Shapeways

Announcing a New Evolution for Porcelain

At Shapeways, we’re always innovating in the materials and processes we use to bring your products to life. Innovation and experimentation go hand in hand, and that’s why every material offering is a work in progress. Today, to support the sustainable development of our most innovative material, Porcelain, we’re undertaking a one-time price increase that will allow us to continue offering the material.

As we have evolved the Porcelain manufacturing process (detailed below), we have invested more handcraftsmanship than initially assumed. This has come at a cost to Shapeways, warranting a review of our Porcelain pricing. To enable us to continue to offer what we believe, and hope that you will agree, is a truly special product, we have set the pricing of our Porcelain to a market-competitive $15 per part and $0.13 per cm2 (surface area). We appreciate that any price increase will generate some disappointment. Having said that, this price will allow us to continue to make this truly special product available to our entire community.

We’re currently updating all models, a process that will take until Monday. If you’re a shop owner, make sure to revisit your model pricing on Monday. Once the base prices have changed, you’ll need to assess and adjust your markups. This price increase will not be reflected in the cost of your items to shoppers, which will remain the same — unless the new price of an item exceeds its markup. If that is the case, your markup will need to be reestablished.

If you’ve been with Shapeways for a while, you’ll remember that a year and a half ago we discontinued our legacy ceramics and began the development (completely in-house) of a custom process for 3D printing-enabled Porcelain. We developed a totally unique Porcelain compound which can be cast using 3D printed molds. This has opened up new possibilities for creative textures, surfaces, and geometries, while providing a extremely dense, strong material with low shrinkage — unlike any other 3D printed ceramics on the market. Our Porcelain is food, dishwasher, and oven safe.

Although each piece starts from a 3D printed model, your product is handcrafted throughout the rest of the process. Each product is given so much love and care by our ceramic artists that it is truly unique. We believe that this high-touch model produces the best 3D printed Porcelain available anywhere.

What is the handcrafting process?

In case you are interested, we wanted to share some insight into the production process.

Like other materials, first, each model is checked by our production engineers to ensure that it meets our design guidelines and can be printed. Then, we use special software to design a custom, multi-part mold.  That mold is then printed, cleaned and reassembled. Assembling the mold requires attention to detail to ensure it is clean, which helps the flow of material into the mold, and that it is properly aligned, maintaining the intended the geometry.

A funnel is added to the mold in order to pour and cast the Porcelain material. After casting (that’s right, ours is actually cast, which results in a considerably denser, stronger, more robust finished product as compared with Porcelain that is directly 3d printed), the Porcelain is allowed to dry, the mold is removed, and the Porcelain material is fired in the kiln.

After casting and firing, the real fun starts. A raw model will have seam lines of extra material from the multi-part mold as well as extra material where the spout was placed to pour the Porcelain material in the mold.

A ceramicist carefully removes these seam lines and spout marks using grinding tools. At this stage, any defects that are found on the model are also repaired. Defects are common due to the brittle nature of the material and the extreme amount of thermal stress the material is exposed to during firing. Ceramics can be fired up to 1,370 degrees Celsius, or 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit! In traditional ceramics, artists often create more pieces than they need because a portion of their art breaks or cracks in the process of firing. The repair process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 45 minutes depending on the complexity of your model.

After repairing, the product is then hand-dipped in glaze and carefully wiped on the base so that glaze does not get stuck to the shelves in the kiln. Depending on the model and glaze, it may also be sprayed with glaze after dipping. Before going into the kiln, each model is carefully checked to make sure all spots and cavities are covered with glaze. Any lumpy areas are smoothed down to ensure even coverage. Finally, your product is then fired again to achieve a glasslike finish.

It may sound easy, but at after each step in the process, your model is carefully inspected for quality and fixed if any defects are found. Our ceramicists maintain the highest quality standards in order to make sure we provide our community with truly amazing products.

This model is more labor-intensive than the techniques we use for other materials, but we believe that it is the best way to produce the amazing products that the Shapeways community is building out of Porcelain. What we have seen thus far has convinced us that there is an amazing future for Porcelain and we look forward to watching the community do even more with it in the future.

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