Innovation Amplifier : Crowdsourced Capital and On-Demand Digital Fabrication

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We have seen many successful projects that leveraged Kickstarter and Shapeways to bring a creative concept into reality, but never quite so purely as the Crania Anatomica Filigre: Me to You project by Joshua Harker. 

We have mentioned Josh’s project previously on the Shapeways Blog but now that the project has succeeded and shipped it is worth looking back over what made it such an amazing story of scaling creative practice without financial risk by leveraging crowdsourced capital and on-demand digital fabrication.

Creating an environment where it is safe to experiment and fail with minimal risk is critical to a culture of innovation. In the past this would have taken place in universities, artist studio’s, ateliers, hacker labs or innovation incubators such as the one that Shapeways has emerged from.

Now that place of innovation is online thanks to enablers such as Shapeways and Kickstarter where someone can pitch a concept, gather support and realize their ideas without risk. If an idea fails, there is no significant financial loss for those proposing the idea, or for those who back the idea, just an incredibly fast learning cycle that allows creative entrepreneurs to iterate and succeed.

Joshua’s story is a fantastic case study of this occurence, he was looking to use Kickstarter to get his artwork out to a wider audience and raise $500 to fund the production. He placed it on Kickstarter with a modest target and was overwhelmed with backers pledging $77,271 then using Shapeways to exactly fulfil the production requirements with on-demand digital fabrication. 

Below are just a few of the nearly 1,000 skulls Shapeways produced for Joshua and his backers.

  • With Kickstarter Joshua gained access to a market far beyond his capability in a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ art gallery.
  • With Shapeways on-demand digital fabrication he had the ability to scale his production EXACTLY to his needs with no minimum order quantity, no investment in inventory, no financial outlay needed before the payment came through from his backers

Below we see one of the many skulls emerging from the nylon powder like a modern form of digital archaeology, three pallets of digitally fabricated skulls heading their way to Joshua and his friends for dyeing and distribution.

When we look back over the history of art, design and manufacturing, never before has it been possible for a physical product to scale exactly to the needs of the market with such speed. There would always be a lag time for production, an excess of inventory as the demand wanes, scarcity when demand is greater than supply (sometimes all three).

There are parallels with digital products such as music, software, movies etc where the ‘product’ is scalable to demand but this is the dawn of a new era where physical products can scale in the same way.

Shapeways and Kickstarter bypass ‘traditional’ mass production with crowd sourced capital and on-demand digtal fabrication in a perfect demand equals supply equation.  

What can YOU feed into this equation? 

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  1. Luis


    Whilst this article is inspiring I do hope Shapeways ties in with a local plastics manufacturer. Having our files to hand, molds could be made if production requests go over a certain number, as in this case!
    Not only to reduce costs per unit but also to speed up distribution.
    I would see this in a case like this, where if say, 1,000 items were ordered (there would also be a time criteria involved here) our 3D file would be sent to have a master mold produced and made at the plastics manufacturer to stamp out the product. For high volume ‘prints’ this would free up Shapeways resources for the lower volume orders.

    Whether the items are then dispatched direct from the factory or sent back to Shapeways (hence a local manufacturer would be handy…) for dispatch would need to be fatored in.



    1. Duann

      Hey Luis,

      At the moment we do not plan to include traditional plastics mass production as part of the Shapeways production ecology.

      We believe the future is made on demand. 🙂

  2. Joshua Harker

    Hey Thanks Duann! Shapeways was great throughout the project & special thanks to Charlie Maddock for keeping things on track. Most of what I do cannot be molded so it’s not really a consideration for me. Practically speaking, I would think it a nightmare for Shapeways to handle the management of tooling & casting projects within their business model. Traditional plastics manufacturing is a discipline all it’s own & quite a different animal than 3D printing (even on a prototype level).

    1. Duann

      Awesome work buddy.

      Great to see all of the images of skulls around the world on your Kickstarter updates.

      Really inspiring.

    2. Will Huntley

      First of all, Congrats Josh!! What an outstanding piece and story. Secondly, if you can narrow it down, and its not too cheeky to ask, what percentage of the profits did you end up with? Ballpark.
      Just wondering before I go the same route.
      All the best for the future,

  3. Luis.


    I do get the principle. I’m concerned with volume and how that might affect the order as well as the orders for other Shapeways clients, as in how it affects their estimated delivery time.

