Have you ever wanted to see inside our 3D Printing Factory here in Long Island City, Queens, New York? Thanks to hyperlapse, now you can, in less than :40 .
Hope you enjoyed it!
What are you modeling this Fall weekend?
Have you ever wanted to see inside our 3D Printing Factory here in Long Island City, Queens, New York? Thanks to hyperlapse, now you can, in less than :40 .
Hope you enjoyed it!
What are you modeling this Fall weekend?
At Shapeways we’re accustomed to seeing incredible 3D printed designs and DIY projects using Shapeways 3D printing. Today we wanted to highlight a nature inspired 3D printed animatronic Bee project by designer Jonny Poole of innerbreedFX. Jonny was contacted by his local bee sanctuary seeking to add some animatronics to their tour.
Jonny took it upon himself to take advantage of Shapeways 3D printing and SLS technology to design a fully articulated Bee using the Shapeways strong and flexible nylon material. Here are some photos of from project.
3D modeling of the Bee design
Animatronic Bee fully articulated printed in nylon plastic
The wings were printed in Fine Ultra Detail
The final result of the Bee! You can purchase the articulated honey bee on Jonny’s shop here.
We’ve noticed a few amazing 3D printed insect designs on Shapeways. For example check out the articulated mantis by designer Brian Chan and the Bee Keeper Chess set by designer Ricky McRae. Do you have a DIY project you’re working on that you want to share with the community? We’d love to see it, share it on the “Work In Progress” section of our forums here.
Today we have some awesome news to share. After almost four years in our factory and office in Eindhoven we are moving to a new location! It’s much bigger, even more amazing, and in the center of the city!
Want to see it? You can! We have teamed up with Dutch Design Week to celebrate the opening! We’re offering public tours of the factory from Tuesday, 21 October – Friday, 24 October so you can check it out yourself.
Some background: when we first moved to our current location in 2010 it was a great step up from our first office at the High Tech Campus. The office was bigger (although we were sharing with two other companies) and we had a massive space for our own distribution center. We even had plenty of space for our own printers.
Now, we have grown out of the current space. After adding 30 people to the team, many tables to our distribution center, and 12 3D printers we are in need of something even bigger!
What we wanted for our new office and factory was a great location to enable even more community members to visit, more space for our office, and plenty of room to expand. We have found it! The new Shapeways factory is right in the middle of Eindhoven on the Kanaaldijk, has plenty of space, and the location has quite some history. It started as a DAF trucks factory, then it was used as one of the offices of Diesel jeans, and most recently by a marketing company. With such a colorful mix of history we feel right at home.
Over the last three months our team in Eindhoven and the landlord and his team – thanks Bob – have moved mountains. The factory is now in use! We’re still moving in some equipment but we’re almost done.
Looking back I can still remember when we moved in to our previous location. It gives me the perspective to see what can be accomplished in just four years. I can’t wait for the next four.
Are you interested? To visit the factory during Dutch Design Week, go to our meetup page and sign up!
It is with great excitement that we announce that there are now more than 20,000 Shops open in the Shapeways marketplace! WOOHOO! Cheers to you! This is truly an inspiring milestone for all of us here at Shapeways.
Shapeways set off a mission to help people make the products they actually wanted over six years ago. After seeing the design potential and talent in our community, we knew there had to be more people who would appreciate and value your work. Since then, our marketplace has matured into an entrepreneurial ecosystem of Shop Owners. Everyday we work hard to give you the tools and the exposure that you need and deserve to build your 3D Printing business.
Our Shop Owner community has doubled over the last 15 months! When I started working at Shapeways in May of 2013, we were just crossing the 10,000 Shops mark; to think we’re now over 20,000 is incredible. It’s thrilling to see more and more artists, designers and entrepreneurs making money off sharing their 3D printed creations with the world.
Congratulations! Pat your self on the back! You’re a valued member of the largest community of creatives innovating in 3D printing. We are proud and grateful to call you a Shapie.
Not a Shop Owner yet? Open a Shop today! For the existing Shapies, how long ago did you open your shop?
Shop Owner Bootcamp is a 10 week series aimed to help Shop Owners prepare for holiday. Week 9 is focused on product photography and the importance thereof.
