Category Archives: 3D Printed

Better With Shapeways video series kicks off with Will Haude of 3DBrooklyn

Here at Shapeways, we are inspired by the creativity and enthusiasm of our community and are passionate about enabling you to make anything you can imagine. This week, we’re launching a series of videos to celebrate our community and inspire others to bring their ideas to life with Shapeways.

Today, our spotlight is on Will Haude, creator of  3DBrooklyn. He says “3D printing empowers me to create whatever object I can think of, because that’s exactly what it does. Shapeways lets me print in a range of high quality materials that I cannot print with my printers. It’s great to have a manufacturer and marketplace on one site.” Watch his video below to see how he brought to life a 3D printed bike blinker with Shapeways and littleBits.

Want to win $100? Each day this week, we’ll be launching a new video featuring a designer and their 3D printed product. Share the video of the day on Facebook and tag it with #BetterwithShapeways, and you will be entered to win $100 in Shapeways credit! See below for details and make sure to come back, see all five videos, and enter the sweepstakes each day.

#BetterwithShapeways Sweepstakes Rules

1.     Eligibility. This contest is operated by Shapeways.  It is open to Shapeways users in the United States over 13 years of age at the time of entry who live in a jurisdiction that does not prohibit this contest.  Employees, officers, and directors of Shapeways and their immediate family are not eligible to enter.  Individuals may enter more than one entry into the competition but may not do so by way of automated means.  By entering this contest, you agree to be bound by these Rules.

2.     Prize. The winning entrant will receive $100 in Shapeways credit to make a purchase on

3.     Contest period. This contest is open on Monday, September 28 from 10:00am EDT to 11:59pm EDT.

4.     How to Enter.  Share the video or a link to the video on Facebook and tag it with #BetterwithShapeways.  You may also enter by sending a postcard with your name, phone number, and email address to:

Attn: Contest Department
419 Park Ave. South
Suite 900
New York, NY 10016
Postcards must be received by the end of the contest period in order to enter.

5.     Winner Selection.  Shapeways will select the winner from the pool of applicants on Tuesday, September 29.  There will be only one winner.  Shapeways will be prepared to award the prize to a runner-up in the event the winner cannot be contacted in a reasonable amount of time.  Shapeways will determine the winner by randomly drawing an applicant from the entire pool of applicants.

6.     Winner notification. The winner will be notified via email.  Upon contact, Shapeways may need to obtain confirmation of the winner’s eligibility.  If Shapeways cannot contact the winner through the contact information in their Shapeways account in a reasonable amount of time, a runner-up will receive the prize.  If a runner-up cannot be contacted, Shapeways will select a third place finisher to receive the prize.

7.     Taxes.  The winner will be solely responsible for paying all federal, state, and local taxes that may be due on winnings and, as a condition of receiving the prize, Shapeways may require the winner complete tax documentation.

8.     Liability and Jurisdiction.   All federal, state, and local laws and regulations apply; void where prohibited.  All disputes arising out of or connected with this Contest will be resolved exclusively by a court located in Manhattan, New York, USA.  Decisions by Shapeways regarding the interpretation of these rules are final.  By participating in this contest, you agree to release Shapeways and its agents from any and all liability, claims, or actions of any kind of injuries, damages, or losses to persons and property which may be sustained in connection with the receipt, ownership, possession, use, or misuse of any prize.  Shapeways reserves the right to amend these official rules and to permanently disqualify from this contest any person it believes has intentionally violated these official rules. Shapeways reserves the right to suspend or cancel this Contest in the event of hacking, security breach, or other tampering.  Any questions regarding this contest should be directed to


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.

Two New Visualizations in Shapeways 3D tools: Bounding Box and Parts

Designing for 3D printing is more than just making a 3D model.  It’s understanding how big you want your figurine to stand on your desk, how thin your ring can be in plastic versus gold, and keeping track of all the details on intricate models while making sure all the parts are connected.  We launched Shapeways 3D tools in January to help bridge the gap between creating and designing a 3D model and actually  having it printed by giving you more confidence to know when your model is ready for the printers.

Today we are launching two new visualizations in 3D tools to help you further understand what your model will look like when it lands in your hands: a bounding box visualization and a part count visualization.