    How long did it take to print the approx 1,000 skulls? Assuming a ‘full’ print: Printing, cleaning and boxing.



    1. Duann

      Hey Luis, we did the 1000 skulls in the same delivery time as we do 1 skull.
      When it comes time to produce more objects we use more machines, we scale when you do.

  4. Luis.



    In this instance it also appears that the entire batch was sent to the artist for further processing, he would then incur his own delivery charges for sending them on. In effect the funding allowed him (directly) to place one large order and cover his own delivery costs.

    No fair, this is looking better and better…!

    Anyone familiar with and would like to report? I’m more interested in this one rather than Kickstarter as it’s not restricted to only US based individuals/companies.



    1. Glenn

      Thanks for that link, Luis. That was going to be my comment; that Kickstarter is only of use to US cit’s…

  5. Luis.

    Aaagh! I’m getting itchy fingers now… 🙂

    The artist on this project has the resources in order to do the further processing of the print. Something I don’t have… Time is also a scarce resource…

    A project I have in mind needs an additional item clipped on that Shapeways can’t print (it’s a material thing): Would Shapeways be willing to take delivery of the additional item and, for an additional processing/assembly fee, then be able to ship to those that placed the order?

    I’m not sure how to tier the additional work involved, maybe a flat fee for simple stuff (say, something that just clips on) and a negotiated fee for something more complicated (within reason!).

    For larger projects, would vacuum moulded packaging be a possible option?

    What does Shapeways think?



    1. Duann

      At the moment we do not add extra items, perhaps something we can do in the future.

      Indigogo has had some great success stories too, of course once you have backing you have access to resources to do additional processes.

      Good luck and do let us know if you launch a project.

  6. michiel cornelissen

    A bit late to the comment party, but I wanted to chime in. First of all: big congrats to Joshua – what a project. I hope your success continues and increases!

    But, there is always a but, I do want to point something I find a bit contradictory. One of the great things of 3d-printing is that you don’t actually *need* any up front capital, crowd-sourced or otherwise, to create models. So what was proven here was mostly how great Kickstarter’s marketing reach is.

    And that’s where I think Shapeways can still learn a thing or two from Kickstarter. Let’s have more of these projects taking off right here on Shapeways!

    1. Duann

      Hey Michiel,

      We can definitely learn from Kickstarter.

      With Kickstarter the people seeking backing are required to tell a story, they need to record a video, they need to offer a very personal kind of interaction to engage backers.

      Perhaps we are setting the bar to low at Shapeways, perhaps we need anyone who wants to sell an item to have printed it in the materials they want to sell it in? Perhaps they should not be able to sell an item without proper photography, description and a personal story why they made it?

      The Shapeways galleries and shops may then be a richer, deeper marketplace that provides a level of engagement that would keep bringing people back to see what product or what story has been shared by their favorite designer.

      We do already have some amazing products by many designers with really interesting stories behind them, we need to ensure those stories capture the hearts of the potential marketplace, which is huge.

  7. Glenn

    @ Michiel – A very good comment; that has been my thought all along with Kickstarter projects using 3D printing. This particular project was just great marketing.

    @Duann – Yes, some of these ideas have been discussed before and I really do see that Shapeways could expand some more in the area of shop marketing. Not that that is what Shapeways was set up for, of course, and I can’t fault them if they don’t wish to pursue that avenue.

  8. Shapeways Blog

    Howdy, I’m Joshua. If you haven’t already caught one of my recent blog entries I am happy to announce that I’ll be adding my 2 cents here. Big thanks to Shapeways for the opportunity to contribute. I’m mostly focused on digital sc

  9. Shapeways Blog

    Joshua Harker has just launched Anatomica di Revolutis on Kickstarter, following up on his massively successful Crania Anatomica Filigre: Me to You project that used Shapeways 3D printing to realize his art. My latest work entitled “An

  10. Shapeways Blog

    Joshua Harker on the 3rd Industrial Revolution We were happy to have Joshua Harker visit us at the Shapeways HQ in New York City to finally meet after 3D printing SO MANY of his skulls. We t

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