Have you been thinking about taking photos of your products but been making excuses for why you don’t need to? Keeping your shop up is no easy task, but a little effort upfront leads to significantly greater sales. If sales aren’t enough, we are constantly looking for great models to feature on Shapeways and promote through our press and media opportunities. Most publications won’t print renders, and there is nothing more disappointing than not being able to feature a Shop Owner because we don’t have any photos of their great products. Plus, photos help build your reputation too, as Vijay discussed last week.
I was a very late adopter of iPhoneography, despite having been a smartphone user for nearly a decade. Admittedly, I’m not sure I would have felt 100% genuine telling you to shoot your holiday collection on your phone before last week. Paul Liaw, the designer behind NeoNouveau is a legend; an award winning digital artist, a Adobe showcased 3D Printing designer, and is this week’s Shop Owner mentor. When not 3D modeling, he brings the lucky community team at Shapeways cheesecake!
This week’s challenge is to take photos. Products that have sold, sell 10x more when they are photographed. It is impossible to stress enough how much photos can make a difference in your sales. Use these quick tips to make your products sing:
What’s the greatest barrier between you and great photographs? How can we help?
“Your Challenge, Should You Choose to Accept, Is To Design A Space Tool”
Photo courtesy of SpaceX
This weekend, the first 3D printer launched into space. This week, we’re proud to announce our partnership with Future Engineers, ASME and Made In Space on a series of NASA developed Space Challenges meant to empower innovative youth to design tools that can be printed and used in space.
Video courtesy of FutureEngineers.org
Together, we are about to make history. Today marks the beginning of manufacturing in space. Are you ready to take on the #MissionPrint Challenge? Here’s the launch video of SpaceX-4 that just successfully carried the Made In Space Zero-G 3D Printer to the ISS:
Video courtesy of SpaceX
Hearing mission control say “…and we have liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket and Dragon. CRS-4 is underway. A US commercial spacecraft launching from American soil delivers new technology and science to the International Space Station,” gives me and hopefully every other space lover chills. Knowing that that “new technology” is one that we all are fortunate enough to experiment with every day, the ability to additively manufacture on demand through 3D Printing, is inspiring. Remember, there is no overnight shipping to space; and it is physically impossible to traditionally manufacture parts in a space environment. We really are witnessing, and taking an active part in, making history.
Screen Shots here and below courtesy of FutureEngineers.org
This is the first in a series of NASA developed 3D Space Challenges that Future Engineers and our other out-of-this-world partners are happy to share with the Shapeways community. Encourage every K-12 student you know interested in 3D Printing to check it out, and remember, ALL students (university, college, trade schools, and professors too) get 10% off ALL their prints at Shapeways ALL the time. What a great excuse to “ground print” and prototype your space tools with us.
Tools designed for this challenge are judged on the following well-rounded criteria:
Astronaut Doug Wheelock explains further:
Video courtesy of FutureEngineers.org
Kids are powering innovative developments in 3D Printing across the unique web of our industry’s reach. They are opening shops on Shapeways, printing on desktop printers in their classrooms, and mod-ing their toys at home. There are dozen of touching stories of kids literally enabling the future of 3D printed prosthetics. And perhaps most profound of all, they can see what we can’t. Young minds aren’t limited by the bounds of conventional design and manufacturing constraints. Freed of this parameter, they are capable of leveraging the technology and materials available in unique new ways. Inspired by their potential, Future Engineers has an awesome lineup of prizes for the top contestants. The winner of the challenge will even have their tool printed in Zero-G’s on the ISS and get to watch live from Mission Control. While the #MissionPrint Future Engineers contest is for K-12 students in the US only, we will be featuring innovative designs by makers of all ages on our blog between now and when winners are announced on January 30th, 2015.
Here’s a snapshot of the contest deadlines, for full details check out FutureEngineers.org.
Are you ready to accept the #MissionPrint Challenge, stop dreaming and start doing? Keep us posted on your progress in our Space Forum and be sure and tag your space tools #MissionPrint. The best way to ensure your products will be astronaut-ready is to prototype on the ground, and we can’t wait to help.
To infinity… and 3D Printing beyond Earth!
Imagine… being able to design tools for astronauts in outer space, that could be printed in space, using materials found right there, out in the galaxy. Sound like the start of next Armageddon-esk blockbuster? Well, it’s not.
