently by copyright?

Although this case was about uniforms, it isn’t hard to imagine applying the same analysis to 3D printed dog cups or tea light holders.  Understanding if a 3D printed object is protected by copyright becomes an important question if someone is copying it without permission.  If the object is protected by copyright, that copying may be infringement.  If the object isn’t protected by copyright, there may not be very much the designer can do.  When you are thinking about building on some existing 3D model (or someone has built upon or copied your model) it is important to have a sense of how it may and may not be protected by copyright.

And if you think that this all feels a bit too complicated you are not alone.  In a dissent, Justice McKeague reflected upon the multitude of ways that someone could think about severability and declared that “the law in this area is a mess.”  He then went on – with some reason – to call on either the Supreme Court or Congress to straighten all of this out.  While severability remains important, until either the Supreme Court or Congress clarifies some  things, actually applying it is going to remain a challenge.

Super Copyright + Administrative Law Nerd Bonus

The court declined to grant the Copyright Office’s decision to register the works Chevron deference as to whether or not the designs were copyrightable.  That’s one more example of how the Copyright Office isn’t really an administrative agency with actual rulemaking authority.  If this paragraph is gobbledygook to you, you can safely ignore it and go on with your life.

3D Printed Steel Frequently Asked Questions Explained (Video)

One of our community’s favorite materials that Shapeways offers is our 3D printed stainless steel. We often get commonly asked questions that aren’t often easily explained for those without a technical or material science background. In order to better explain and educate the community about our steel material to help you guys better design your products, we’ve partnered with our steel 3D printing manufacturing partner ExOne to put together a few educational videos explaining the steel 3D printing process and commonly asked questions.

In this video ExOne technician Brandon Cary answers FAQs on our steel material.

This video demonstrates the process and technology involved in creating 3D printed steel parts.

We hope that you find these videos valuable and that they provide you with insight on the process and technology involved in creating your 3D printed steel parts. We plan to continue to creating useful and educational resources like these for the community.

Introduction to Rights and Protections



Shapeways designers create a mindboggling array of objects every day.  This diversity fosters a vibrant Shapeways community and makes Shapeways shops exciting places to explore. It also means that models on Shapeways can potentially involve a number of different types of intellectual property and other rights.

Sometimes this rich diversity of rights can be a bit confusing and overwhelming.  In an attempt to bring a bit of order to the rights chaos, today we’re kicking off a series of blog posts that try to briefly describe a handful of types of rights that might touch upon models on Shapeways.  Today’s post will cover the high level basics.  Future posts – they’ll be coming up every fortnight or so – will dive a bit deeper into issues raised by these rights.  We’ll link to all of them from this post in the future so you can find them all in one place.  While these posts are grounded in the laws as they exist in the United States, in most cases the general principles apply to many (if not most) countries.

(If you want a slightly more in depth – but still written for designers who are not lawyers – explanation for how all of these things fit together, you might want to check out these three whitepapers).

((This series is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. This area of law tends to be maddeningly fact-specific, so if you have a specific question it is always wise to talk to a lawyer who understands your circumstances.))


A drawing of a pig dancing with children is protectable by copyright.

A drawing of a pig dancing with children is protectable by copyright.

If you are familiar with one kind of intellectual property right, it is probably copyright.  Copyright is designed to be an incentive to produce artistic, creative things.  Here on Shapeways that can mean things like sculptures, figurines, and jewelry.  Importantly, copyright generally does not protect functional items like mechanical parts or brackets and connectors (those are the domain of patents, described below).

You do not need to apply for a copyright in order to have copyright protection (although there are advantages to registering – something that you can do here.). As long as the thing you have created is of a type that is eligible for copyright protection, it is protected by copyright from the moment it exists.  Copyright protection will generally last for the life of the author plus 70 years after her death.  Copyright also allows for independent creation – if two people come up with identical models without copying each other, each one gets their own copyright protection for their model.

Copyright mostly governs the making of copies of a protected item (that’s where the “copy” in copyright comes from).  Traditionally this focused mostly on ‘literal’ copying, like making an exact copy of an entire book or origami crane skeleton.  However, copyright also governs the creation of ‘derivative’ works. These aren’t necessarily exactly copies, but rather are copies that are derived from some protected work. A classic example of this is creating a “copy” of a book by turning it into a movie.  There are important exceptions to these general rules (fair use probably being the best known) that we will cover in future blog posts.