 Understanding Model Size: Material Specific Bounding Box Visualization

Understanding how big or small your model is physically and what materials you can print it in based on it’s size can be challenging when you are staring at your model on a screen and can easily zoom in and out.  This is especially true if you are designing for multiple materials – what’s the right size model that lets you print in all your favorites? Understanding how to change your model to make it the right size – is one part of the model too long? Do I just need to scale it slightly smaller? – can be tricky without being able to see the maximum and minimum size you can print in for a specific material.

By clicking on the bounding box tool in 3D tools, you can understand both how large or small your model is in relation to the bounding box for a specific material, and what part of your model is too big or small. Our visualization combines two elements: coloring parts of the model that are too big or too small red so you know which parts have issues, and visualizing the maximum and minimum bounding box oriented around your model as a transparent box.

When your model is within the size guidelines to be printed, you will see it inside the maximum bounding box.  So if you were thinking of making it a bit bigger or smaller, you can get a sense for how much you could change the size of your model.

size, bounding box, visualization, shapeways

If your model is too large, the part of the bounding box where the model is sticking outside the maximum bounding box will turn red to help you identify along which dimensions your model is too large.  If you have a multiple part model, only the parts of the model that exceed the bounding box size restrictions will turn red. Parts of your multiple part model that are OK in size will remain grey.

bounding box, size, too big, shapeways, visualization

If your model is too small, you will see it colored red inside a minimum bounding box.  By moving your model around, you can see which dimension(s) of your model are too small.

bounding box, size, too small, visualization, Shapeways

Identify Accidental Loose Shells: Part Count Visualization

Building detailed, complex models can result in incredible creations that are a marvel to hold and see.  Sometimes though, with so many details and parts, loose shells can accidentally be created.  Loose shells are pieces of your model that are separate and unconnected from the base part of the model. These can be intentional, but are often unintentional.

Our new part count visualization helps protect you from ordering a model you expect to come in one piece, but actually receive in many pieces because it uniquely colors each and every part. For example, in this model made of connected stars, all the stars were intended to connect to each other except two of them were slightly misaligned.  With the part count visualization, you can clearly see the accidental loose shells – the two unconnected stars – and fix your model appropriately.

part, multiple parts, part count, 3D tools, Shapeways

Go to 3D tools today from My Models or Model Edit and check out your models in the bounding box and part count tool to see how big or small your models are or if you have any accidental loose shells!


My heart beats for you: 3D printed anatomical hearts on Shapeways

Whatever your feelings on Valentine’s Day, one thing we all love on Shapeways 3D printed hearts that our community members who are scientists, artists and designers are creating inspired by that vital organ beating in all of our chests.

Shapeways Crew member Nathan Schmidt created this design inspired by his daughter Lucy, who was diagnosed with a rare heart condition. He shared her story on our blog last year.

Another Crew member, Chris Leggett, created an anatomically accurate heart based on data available from the National Institute of Health’s 3D Print Exchange. You can read more about how he created this model in his blog post about science and 3D printing.

Too much heart? We also love designs inspired by heart beats like these rings:

Like this list? You can share Shapeways products anywhere with our new embed feature!

Unique gifts for every cyclist in your life

We all know someone mad about bikes, ever eager to get out and ride even when its cold, wet or uphill. To help you celebrate their passion with them, here’s our spin on gifts for every type of bike snob, from the fixie fan to Fred.


No garmin, no rules? They can decide with this Garmin-mount compatible iPhone case because sometimes no Garmin, no idea where you are. This mount also keeps the camera handy for all the cycle photography that happens on long road rides. They’ll love that they can get all the #lightbro shots.

Do they enjoy getting covered in mud every weekend? It’s likely cross ruins everything around them, so here’s a replaceable chain guide/ front derailleur for their next cyclocross race. You can also find replacement cable guides and more bike parts.


On the other end of the spectrum, for the Sunday riders who dote on their vintage steel, you could get them this decorative tiny Italian for their collection.


For the single speed commuter, help them maintain the Zen with this multipurpose tool, good to fix just about every mechanical issue.


CitiBiker’s know sharing is caring, but letting them keep both hands on the bars with this cup holder attachment is truly the gift that keeps on giving.


Lastly, some say that life’s too short to ride boring* bikes…so choose from fancy accessories like this stylish crane cable guide, handlebar bike planter, novelty blow-fish valve caps or commission a custom head badge.


Whatever you gift your cyclist friend, remind them to ride safe, and stay rubber side down.