Launching today, is SpaceX CRS-4, another historic Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station; but this time, it carries more than supplies and moustronauts. This spacecraft is taking a specially tested, groundbreaking new 3D Printer designed by the our friends at Made In Space, to the International Space Station for it’s first in-space testing. This marks the start of a new era, the first step in bringing on-demand additive manufacturing to outer space.
There are many challenges when designing for printing in 3D. For starters, there’s nothing to hold anything material in microgravity. Even after solving the gravity dilemma, the printer has to get off the ground, and endure 9G’s of force during launch. Ensuring precision with an extruder stabilized by no gravitational force was a problem our friends at Made In Space were committed to solving. After four years of extensive testing on microgravity flights and research at their NASA Ames office, their dream of 3D Printing of space is now being realized. You can watch the this historic moment live during the wee hours of the morning, a sleep sacrifice I’m personally more than willing to make.
After this initial round of tests, including the printing of 21 demonstration parts, Made In Space looks to recycle broken tools, space waste, and even regolith (aka moon dust) as material for the printer. The fact that this space man could be made of the moon dust we first saw Buzz Aldrin’s footprint in someday, quite soon, is absolutely mind blowing.
Oh, and about those Moustronauts. SpaceX will also carry 20 mice that will live on the ISS for 6 months, approximately a quarter of their lifetime, allowing scientists to study the effects of prolonged zero gravity exposure. This data can then be extrapolated out to apply to human life and weightlessness tolerances. Currently, astronauts spend six months in space at a time, missions to mars could take two years or more. The only way to see the effects of prolonged space travel, is to get help from our furry rodent friends. I can’t help but wonder, if things get out of control, will they have to 3D Print mousetraps?
All jokes aside, what is the biggest challenge you see with 3D Printing tools in space? What tools do you want to design for astronauts?
Calling all jewelry lovers! We’ve teamed up with some of our wonderful designers to host not one but two contests this month.
We are giving away 10 amazing pieces of jewelry on Facebook! Visit our Facebook page each weekday through the end of September for a chance to win. We want to spread the word about our incredible designers, so all we’re asking is that you “like” our posts. Check back each day to see the newest giveaway!
Our designers are getting ready for fall and the holidays, so we want to see what inspires you for the season. Pin your favorite fall jewelry from Shapeways and beyond for a chance to win $500 of your Shapeways picks!
Create a Pinterest Board titled “Fall Finds”
Pin at least 10 fall flavored accessories by September 30, 2014
At least 5 must be Shapeways products (your prize, if you win!)
Tag each pin #ShapewaysJewelryContest
Five (5) winners will be selected! Winners will receive their Shapeways pinned products, up to $500 in value. If you pin more than $500 of Shapeways products, we will work with you to select your prize products.
Don’t know where to start? Check out some of our favorite 3D printed jewelry in gold, sterling silver, stainless steel, and even colorful nylon plastic.
The Fine Print: If your Shapeways products cannot be successfully 3D printed, we will work with you to select alternative prize products. Shapeways employees and their families are not eligible to win. Contests end September 30, 2014.
This is the first in our new series, Shop Owner Bootcamp: 10 week countdown to Black Friday. Every week we will be discussing advanced tips and tricks for optimizing your holiday sales. This week’s focus is reputation.
Can you feel it? The churn of excitement that only comes with Holiday season and sales? We are just 10 weeks away from Black Friday and it’s time to whip our Shops into shape.
Wired Life Stag by Dotsan
This week we’re focused on Reputation. Customer trust is the single most important factor when it come to repeat business. Knowing that they can get something unique, custom, and awesome from you that works as expected is crucial to the growth of your business. How do you build this customer trust? Back when I was on the UK roadshow, Vijay Paul of Dotsan, one of the most trusted designers on Shapeways, was kind enough to discuss reputation and tips for building it with us. He’ll be guiding us all as we ramp up to holiday with our new Shop Owner Series.
Video produced by Stephen Greenwood, with help from yours truly
Consider this checklist your challenge for the week:
Next week we’ll be talking about the importance of photography and tagging in the getting your products discovered. Feel free to get a head start!
What help do you need to take your shop to the next level? Feel free to ask for guidance here or in our Marketing Your Shapeways Shop thread on our forums.
