Category Archives: Design

Ora Cufflinks: A story of design and collaboration

One of the great things about being a part of the Shapeways community (in our humble opinion) is the amount of talented designers you are able to connect with. We love seeing community members connecting on our forums, Twitter, Facebook and more. Sometimes those small connections lead to even more, as shown through this beautiful collaboration between two shop owners. Gabriel Prero and Bathsheba put their two talent forces together to create some amazing cufflinks. What we love the most about this product is that it really showcases each designer individually.

We asked them both a few questions about how this all got started. Read on to learn how the idea came about and their (great!) tips on working with other designers.

How did the idea for this collaboration come about?

G: Strangely enough, it came about through the Shapeways Crew. I was doing a Crew presentation for the School of Design at the University of Illinois Chicago, and was sent a sample pack of various Shapeways models. One of those was the ever-iconic Ora by Bathsheba. I’d seen it before online, but never in person, and I was taken aback by just how striking it is in person. Pictures really can’t do it justice. And it’s just a pleasure to hold and play with. So I figured I’d send Bathsheba a note letting her know how much I loved the piece. She replied that she had gotten many requests for cufflink versions, and asked if I’d be interested in the collaboration. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

B: Well, it started when Gabriel wrote to me that he had got one of my “Ora” pieces and liked it.  People have asked me for cufflinks of my designs before, but since I don’t really wear French cuffs it would be work for me to figure out what makes a good cufflink, and I’d always left those queries on the suggestions pile.  So when I saw Gabriel’s shop, which is a very nice presentation by someone who clearly knows his links, I though why not ask?

Why did you choose to do something with the Ora design?

G: The initial idea to make it a cufflink really belongs to Bathsheba. I was more in the right place at the right time:) Though I do think it lends itself very well to this scale. To shrink any sculpture down risks losing some detail, or having a print fail. The Ora scaled beautifully, and printed successfully right off the bat.

B: Most importantly it was Gabriel’s choice — since he did the work of adapting the design and photographing the product, definitely it should be something he likes.  On the practical side, not many of my designs can be printed in steel small enough for this application, so that narrows down the choices.

How long did the process take?

G: From initial email until the listing went live, about 6 weeks. Though the actual design work went pretty quickly. Most of the time were just back and forth emails and waiting for the Shapeways box to arrive.

B: From the beginning of April to late May, so quick as these things go.

What was the best part about working with another designer?

G: Often when I do custom work for customers, they’re unfamiliar with the CAD or 3D printing process. Collaborating with someone as experienced as Bathsheba, it was nice to speak the same language, and share experience.

B: He’s awfully good!

Any future collaborations coming up?

G: We’ve talked about “cufflink-izing” some of her other creations, so we’ll see!

B: We might do some more links if this one goes well.  Meanwhile I’m always open to suggestions!  I’m a fan of licensing deals; they’ve generally been pleasant and productive, so I try to answer any reasonable email.

Any tips on how designers can best work together?

G: I think the best tip I can offer is to just start the conversation! One of the things that keep surprising me about the Shapeways community is that the members are so open for exchanging ideas and giving meaningful feedback. Don’t be shy approaching someone you admire whom you’d consider to be in a “league above”.

B: I think it’s important to have a good contract.  The assets in play here were on Gabriel’s side, expertise in designing cufflinks and a platform to sell them; and on my side the design itself, and experience with licensing transactions.

The first three of these things are sort of obvious, but I’d like to unpack the last one.  I have a nondisclosure agreement which allows me to share the design file with less risk — you pretty much have to do this to evaluate the possibility, and without an NDA the risk is all on the designer’s side.  Having that handy gets rid of a major source of worry and distrust.

Thanks to both of you for your time and insight! Make sure to check out both their shops for even more amazing design.

 

Learn 3D CAD the easy way with this Kickstarter: 20+ Hours of Meshmixer online training by HoneyPoint3D

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We’re always looking for new ways to educate people about 3D printing and CAD modeling. From the basics of how it’s done to how anyone can create amazing designs themselves, we want to educate as many as possible on how to get started in the 3D printing process. Whether it’s through tutorials, online videos, free apps, etc., we know there are a lot of channels through which people can learn.

We’ve been telling you a lot about various Kickstarter campaigns happening right now that Shapeways has some involvement with. In the spirit of education, today we want to tell you about a new campaign from HoneyPoint3D that is offering to help more people learn 3D CAD modeling through their online courses.

HoneyPoint3D is a company that aims to innovate in the 3D printing market by offering easy-to-follow online classes at a variety of skill levels. They have already taught 5,000 students and are writing MAKE magazine’s next “Getting Started on 3D Printing” book, releasing January 2016. All in an effort to help people with their 3D models from concept to finished product.

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Their Kickstarter is raising money for a full online course that will teach beginners how to create and advanced modelers how to enhance and fix 3D CAD files. HoneyPoint3D has partnered with our friends over at Autodesk to teach the course using their free 3D Sculpting software, Meshmixer. Taking the course will save designers time and money. If the Kickstarter reaches its goal of $8,118, the course will be launched starting at just $20 (compared to $149)!

Make sure to check out this campaign for more information, and stay tuned for more educational content from us!

Artist Uses 3D Printing To Combine Love Of Printmaking and Beer

Posted by in Community, Design

Graham Stephens is a Maker and Artist based out of Portland, OR. Graham has a passion for Printmaking and focuses on  print making projects that range from engraving, woodcutting, and sketching. He recently opened a Shapeways store and launched his first product in the marketplace, the Ink Brayer Bottle Opener. Graham’s Bottle Opener combines his love of printmaking and everything print related with his love of delicious craft beer.