Movember Madness for Friday Finds

As we hit mid-November, how are your mustaches shaping up gents? In case Movember-Mania missed you, it’s an annual event held around the world are to raise awareness of men’s health issues. Community member Rick Stringfellow decided to make 3D printed Movemeber really special at his work….

Each year EA’s Art Department in Canada hosts a charity show to raise money for the Movember foundation. Along with growing as many real mustaches as possible, we hold the ‘Moshow’ where our artists create and present mustache inspired art.

This year I decided to use 3D printing to build a series of art pieces that are inspired by the seven deadly sins. Each Mustache was modeled in Modo3D then printed in detailed plastic with Shapeways. I then finished each printed model using Krylon acrylic paints and primers. The ‘Lust’ mustache was covered in gold leaf and then sealed with a clear Krylon finish.

Having worked in 3D for over 30 years this is my first venture into 3D printing for pure art – I learned a lot during this process and will definitely be working on some more creative adventures with Modo3D and Shapeways.

bomb geo gold mcd red

Though we can’t compete with these artistic marvels, here’s some of our team clowning around with some 3D printed ‘stache attachments. Happy Friday!



Shapeways sponsors Cranksgiving charity bike ride

We’re taking part in Cranksgiving, a nationwide “food drive on bikes” where participants cycle to multiple grocery stores around the city, purchase non-perishable goods and donate them to those in need. Running since 1999, this charity race has spread to over 60 cities around America, helping provide thousands of needy families across the country with a wealth of food during the week of Thanksgiving. This year, it’s even being backed by news anchors from the TODAY Show.

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Shapeways is proud to sponsor Cranksgiving! Six lucky winners will ride away with custom 3D printed head-badges, designed by Scott Denton and printed in our Long Island City factory.

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Join some of the Shapeways team on Saturday November 22nd in NYC, or take part in the 60 other events happening across America. You’ll be joined by anchors from the TODAY Show who are supporting Cranksgiving and food banks around the country.

Love the idea of Cranksgiving, but don’t want to ride through NYC streets? Consider making a donation! All funds raised will be split 80/20 between City Harvest, and the New York Bike Messenger Foundation.

Some of the Shapeways team will be riding on Saturday – so give us a shout if you see us on the course!


Conversation with Jodi Slater on Her New Collection of 3D Printed Accessories for Fitbit and Jawbone

3D printed jewelry for Fitbit and Jawbone

Bytten accessories for Jawbone and Fitbit. Photo Credit: Carly Gaebe – Steadfast Studios

Jodi Slater is no tech novice. She started her career as a programmer, including some work  on the original Tron, helped design the user interface for the first wireless Palm Pilot, and has since advised countless companies on user experience and new media.

The very talented Slater is now turning her attention to her fitness tracker, an accessory that she feels could use a facelift. Her new adventure, Bytten, sits at the intersection of fashion and technology and includes a line of beautiful 3D printed accessories for Jawbone & Fitbit. After reading this Q&A, we advise you to #getbytten.

What is the inspiration for Bytten?

Bytten was born out of a personal need – my Fitbit was not making the cut when I tried to style it with my other jewelry. I wanted to be able to wear it all the time, not just when I was working out. I had been tracking the wearable tech fashion ‘phenom’ and was and still am very excited about all the innovation that is percolating in that space. I decided to develop a line of accessories for existing fitness trackers as a way to solve an immediate need and to start building a brand. The Lucas Slide is our first collection for Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP. It is available in Brass, Silver, Gold, and 9 colors of Strong & Flexible Plastic (thank you Shapeways!).

3D printed jewelry for Fitbit and Jawbone

Bytten accessory for Jawbone. Photo Credit: Carly Gaebe – Steadfast Studios

Who’s behind the beautiful products?

Lucas Goossens is the designer behind our first collection. He is incredibly creative, a beautiful person – inside and out, and I am so grateful that Carine [Carmy from Shapeways] introduced me to him! The design incorporates elements from Lucas’ pixel style and includes his signature plus sign ‘+’ to represent positivity. We hope you love it as much as we do.

3D printed jewelry for Fitbit and Jawbone

Bytten accessory for Fitbit, worn by Lucas Goossens. Photo Credit: Carly Gaebe – Steadfast Studios

What’s your background? How did you get into product design?