Are you ready for your next design challenge? In honor of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6, and in our tradition of powering the coolest phone cases in the world, and our ability to bring some of the first cases to market, we’re launching “Extend the Function” an iPhone 6 case design challenge! The goal of the challenge is to extend the function of your phone or of your favorite app, maximizing the capabilities of the iPhone 6. 3D printing lets us combine form and function like never before and we cannot wait to see what Apple’s latest innovation inspires you to design.
We have a special guest judge for this competition, Ethan Imboden, the Head of Venture Design at Frog. Ethan is a serial innovator and incredibly talented designer, we are all lucky to have him as our guest expert! He will be using his keen eye when evaluating the best combination of form and function in the winning case. The winner will receive $500 in Shapeways credit!
When designing functional products like iPhone cases it is really important to specify the right materials and wall thicknesses. Shapeways Nylon (WSF) is by far the best material to use for your iPhone case. Keep wall thickness and wires to at least 1mm thickness. We have designed the case at 1.2mm so that you can engrave the design with a 0.5mm cut and still keep 0.7mm thick which is the minimum. It is always best to add rounded edges so that the product is not sharp, and adding a fillet between perpendicular planes makes the connection much stronger, and will reduce the chance of the part cracking.
Enter the contest by uploading and tagging your model “SWiPhone6” on Shapeways. Share it with your friends using the hashtag #ShapewaysiPhone on social media for bonus points!
You have until Midnight on October 6th, here in the city that never sleeps. How are you going to step up your case design?
Terms and Conditions
We are thrilled to team up with the 3D Modeling and Animation Group on Facebook to bring you an exciting opportunity to bring a unique character to life with 3D printing! If you are an animator who creates movies and video games, we invite you to join the 3D Animation to 3D Print contest to win Shapeways credit and the opportunity to hold any creation that you can imagine in your hand. The contest runs through October 15th and you can get all the details on the contest page.
To help launch the contest I talked with the 3D Modeling and Animation Group’s founder Justin Haynes about what inspired him to start the group and why, as an animator, he is excited about the possibilities of 3D printing.
Eleanor: What’s your background and how did you get into animation and what inspired you to start the group on Facebook?
Justin Haynes: I live in the extremely small town of Greenview tucked away in the mountains of northern California. It is in the middle of beautiful Scott Valley in Siskiyou County. My highschool offered a CAD class my Jr year that I took. In the class we also learned Rhinoceros Nurbs Modeling program.
I modeled as much as possible at school because I did not have a computer at home strong enough for modeling. I came in early, at lunch, and stayed after class working on models. The renderings on the school computers would sometimes take all night. So I wouldn’t be able to see a rendered image until the next morning.
I soon learned as much as the teacher and programs book could teach me so naturally I went online. I saw that there was no group specifically for modeling and animation on Facebook. Facebook was still rarely new at this point. I decided to create the group and it has grown far beyond my expectations.
How has the group grown and evolved?
JH: Right now the group is the largest and most active 3d modeling and animation community on Facebook. We gain around 100 members every day.
The group has artist from all over the world from beginners to experts. Jobs have been offered and filled from this group. Artist collaborate across the globe. New and growing artist get help from experts. And everyone gets to show off there work and receive feedback.
Working as a 3D artist is my dream. As of now I currently work 6/7 days a week at a lumber mill. Modeling and animation is a hobby at the moment.
The group is too large at the moment to moderate on my own. While working as a 3D artist is my dream, I currently work six or seven days a week at a lumber mill and modeling and animation is still a hobby at the moment. Fortunately, I have an amazing team of admins helping to keep the group as clean and helpful as possible.
I have bigger dreams for the group. I am working on getting a website up for the group and it will be amazing!
You are relatively new to 3D printing. What was it like the first time you got to hold one of your creations in your hand?
JH: The first time I held a 3d printed model was a spring out of corn starch in high school. I thought…it actually works as a spring. My mind went off on everything I could now create and print! A working drum pedal? A bicycle? Anything!!!
Shapeways now let’s me create and print whatever I can imagine without having to own and hassle with a 3d printer! I am currently working on a ring for my girlfriend.
Do you have a creation that you want to bring to life? Enter the 3D Animation to 3D Print contest by October 15th! Visit the contest page for more details and for some helpful hints about getting started.