A dynamo is the kind of invention that is protectable by patent.

Patent is designed to be an incentive to produce “functional” innovations.  Contrast this with copyright – those mechanical parts, brackets, and connectors that I said were not eligible for copyright protection are the types of things eligible for patent protection.

Also in contrast with copyright, you do not get a patent automatically just for creating something that is functional and original.  You need to apply for a patent in order to get patent protection.  If you get it, that patent protection generally lasts for 20 years.  Unlike copyright, patent law does not allow for independent creation. That means that once you have a patent, anyone who practices that patent will infringe upon your patent even if they didn’t know about it beforehand.

Generally speaking, someone infringes on your patent by “practicing it” – that is, doing what the patent describes – without your permission.


You can trust Aspinall to sell a product that is "absolutely non-poisonous" so look for their trademark on the bottle.

You can trust Aspinall to sell a product that is “absolutely non-poisonous” so look for their trademark on the bottle.

Copyright and patent are both awarded as incentives to create and share innovation.  While trademark is often lumped in with copyright and patent as “intellectual property,” its purpose is quite different.  Trademark is all about consumer protection.  When you see a trademark on a product, that trademark means that the trademark owner stands behind the product.

As a result of this different purpose, trademark rules can feel very different from copyright and patent rules.  In copyright and patent, infringement usually comes in the form of copying or using the protected creation.  In trademark, infringement is usually judged by a “likelihood of confusion” standard: is it likely that a given use of a trademark would confuse a consumer into thinking that the trademark owner is standing behind the use?  Does the use make it seem like the object is from or endorsed by the trademark holder?  If so, the use may be infringing on the trademark.

Right of Publicity

TR might not like it, but as a public, newsworthy figure Puck is not violating his right of publicity even when they use his image to sell magazines.

TR might not like it, but as a public, newsworthy figure Puck is not violating his right of publicity even when they use his image to sell magazines.

Right of publicity is also a bit out of the intellectual property mainstream, but it is worth mentioning here.  Right of publicity is all about being able to control how your image is used commercially. In the US it is based in the right of privacy.  Generally speaking, if you are leveraging someone’s identity for commercial gain you may be infringing on their rights of publicity.

There is at least one noteworthy exception to this general rule.  In the United States we don’t want the right of publicity to smother the type of free expression protected by the First Amendment.  As a result, the more you are using someone’s likeness to comment on or criticize them – and this is especially true if that someone is a public figure – the less likely you are to be infringing on their right of publicity.

Just an Introduction

This post is designed to be an introduction to some of these concepts and, as a result, just scratches their surface.  It leaves a lot of things out that may or may not be relevant to a specific case.  Some of those things will be addressed in posts further into this series.

If there are issues that you would like addressed in future posts let me know in the comments or on twitter @MWeinberg2D.  We can’t address specific legal disputes, but we can explain how some of these pieces fit together.

3D printing custom trachea stents

Shapeways offers the chance for designers of all kinds to turn their ideas into reality – be that in the world of tech accessories, fashion innovation, art and design, and in this case, the medical world.

A group of clinicians, architects and engineers teamed together to create 3D printed traechea stents unique to the patient. We spoke with Noah Garcia who is working with Harvard doctors and MIT material specialists to spearhead this new world for airway stents. Starting off with CT scans, the engineers initially started with Formlab printers, but the lack of biocompatible material lead them to Shapeways. While we do not offer 3D printed biocompatible material, our castable wax offering allows the team to create molds that can be used for casting the necessary biocompatible materials. It’s really amazing to see this process – from the files to prototypes to a final wax version, it’s truly amazing to see how innovative this team is. The team has even offered a bronze “pendant” for fun!