I have always been into technology and art / design. I feel lucky to have found a career that I am passionate about and have been involved in from the start (and I mean *start* – you have no idea – there were punchcards in my life). I started out as a programmer in the computer animation and graphics field during the first release of the movie Tron, ahem. It has all evolved from there. Oh, and my color software was at the Guggenheim as part of a Josef Albers retrospective. #proudmoment

What’s your most coveted fashion accessory for fall?

I have been obsessed with gold temporary tattoos this summer… and although I am having a hard time moving onto fall, there are three things I am excited about – GREEN #favoritecolor. Boys shoes for girls, and chic leather backpacks.

What’s next for Bytten?

Let me say that there is no shortage of ideas swirling around at Bytten. We are working on an exciting new collection with Jaclyn Mayer of OGJM, Lucas is working on a Matisse inspired design, and we are working on some oft-requested customization (which after all is what 3D printing is really good at – bespoke production) and there will definitely be some smart jewelry in our future.

3D printed jewelry for Fitbit and Jawbone

Bytten accessory for Jawbone. Photo Credit: Carly Gaebe – Steadfast Studios


Looking for other 3D printed fashion? Check out some of our favorite custom rings, necklaces and bracelets… Or create your own!

Karlie Kloss and her Epic 3D Printing Fashion Journey with Vogue

Shapeways partnered with Vogue to send Karlie Kloss around the world, as a 3D print, from a 3D scan by Direct Dimensions.

The playful project to send Karlie Kloss around the world as a 3D print is another example of the fashion world recognizing the value of 3D printing, even if it is not to make a garment or an accessory.  With projects like the Dita Von Teese Gown and the Victoria’s Secret Angel Wings, we worked with designers to push the current 3D Printing materials to the absolute limits.  This project is a more lighthearted step in the direction of exploring how 3D scanning and 3D printing can be used to document a person, object or place, to then explore the form in 3 dimensions, to print as is, or to modify and/or enhance.

karlie kloss 3D print by Shapeways and Vogue

The american supermodel was 3D scanned in a number of classic outfits, and playful poses by Direct Dimensions’ 20 foot diameter booth with over 100 cameras firing simultaneously to capture the raw data to 3D print.  3D technicians then painstakingly prepared the 3D point clouds so that Shapeways could 3D print the 6 inch high figurines in our Full Color Sandstone material in our New York factory, you can see footage of the print process in the video below..

The 3D prints were then sent to exotic locations around the world to be photographed by fashion photographers in each locale, you may see a few on instagram with the hastag #whereskarlie.

Karlie Kloss’s 3D Print Shapeways Vogue Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 2.49.02 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 2.48.34 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 2.48.19 PMFor more images of Karlie in the wild, check out the gallery on along with the article on the project and a behind the scenes look at the 3D scanning process.

Ultra Slim Ring Box with Spinning Feature Showing Moving Parts in 3D Prints

This Ultra Slim Ring Box by IncogNerdo Apparel is a perfect example of how you can introduce moving, articulated components to your 3D Prints.


3d print slim ring box Shapeways

Normal ring boxes too bulky?
Having a hard time hiding your surprise engagement ring?
Then you could probably use this ring box!
This ring box is impressively slim and can easily fit in the fifth pocket of your jeans. The ring holder is also designed to spin the ring as much as 45 degrees as you open the ring box to beautifully showcase any and all gemstones.

The box is designed to be as innocuous as possible so that, should your ring box be found, it would be glossed over as nothing important. No more worries of stumbling upon your big surprise!

So subtle it is basically invisible, check out the video of the Slim Ring Box in action.

Print 3D for Me: An app that turns your favorite photograph into a 3D print

Posted by in 3D Printed, API, Apps

Zach Kauble is the co-founder of 3D Print for Me, which uses the Shapeways API to create a unique keychain from your favorite photograph. Below Zach discusses how he was inspired to create this application and how 3D printing can impact the future of custom product design.


Please introduce yourself – what is your background? Are you a developer? Designer? 3D modeler?

The product and web site were designed by myself and my partner, Tyler Watson. We are both software engineers by day. I started experimenting with 3D printing as a consequence of learning 3D modeling and sculpting software such as ZBrush and 3DS Max. I quickly realized that my models could be made real via 3D printing. It wasn’t long before I came across Shapeways.

What inspired you to start Print 3D for me?