Update: Apple has released the design files for the iPhone 6/iPhone 6 Plus! Page 16 and 17 of this pdf have everything you need to know to design a case for these awesome new phones. Be sure and enter our contest and be one of the first iPhone 6 cases ever 3D Printed!
Original Post: Did you watch the Apple announcement? Are you excited about the new iPhone 6/6plus? Are you counting the seconds until you can get your hands on the Apple Watch?
UPDATE 9/11: Some amazing Shapeways Community Members put together a <beta> 3D CAD file of the Apple Watch! It’s based on the specs Apple announced, and while not Apple official, should serve as a great starting point for all interested in designing Apple Watch accessories. You can download the .stl of the Apple Watch design files here. Special thanks to Michael Christensen for sharing this in our Apple forum!
I’ve been counting the minutes for months now and seeing Phil show off the iPhone 6/iPhone 6 Plus and seeing Super Evil Megacorp’s gaming experience made me drool millions of pixels in anticipation of their September 19th launch into the world. The new iPhone camera has Focus Pixels, which means you’re essentially carrying a DSLR in your pocket. Just imagine, our 3D scans will be sharper than ever!
Shapeways has always been one of the first to market with accessories when new consumer electronics come out. Our communities ability to responsively create designs and leverage our short lead times is unparalleled by any other accessories company in the world. The cases that you’ll see in the Apple store were modeled months ago and have been in production all summer. Alongside the new phones, Apple announced a new line of silicone and leather cases, but I think we know our Nylon looks the coolest when it comes to pimping your iDevices. We are eager to see what cases, stands and accessories you make for this new line of apple products and will handsomely reward those who do it best (details to come when the design files are announced by Apple later in September).
Shapeways has a long history of being one of the first to market with iAccessories. We were keeping the iPhone classy back in early 2012 with this 4/4s MacPro Case:
We gave you the design files the moment they were available for the exciting new iPhone 5, hosting a contest around it. The Sweater Case by ArtizanWork that won is still a favorite of ours to show off at events and through our crew kits!
We also brought you the iPad Mini files that same October. All in all, we power over 2600 products that fall in the iPhone category. Let’s round out our Apple Fan Boy and Girl offerings and incorporate all these awesome new products.
Now you can start brainstorming the iPhone 6 and iWatch cases you want to design in our Apple and iGadgets thread in the forum. Hit the sketchbook or the sketchup and get creative! The bigger form factor gives you more design real estate than ever before. We will update this post and announce a contest as soon as Apple releases the Design Files.
On a fun historical and sentimental note, this Apple Fan Girl can’t help but ask, 30 years after Steve Jobs announced the Macintosh (the anniversary is today) do you think Apple is still as innovative as they were under Steve?
If you are looking for a 3D artist to bring your ideas to reality with 3D printing, look no further than 3D modeler and all around 3D super star Scott Denton. Scott has worked in the 3D modeling and animation industry for so many years he has a beard, that is also in 3D (at the time of writing). Contact Scott if you have an idea you would like to explore with 3D printing at Shapeways.
Name: Scott Denton
Shapeways User Name: Likesyrup
Shapeways Shop: https://www.shapeways.com/shops/Likesyrup
I am currently a Freelance Modeler/Generalist living in Brooklyn, NY. I hail from Nashville, TN and studied 3D animation at Full Sail University graduating with an Associates of Science in Computer Animation. I have worked in this industry now for 9 years and continue to learn from everyone I work with as well as developing skills to make me more valuable to current and new clients alike. I really enjoy working with new teams of creative people and having a fun time in the process.
My current passions are modeling in Zbrush and i’ve been doing a lot with 3d printing. I look forward to where 3d printing is going to take us in the future.
3d modeling, file repair, Rendering/lighting, Design
3D Modeling Specialties:
character, organic, from photo, from sketch, Jewelry,Toys,
3D Software Used:
Maya, Zbrush, Mudbox, 3dcoat, sketchup, Meshmixer, Sculptris, Modo, C4D, Photoshop
3 Examples of projects undertaken:
by the hour/by project but also may do percentage of sales if they want the file, profit sharing
This is the last post in the series about Selective Laser Sintering Nylon. In this post I’m going to address the challenge of the cost of 3D printing in nylon and how to minimize it. Yes, we want to make it as affordable as possible for you to make your awesome designs come to life!