How long have you (and/or members of your team) been in the medical field?
Most of our team has spent the majority of their academic and professional careers in the medical field, while other members of our team have had no medical experience at all. The process of creating custom stents required building a unique collaboration between clinicians, architects and engineers. Our clinical team knows a great deal about biology, physiology, and medical pathology, but little about 3D fabrication/computation, while our architects and engineers know a great deal about 3D fabrication, but little about biology. The crossbreeding of the medical and artistic professions is what has made this project possible. Our team includes George Cheng MD PhD, Erik Folch MD, Sebastian Ochoa MD, Mark Tibbitt PhD, Adam Wilson MS, Noah Garcia BArch, Robert Brik MS, Sidhu Gangadharan MD, and Adnan Majid MD. Dr. George Cheng is a clinician specializing in pulmonary medicine and has been leading this project.

How did you involve 3D printing in your practices? When did that begin?
Dr. Cheng first became interested in the possibilities of 3D printing after reading a 2013 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that detailed how researchers implanted a 3D printed tracheal splint into a pediatric patient with a collapsed airway. He believed that data from a CT scan of the chest could guide the production of airway stents or other airway prostheses. The research efforts were supported by Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology. The origin of the project was further documented in a Boston Globe article last year. Dr. Cheng recognized an opportunity to employ 3D printing technology as means to customize the trachea stents. Traditional stents are rudimentary extrusions, which do not fully represent the specific shape of a person’s airway. Airway obstruction from stenosis, malacia, or extrinsic compression can result in significant respiratory symptoms and decrease in patient’s quality of life. In recognizing that traditional stents may lead to significant complications, Dr.Cheng hypothesized ways to customize and optimize the forms. Traditional airway stents are made of silicone, metal, or hybrid materials, and are limited by their cost and complications. Common complications such as migration and granulation tissue formation may be related to inaccurate stent size and shape. Dr. Cheng and his team developed a workflow using CT scanners to extract 3D models of a patient’s trachea to guide the design of custom stent matched to the individual’s airway. The resulting 3D prints are anatomically accurate seamless surfaces, diagonal grids and circumscribed double ­helixes that follow the contours of a patient’s airway.

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From top left to bottom right, beginning with the CT scan model and ending with 3D prints. The CT scan is manipulated with Rhino and parametric modeling plug-ins. The inner surfaces of the trachea are isolated, a diagonal grid is mapped to the surface and the resulting diagrid is exported as a printable file.

Did you know how to 3D model prior to this project?
The engineers, architects and artists on our team are primarily experienced in digital computation for architectural and sculptural design. The clinicians, on the other hand, are experienced with producing 3D models from CT scanners. By bringing together these two worlds of art and science, we are able to achieve significant 3D modeling possibilities. There were scale and tolerance challenges to address when translating from digital models to 3D prints with certain materials, but we are continually making discoveries during the process. Our current challenge is to use the 3D printed forms to create molds and armatures that can support biocompatible materials. Shapeways’ castable wax material has us hopeful of achieving our goal. We’d hope to one day print in our biocompatible materials directly, but until then, we are limited by the available 3D printable materials. Our ideas are ahead of us in many ways, but we are excited to be learning and exploring the unknown.

Why tracheas? Will you experiment with more areas of the body?
The clinicians on our team specialize in pulmonary care and sub­specializes in the field of interventional pulmonology. One of the major disease entity they encounter is large central airway disease. Trachea stents can be deployed into and removed from an airway through minimal­ invasive procedures in a relatively short amount of time. As compared to a heart stent, which is much smaller and more dynamic, a tracheal stent has fewer variables with easier methods to control. Using the tracheal stent as a starting point, we are considering how our process might be applied to other areas of the body. For now, we are aiming to perfect the trachea stent and then explore how our methods can impact other parts of the body.

It’s fascinating to see and learn more about how 3D printing and the medical world are combining forces. Thank you for such a wonderful interview, Noah! Check out the pendant below, and let us know if you have a medical story to share with us in the comments below or by emailing community @



Ashley Zelinskie’s world where things made of code are made of things are made with code….

C0DE DENS1TY is a collaborative, multi-media show presented by Lightbox, a gallery Space in New York City from July 23- 26. The show highlights work by Shapeways community member Ashley Zelinskie. Zelinskie creates sculpture which are made of numbers drawn from the code of the design file itself. Her work explores the process by which the objects are transformed from numerical data into physical objects through digital fabrication. The code that defines and creates the object becomes part of its physical manifestation…

…its a pretty mind-blowing concept.