I got the idea after I ordered a few prints of my Zbrush sculptures from Shapeways. I think a transformation occurred for me that probably happens to most “Shapies” because I become somewhat obsessed with designing a unique product. A single question was repeated daily in my head no matter where I was or what I was doing? How does 3D printing change this?

I had been experimenting with 3D printed lithophanes on Shapeways for some time before we decided to create Print 3D For Me. What most inspired us was the reaction of my coworkers at seeing some of my early prototypes. They were amazed by them, which surprised me.
I thought they were somewhat interesting, but not nearly as cool as others did. I suppose after so many iterations of a product, the appeal to the designer starts to wear away.

So, based on this enthusiastic response, we decided to create Print 3D For Me and sell the lithophanes as key chains.


What is your hope for growing the business?

Of course we hope to grow the business and several more products are in development. However, our primary goal in this endeavor is learn and have fun, and we’ve already done both quite a bit. There is definitely a lot to learn…3D modeling tools, Search Engine Optimization, Internet Advertising and configuration, the Shapeways API, and much, much more.

How is 3D printing helping creative businesses and consumers develop products they want?

My theory is that it removes the barrier to entry in developing and manufacturing physical product. It’s not specifically the additive manufacturing method that I’m excited about. It’s the idea that I can focus all of my time on designing a product while outsourcing the rest of the mundane details including manufacturing, distribution, and fulfillment. My sincere hope is that two things continue to happen as the technology improves: prices continue to drop, and the manufacturing options continue to increase…such as the inclusion of multiple materials and integrated electronics.

3D Printing Material Torture Test – FIRE

Ever wondered what would happen if you set fire to your 3D prints?  Yeah, me too.

Following is a video of a quick flame test of five of shapeways core 3D printing materials including Alumide, Acrylic (FUD + Detail) , Full Color Sandstone, and Nylon (WSF).  Watch this 3 minute video to see how each of these materials reacts to a quick encounter with a blow torch. Please do not try this at home.

A little surprisingly the Alumide was the first to melt down like a powdery napalm candle.  Both of the Acrylics (both of which are UV cured resins) caught fire super easily and burnt steadily emitting a terrible odor.  The full color sandstone did not really want to stay alight with this geometry.  It is actually the Cyanoacrylate (super glue (Kragle)) final sealing process that really burns in the full color prints, I tried other prints that had not been dipped in Cyanoacrylate and they would not stay alight at all.  Finally the Nylon caught fire but did not maintain the flame for very long.  In other geometries I have seen the Nylon keep alight for longer, again dripping like napalm whilst still on fire.

In the end, these materials are in no way resistant to fire, keep them away from naked flames as it will most likely result in a hot dripping, smelly mess.

I will share more videos of each of the materials with different geometries so you can see in detail how each material reacts.

And, what material torture test would you like to see next?

Grun Jewelry: 3D Printing, Travel and Inspiration by Tanya Gruenberg

Tanya Gruenberg was part of the Shapeways team at the Museum of Arts & Design for the Out of Hand exhibition, helping people understand how they can use 3D printing, 3D scanning a few thousand people, and always, obsessively thinking about and designing jewelry to be 3D printed.  Since her time at MAD, Tanya’s jewelry designs have evolved at an amazing rate to the point where she is now ready to present her beautifully resolved designs to the world, as Studio Grun.

“When I was a little girl, I remember my mom always wearing large white gold hoop earrings with diamonds running through it. I couldn’t wait until I was older to get my hands on them.”

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That memory left an impression on Tanya Gruenberg, a Miami native who graduated from Parsons School of Design with a degree in Industrial Design. Upon graduating, she has worked as a furniture designer and assisted in designing home goods for a large clientele. On her free time she was making jewelry and noticed her interest was getting deeper and deeper.

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Tanya has taught herself wax carving, along with other traditional techniques, but quickly noticed it was very difficult to balance a full time job while teaching herself physically laborious jewelry techniques. That’s where Shapeways came in. “I already had the skillset to 3D model which has helped tremendously getting my ideas out. Every time I commuted home from work, I would sketch out ideas in my Moleskin and as soon as I got to my apartment, I’d open up my computer where I’d 3D sketch and before I knew it a few weeks would pass by and BOOM… I would receive my package from Shapeways and my vision was physically in my hands. What could be better than that?”