To understand the costs involved in 3D printing using SLS, lets have a look at the process, which can be broken down into the following steps:
Each of those steps has associated costs in labor involved in the process, machine cost and material cost. Let’s go through the steps and have a look at the cost drivers.
Checking. At checking, we need to evaluate every new file ordered to see if we can make it. We use automated checks, but a final human check is still required to get the best results. It’s actually not every file, but we check every part in a file since we are printing physical products and each file may contain multiple parts. As discussed earlier, some files contain hundreds of parts and you can imagine the amount of work involved. The cost involved here is labor, namely the time spent checking each part.
Planning. After checking, we need to plan all checked parts in the 3D printer trays. We want to plan as many parts as possible in a tray, since the cost to run a printer is pretty much fixed regardless of the amount of parts. Today, we run over 20 printers every day and each print on average has over 100 parts per tray, so you can see how packing becomes a challenge. However every extra part we can cram in the tray, reduces machine cost. The packing process itself requires an hour or two of of work and some 10-20 minutes of computer calculations to optimize.
The cost involved in planning is labor, or the time spent selecting the right parts for each tray
3D printing. Step 3 is the printing process. When a printer finishes it’s previous job,we make sure we are ready to quickly remove the ready tray, clean the machine and refill the powder. Ensuring the printer starts running as soon as possible after it’s previous job is complete reduces cost further. The printer costs money whether you use it or not (from a business perspective this is called depreciation), so running it all the time and thereby maximizing the amount of products made every month is the only way to reduce cost. The complexity of the products or the size has almost no impact on the print time. The most important driver of the time a build needs is the height of the tray. The machines can print roughly 1cm (or 0.4″) per hour. To limit the time it takes to print we try to build trays that are no higher than 25cm. This conveniently means we run the printers with 1 job every day.
Another element of the print cost is the amount of powder used. If the printer is completely empty it would still build layer upon layer of powder. As the powder is heated it ages. The industry standard is to run each build with 50% new and 50% old powder. Each tray has roughly 5% of volume in parts so after each build you are left with 95% old powder. Of this old powder you can re-use 50% in the next build. The material cost is the new powder. Obviously using more old powder reduces material cost, but the problem is that too much old powder will cause the parts to look less defined and sometimes they discolor (orange peel). We (everyone using SLS) need to figure out how to make it possible to reuse all powder since this is the most wasteful part of the process. The cost involved in 3D printing is some labor to clean the machines before each run and mostly machine and powder cost. To calculate actual cost per part is quite difficult, since it depends on the other parts in the tray. Amazingly, if we print a part one week, and then again the next week, it can cost twice as much the second time only because of the other parts in the tray along with it. One of the reasons that we’ve never charged for machine space before is that we had to build up a huge amount of experience to properly control for this and charge you the right price.
Cooling, Cleaning & Sorting. After printing, the tray needs to cool as much time as it has printed (again typically 24 hours). And then the break out, cleaning and sorting starts. The costs here are mostly part based since every part needs to be dug out of the powder, cleaned and then made sure it goes into the right box. The cost involved is labor per part. Each part needs to be broken out of the powder, cleaned and then sorted.
Models with many similar looking parts are among the hardest to track and sort properly
Post Processing. The polishing and dyeing process again are mostly labor. The tumbler is fast and can polish many parts a time, so there is almost no machine cost involved. The cost involved is mostly labor. To put the parts in the polisher, remove them and then sort. Or dyeing the parts for a few minutes, remove, let the parts dry and re-sort. Much of the cost of post processing isn’t the processes themselves, but constantly combining and re-sorting the parts at each step.
As you can see, the cost in making a product using SLS can be broken down into 4 main categories:Fixed cost like utilities and rent of the factory; Labor cost to do the actual work involved; Machine cost to pay for machine depreciation; and material cost, based on how much is used.
It’s our challenge to reduce these costs by automating certain parts of the process, make sure the machines are always running, and are run at close to maximum capacity, and that we re-use as much powder as possible. It’s also clear that our cost is based on labor per part, cost of the amount of space the part utilizes in the machine and the amount of actual material consumed.
Next week I will cover how our current price model covers these costs and how we can optimize.
As always, let me know if you have questions or suggestions. In general I like to hear from you!