The show itself is an immersive experience bringing viewers into the brackish waters of technology and art. Sparse, geometric objects ranging from monumental to palm sized are displayed throughout the space while nearly every inch of wall is used for a projected video that loops geometric imagery as it builds to a frantic pace and glitches out into nothingness. On the second story loft area a small 3d printer farm reproduces out miniatures of the work.

Faces made of 3D printed plastic are part of the show’s vocabulary as well. An interactive piece has several white masks displayed with light projected onto them. Visitors are encouraged to touch the masks, doing so causes the projection to animate boxes emitting out as if from underneath them.

On of the most interesting pieces is also the most personal. A 3D printed portrait of Zelinskie created with 3D scanning, the surface is constructed from a portion of her own DNA.

Zelinskie’s futurist universe invites the viewer to both question how the objects are made and what the implicates are of a world where data and matter can become interchangeable. Far from a dry series of formulas simplified beyond human comprehension, the vision of the Singularity posited by C0de Dens1ty is like stepping into a thunderstorm of information.


Photos: by Ashley Zelinskie.

Developing 3D Printed Assistive Tools For The Elderly

As we age and get older, especially for the elderly, ordinary actions become extraordinarily difficult such as writing, typing, or opening bottle caps. Japanese Designer Tatsuo Ishibashi was aware of these issues and has created 3D printed products aimed for assisting the elderly and people with a loss in muscular functioning.

Tatsuo’s Shapeways shop mizulabo specializes in “assistive technology”, simple and functional designs that lead to lightweight, low cost, and easy handling of functional activities. He models his designs in 123 Design by Autodesk and prints them through Shapeways. Below are some examples of his tools.

The writing assist tool is a tool for helping people write with a ballpoint pen.

Higaki” is the tool to remove caps and tabs from a plastic bottle and a can easily.

The Finger Input device is a for device for making tapping PC keyboard, remote controller, etc easier.

Tatsuo’s designs show that 3D printing can be used to make very attractive tools for assisting people and functional tools can be aesthetically pleasing and useful. What are some attractive 3D printed tools you’ve designed or come across? Let us know in a comment below.

Behind the product: Wimbledon edition!

Posted by in 3D Modeling, Shop Owner

We talk a lot about inspiration at Shapeways because we’re interested in knowing how the amazing designs we see come to be. Whether it’s an idea that’s been brewing for months or something that just came to you in your sleep, we want to know the story!

Recently, we were introduced to Rob Bartlett of Caxton Rhode. His recent designs were inspired by Wimbledon, and we caught up with him after the tournament to find out more.

Who are you/where are you located?

My name is Rob Bartlett and I am the Creative Director & Designer at Caxton Rhode in Wimbledon. I live in South West London, England.

What is the inspiration and story behind the designs?

Being based in the same town as the most prestigious tennis tournament on Earth, is a great privilege. As my entire business is based around creating exclusive one-of-a-kind designs, I set myself the challenge of designing something Wimbledon related for each of the final seven days of the event.

Please describe the process you use to create the final product.

All of my early ideas start life as a series of hand drawn sketches. I am strong believer in having a solid story in place first, prior to attempting to develop anything further. As this particular design challenge was centered around a very recognizable event, there were already a host of ready-made icons to focus in on. The end products themselves (a tennis racquet bottle opener and strawberry cocktail stirrer) were chosen partly because of their wider summertime connotations, but also because I was thinking consciously about the printable materials and their size constraints. (They also just happen to be really beautiful looking objects too).


How did you learn to design in 3D?

I taught myself this time last year (July 2014). I was staging a return to Tent London, a trade show during London Design Week and wanted a statement piece to sit amid my interior design scheme. 3D printing was the big thing last summer and so I decided to create (and had Shapeways print) a fully functional lampshade for the show. I have always been fascinated with 3D and often dabbled during my 18 years in graphic design. However, it always seemed a graphics package too far. Of course, it is amazing what the looming deadline of a show will force you to do.


Who are some of your favorite designers or artists. Has anyone on Shapeways inspired you?

In terms of traditional media, I am lifelong William Morris and Ukiyo-e superfan. I love design and designers that make you stop dead in your tracks and question, just how on Earth they managed to do the things they did. Especially in context of the time in which they lived.