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Travel serves as a source of inspiration for many of her designs. Tanya explains there is something really special about traveling, and exploring the unfamiliar that sparks her creativity. “Traveling allows me to observe and see things through a new perspective. “ A combination of traveling, book reading, museum going, and image viewing serves part of her inspiration. The unusual architecture and textiles from Florence, Italy and time spent at museums looking at ancient tools, weapons and artifacts in Egypt explain her aesthetic. “I feel like a storyteller when I design. All my pieces feel like they are designed for an ancient culture that never existed.”

Studio Grun is showing her work at, NY Now at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center 655 W 34th St, New York City and Accent on Design August 17-20 2014 (Sunday – Wednesday) Booth Number 4270

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How 3D Printing Is Revolutionizing Surgery

One of the most-common ways professionals use 3D printing is as a method to create rapid prototypes of potential products. But the ability to produce quick, affordable, and precise models can have a much bigger impact than getting the fit of an iPhone case just right. Over the last year, doctors have started using 3D-printed body-part replicas to help them prepare for complicated surgeries that they might not have otherwise been able to perform.

For doctors, capturing 3D models of surgical sites is already part of normal medical-imaging procedures, but printing those images allows doctors to see the sites with more clarity than ever before. The typical treatment for kidney cancer, of which there are 64,000 new cases in the U.S. each year, is surgery. The procedure is extremely delicate and must be completed quickly. Earlier this year, a team of doctors at Kobe University in Japan converted CT (computer tomography) scans of tumor-containing kidneys into 3D-print-ready models. Practicing on 3D models has allowed doctors to more-precisely target the affected areas, and cut the time that they must restrict blood flow from 22 minutes down to 8. As of April, the team had produced individualized scale kidney models for ten patients.

In more extreme cases, practicing on scale 3D models gives doctors the confidence necessary to operate on otherwise inoperable tumors. Surgeons at the Hospital Sant Joan de Deu in Barcelona, Spain had been through two failed attempts to remove a child’s tumor before they decided to try working with a 3D-printed likeness of the tumor. The patient has a common childhood cancer called neuroblastoma, which forms in nerve cells in the adrenal glands (which sit above the kidneys), chest, spine, and neck.

Doctors used a multi-material 3D printer to produce two models: a replica of the tumor with surrounding organs and a version of the patient’s abdomen without the tumor, so they could see what he should look like after a successful surgery. The team practiced on the 3D model for about a week-and-a-half before successfully removing the tumor. The hospital has since commissioned 3D models for two more patients.

Credit: Hospital Sant Joan de Deu

Credit: Hospital Sant Joan de Deu

In some instances, 3D prints can offer surgeons insight that might change their surgical plans for the better. Cardiologists at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center study and treat congenital heart disease in children. After 3D printing a model of a three-year-old patient’s heart last July, doctors Matthew Bramlet and Karl Welke realized that they could perform a surgery that would leave the child with two ventricles (the main chambers of the heart), while the previous plan would have left him with only one. According to Welke, traditional imaging techniques, including MRIs and echocardiograms, give doctors only vague shadows of what the heart looks like; 3D printing, on the other hand, presents a level of detail of that’s much closer to what doctors will actually encounter in the operating room.

Bramlet’s ultimate goal is to build a Library of Hearts that other doctors can use as a reference for congenital heart defects. He’s asking for pre- and post-op CT scans and MRIs of defects, which he will upload into a database of 3D-print-ready models. Other cardiologists with access to a 3D printer (ahem, or a 3D printing marketplace like Shapeways) can reproduce them.

3D Printed Bone Model

Right now, most of these hospital-based 3D prints are pricey and/or require partnership with another technical institution to complete. The neuroblastoma team in Barcelona worked with Polytechnic University of Catalonia. Meanwhile, making a 3D-printed at Kobe University can add as much as $1,500 to costs. So ingenuitive doctors are turning to more-affordable DIY methods to replicate necessary body parts. Mark Frame, a doctor in Glasgow, used freely available 3D modeling software to convert CT scans of a patient’s fractured bone into a print-ready model. He uploaded his design to Shapeways and received a scale model of the forearm bone within a week and for only £77 (about $132). A scale model would have otherwise cost him around $1,200.

Often doctors are unable to experiment with new techniques freely, as time, cost, and availability work against them. But the increased accessibility of 3D printing through services like Shapeways is removing all of those barriers in one fell swoop, giving practitioners—and their patients—chances they’ve never had before.