Pete / CEO Shapeways
Sculptor Mike Leavitt has created an edition of 3D printed miniature versions of one-of-a-kind wooden sculptures from his “Empire Peaks” series through his Shapeways shop Innovation Kitchen. He spent two years designing and hand-sculpting the wood statue series and the pop culture mash-ups debuted at New York’s Jonathan LeVine Gallery in late 2013. Before opening night Leavitt had the largest wood statues, some standing 3 feet tall, scanned by a local hi-tech medical engineering firm. A classically trained wood sculptor based in the Pacific Northwestern United States, he taught himself the necessary software to bring smaller, 3D printed versions of his work to a new market. I caught up with Leavitt about how he translated his work with wood and chisels into 3D design and the possibilities that 3D printing offers to visual artists.
What inspired you to create 3D printed models of your “Empire Peaks” sculpture series?
Michael Leavitt: This might sound unexpected coming from an artist. My inspiration to create 3D printed “Empire Peaks” models was merely the marketing potential. As a full time visual artist, I’m the only one in charge of my career and I’m forced to consider these possibilities. I’ve passionately searched for ways to create affordable editions of my sculptures for years. It’s not as easy as it seems. Making quality prints of 2D paintings and canvases can be a challenge. Mass producing toys is a monumental task. Tons of quality control and capital investments are required. I learned of Shapeways somewhere during the process of 3D scanning my “Empire Peaks” figures. My first goal of 3D modelling and printing became crystal clear. Having the specific target really galvanized the learning process.
As a classically trained sculptor, what was your process like learning 3D modeling software?
ML: My learning curve with 3D modeling has been massively steep to say the least. First I have to learn to sit at the computer all day when I’d rather put my hands on something other than a keyboard and mouse. Next I have to learn a new language. Even ZBrush, my primary tool, is very intuitive but there’s a lot of lingo to absorb. I watched a ton of YouTube tutorials. I took copious notes. I could’ve gotten a full quarter’s worth of college credit for the time I logged. I almost had to chain myself to the computer. I guess the process was like training a free-roaming dog to stay in a small crate.
How is the process of preparing a piece for 3D printing similar to and different from your process of sculpting a one-of-a-kind piece?
ML: There are few similarities between preparing a piece for 3D printing and sculpting my originals. So far there are only small, brief moments when I feel like I’m actually “sculpting” on the computer. Maybe it’s just a matter of my learning curve. Once I get more comfortable it might feel more natural. A major difference between the two is that I really have to work hard to hold long, linear thoughts in my head while 3D modelling. Too often I want to do one simple, little thing- make this one knob a little smaller or something- and it requires several linear steps to execute. Whereas, in physical sculpting, it all comes naturally. I can just instinctively alter things without having to perform a prescribed series of actions. One might say physical sculpting requires it’s own tedious, methodical process. I don’t discount it. I’ve just been at it so much more of my life. Another major difference: the undo command. Wow. I still have to wrap my brain around it. It’s bizarre how easy it is to experiment while 3D sculpting. That one will keep on giving to me.
How does having a Shapeways shop and 3D printed versions of one-of-a-kind sculptures available open up new opportunities for you as an artist?
ML: For one thing, having the Shapeways prints allows me to more directly connect my work with people’s hands. My originals can be fragile or sensitive to hand oils over time. So we limit direct contact during exhibits. Ironically, I engineer moving body parts that can only be experienced with physical interaction. My original sculptures are also quite valuable and only rarely displayed in public. I do a show in New York about every two years. It’s only on display for about a month. I try as hard as I possibly can to tell everyone I can about the show. I promote like crazy. I really try to drive traffic to the gallery. Still only a small handful get to either own or experience the work in person. Having an on-demand 3D printing service accessible by the entire planet is nearly a dream come true.
Do you have any advice for other artists who might be interested in incorporating 3D design and printing into their practice?
ML: I’m still struggling with how to define the line between my fine art and 3D prints. I think it’s extremely important for artists to clearly communicate their intentions and definitions in this respect. Especially for an artist such as myself who is “established” to a certain degree. I have many long-time, loyal and heavily-invested collectors of my original works who deserve a clear delineation between the original, hand-crafted works for which they invested and the replicated editions available on a larger scale. My advice to other fine artists is to be careful, sensitive, and clear when incorporating 3D printing with their practice. I sincerely hope I’m following my own advice on this point.