In terms of designers with their products on Shapeways, Bathsheba’s Klein Bottle Opener is a future Design Museum piece to my eyes. It is a modern classic and the first 3D printed piece I saw and suddenly understood the magnificence of this emerging media.

What opportunities do you believe printing in 3D brings to artists. How is that demonstrated in your work?

I truly believe that 3D printing (and other emerging manufacturing techniques) will have a profound affect on every aspect of our lives. I encourage all of my clients to celebrate personal taste and being able to design and produce products for their own exclusive use is extraordinary. This is without doubt the next golden age in design and the most incredible thing for me, is that we are only just approaching the starting line. When you look back at figures like Morris, you quickly realize that he was someone pioneering completely new techniques and charting new ground in his time. Great design isn’t about standing still and feeling nostalgic. It is and always has been about progress. I genuinely feel that we owe it to the craftsmen and women of the past to do something worthy during our time in charge.

Do you have other 3D printing objects in mind?

3D and 3D printing for me is an integral part of my designers toolkit. Every time a new material is released or a process improved, I instantly start thinking about ways of putting it to use. I am patiently waiting for a ‘multi material, single print’ process to emerge in order to really bring a number of ideas to life.

How did you first hear of 3D printing?

I have been aware of it for years but in all honesty, it was Shapeways that made it make sense to me. I think it is now something that most people have heard of and understand to be possible, but are still yet to experience it’s potential.

Thanks so much for your time, Rob! Be sure to check out more of his work and inspiration over here.

Behind the Product: Glass Vase Mold

Today we’re showcasing Tim Belliveau, a glassblower, digital artist, illustrator, teacher, and business owner. Tim’s creativity and capacity to bring together 3D printing and glassblowing has proven to be a success and this can be seen in his newest work of 3D printed steel molds used to create hand blown glass vases.  We asked him a few questions about the story behind his work, the creation process, and what he sees for the future.

Who are you? Where are you located?

My name is Tim Belliveau, my current home is Montreal.


What is the inspiration and story behind your designs?

Well, the glass piece is a graduate research project in material research from Hexagram at Concordia so I’ll try not to be too wordy. About 2,000 years ago, Roman glassblowers started figuring out how to blow glass into molds and we still use a lot of the same techniques in glass today. I’ve been a glassblower for about 10 years and have been trying to figure out a way to form hot glass with 3D printing and I thought of making molds like the Roman ones. I went to see an exhibition on ancient Roman glass at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York this spring. That exhibit really highlighted the technology of the first century and how the glass is a record of the innovations at the time. I wanted to do something like that with the technologies of today and have tool marks from the mold on the glass too. You can even kind of see the deposition layers on the glass from the 3D printed bronze if you’re nerdy enough to look for them. Since my vase was born from a computer basically, I thought it made sense to have it faceted and kind of low-res-looking but about the same scale as the old Roman ones.

What was the process you used to create your final pieces?

I made the mold in 3D software and tried to get it as thin as possible. I sent that file to Shapeways to be 3D-printed in bronze. Once I got the mold in the mail, I hired another glass artist, Armel Desrues to assist me at Espace Verre studio in Montréal; he held the mold in place while I would gather hot glass, make a small bubble and then inflate it in the mold. The whole process is pretty finicky; I broke a bunch of glass trying to get it right, but eventually it started working and we finished a small batch of glass pieces. Most glasswork requires assistance and teamwork so its great to have that in the studio since 3D modeling can be so solitary.

Was it necessary to post process your mold before use?

I didn’t have to do anything else to the mold which is great because I’m trying to keep this practice minimal by doing it all from my laptop. There’s something surreal about getting a 3D printed glass mold in the mail and then just walking down the street to make glass pieces from it.


Are others in the glass community using 3D printing?

There are lots of interesting projects popping up in the glass community and some that have been around for a while. I’m going to assist with a class led by Fred Metz and team at the Pilchuck Glass School this summer; its focused on interactions between 3D printing and glass. Sometimes 3D printed positives in plastic/wax are used to make a negative mold that fills with glass later in a kiln but there are lots of techniques.

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How are molds for glass blowing typically created? Was 3d printing beneficial to this process?

For this kind of glass blow-mold the ancient way to do it is to make it by hand out of clay/ ceramic. The industrial revolution way was to cast metals (usually very thick) into molds. You can also use carved wood that has been soaked in water for a few days but those degrade faster and don’t have great detail, same with plaster molds- they’ll give you a few good glass pieces but nothing like the consistency of a metal mold. What impressed me with this process was how I could do everything from my laptop and the mailed pieces were ready to use. Its still very strange to me when I finally get to hold a 3D print that I sculpted but never touched until its done. I also have a lot of control over mold thickness and detail so I was able to get away with using very little material for this mold.

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Looking back on modeling your mold and creating your glass-blown vase, what were some integral steps?

You have to be careful about having undercuts as with any mold-then it just gets stuck and won’t open when the glass goes in. Obviously you have to know the 3D software pretty well to do this kind of thing too. in the glass shop, a good assistant is pretty important too, so again, working with Armel was great.

For the next mold, what would you do differently? The same?

I’m hoping to use ceramic/ porcelain for the next piece; which is nice because it leaves a smoother surface on the glass than bronze does. I learned in this project that the glass can get a lot of detail out of the mold so there are lots of possibilities. I want to work a lot bigger of course but I’m not sure the next thing will look like this. I have a short attention span and change my ideas often.

What were your greatest feats throughout each of the production steps?

I took a risk printing as thin as I did, the glass heat can warp metal sometimes or stick, but I did something right, there. Blender wasn’t originally designed for 3D printing as far as I know so getting accurate dimensions are difficult in parts of the modeling. Glassblowing is a skill that takes years to acquire so combining that with all of these recent developments in 3D printing presented a big enough feat to keep me interested.


Who are some of your favorite designers or artists? Who on Shapeways has inspired you?

I saw an excellent talk by Del Harrow last year. I’ve also been following the 3D printed work of Caspar Berger and Sophie Kahn (I don’t yet know many artists who work with Shapeways). In a bit of a different direction, I’ve been really interested in some of the work and theory Hito Steyerl is doing with digital media too.

How did you first hear of 3D printing?

A friend of mine told me about Shapeways at a party a few years ago; it sounded like the future and I like the future.

How did you learn to design in 3D?

I taught myself from online tutorials. The tutorials are mostly made by kids half my age and way smarter than me. Its humbling!

Do you have a preference in modeling software?

I mostly use Blender for a few reasons. One, is that its free and I work in the arts so I can share it more easily and download or teach it anywhere. The other great thing about Blender is that I can use it for modelling, printing and animation; the extra features needed are usually free plug-ins and the standard render (cycles) engine is kinda nice. Blender does have its limits though, so I have to come up with work-arounds for some of the ideas I want to do in the program. I started in Truespace years ago which isn’t around anymore and then got into Sketchup when it came out; I’ve also dabbled in Cinema 4D, Rhino and 3DS Max and currently I’m playing with some of Autodesk’s mesh repair and layer-cutting software.

What opportunities do you believe 3D printing brings to artists? How is that demonstrated in your work?

My work goes back and forth between objects that I make physically and art work that exist visually instead, which is sometimes hard to decide on. 3D printing is in a phase where it is expanding into all kinds of art and craft practices; its pretty novel now but in time I think it will fall into place with all kinds of other tools we’ve adopted over the years. I hope my work lands uncomfortably between looking handmade and digital – then it would be demonstrating the opportunities in 3D print. A lot of the things I build in 3D are full-scale large sculptures but I can work on them anywhere and store them for free. I think that’s also a big opportunity with this medium.

Do you have other 3D printing projects in mind?

Yes but I have an intense superstition about talking about new work until its done so I have to be secretive! A lot of the other work I’ve been experimenting with though is laser-cut as 2D layers and assembled into 3D sculptures after. Some of my upcoming work is using that process as well.

For more work by Tim:

You can check out his site here:

Or through his collaborative art studio, Bee Kingdom Glass, alongside Phillip Bandura and Ryan Fairweather.

If you are in the Calgary area you can find Tim’s work showing in the ‘Magical Thinking’ exhibition at the Ruberto Ostberg Gallery this fall.