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It took Graham three iterations and prototypes before arriving at his final version of his bottle opener that is large and strong enough to reliably open a bottle with ease, but also maintains the look and feel of a tiny ink brayer. 

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 The Ink Brayer Bottle Opener 3D printed in stainless steel

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Video of Ink Brayer Bottle Opener in action

Graham’s Ink Brayer Bottle Opener fits great in a pocket and can fit a key-ring. It makes a great gift for anyone who loves printmaking. Graham started using 3D printing for his own personal pieces over the years and plans on listing more of his designs on his Shapeways shop Diode Press in the future.

Have you ever used 3D printing to combine your love with another interests? Let us know in a comment below.

 

The First 3D Printed Melodica

Posted by in Community, Design

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When I first picked up a toy melodica, I was hooked. It only cost me £20, it was easy to play, and so small I could take it anywhere. I decided to devote a few years to it, and see if I could discover its full potential.

At first it was great fun, and quite a novelty to be playing a toy instrument to a high standard. But it had its drawbacks. You couldn’t play fast melodies without some of the notes dropping out, and the tone was so shrill, I felt sorry for anyone sitting next to me. But perhaps worse of all, I found it difficult to be taken seriously at music sessions when I pulled out a bright plastic instrument which was ultimately designed to appeal to kids.

I was ready for a professional melodica, but there wasn’t anything out there. That’s when I thought about making one. I’d heard of 3D printing, but it was something I know nothing about. How easy was it to learn?

I began the journey by getting some lessons in CAD software. Once I’d covered the basics, I took my melodica apart, and bit by bit, recreated it within a 3D environment. And once it existed in virtual reality, I could make all the changes I needed to create my dream instrument. I wanted something that sounded as good as any other professional instrument, with a clear tone, and I also wanted it to look a bit special, something I could be proud of.

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I ended up with the design for one large piece, a sort of frame which was 40cm long, and 32 small keys which slotted into it. I bought a Flashforge Creator Pro with the idea that I’d print the 40cm long frame in sections, and glue them together. After printing out some of the keys, it soon became clear that the accuracy wasn’t sufficient for building a melodica.

So, I sent my files to a printing company, 3D Alchemy, who printed the whole instrument in resin, on a Stratasys Eden 500V. This was much more accurate, but unfortunately, once the melodica was assembled, the keys began bending under the pressure of the springs I was using to keep them in place. It seemed my design and application didn’t suite the properties of the material. 3D Alchemy kindly offered to refund the keys, and took back the frame for extra UV curing.

I decided to get new keys printed in Nylon 12 (strong and flexible) from Shapeways, as I’d heard they were strong. Once they’d arrived, I put them together with the newly cured frame to see how the combination worked. Initially it was great, but over a few days, I was disappointed to find that the resin frame began to warp under the pressure of the springs, just as the keys had earlier. I needed a new frame, but what material should I print it in?

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I was so impressed with the strength and accuracy of the Nylon 12 keys, that I decided to reprint the 40cm frame in the same material. There was one potential problem – melodicas need to be airtight and watertight, and Nylon 12 is quite porous. I got around this by coating it in a few layers of acrylic sealant, before finishing it with paint and varnish. Once assembled, I could see that I had the right material. It was strong and light, and looked great with a layer of acrylic paint.

Once it was all working properly, it was time to turn it into an organic looking instrument that would look at home in a professional environment. So I carefully shaped some wood to fit on top of the black keys, and made some end pieces to give the instrument a traditional feel. I also stripped the ivory from some old piano keys to recreate the touch of a quality instrument. And I’m delighted with the result. I finally have a musical instrument that I can take out and play at professional concerts and recordings, and it looks just as good as it sounds.

Daren Banarsë is an artist and composer living in London. Read his blog documenting the making of the first 3D melodica here

 

3D printing beautifully disturbing masks for JiHAE’s “It Just Feels”…on a crazy deadline

About six months ago, actor Norman Reedus came to our offices to get scanned. We couldn’t say much at the time (which was incredibly hard) but now we’re pleased to be able to let you know that Shapeways had a part in the new JiHAE music video “It Just Feels.”

The music video was directed by film director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, with words and music by Leonard Cohen, Dave Stewart and JiHAE. Agnieszka came up with the amazing mask concept for the video and worked with designer and shop owner, Melissa Ng of Lumecluster,  to create five masks for the music video – one for the artist and four for Norman.

What an amazing opportunity, right? Well, the only catch was that they all needed to be designed and printed in just three weeks. Anyone familiar with 3D printing knows that the process can take a little time, so Melissa was definitely up against a crazy deadline. Being the pro she is, she tackled the challenge with grace and created amazing masks that are featured in the music video.

Below are a few excerpts from a piece Melissa wrote on her blog Lumecluster. Definitely check out the full piece to learn more about her process (and what she did when the deadline turned from three weeks to three days!).

“This was a new challenge I wasn’t sure I was ready for. I also still felt like a newbie since I only spent a few months learning how to 3D model in Blender and was active in the 3D printing world for a little over 10 months. All I kept thinking was, “This is impossible for me. I can’t do this.”

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(From left to right). Lumecluster style Dreamer Mask: Breakthrough in white, strong, flexible plastic. It Just Feels Demonic man mask in full color sandstone (not at all my usual style). Photo courtesy of Melissa Ng.

“One mask down, four more to go. We’ve got time, right? Wrong.

A few days after Thanksgiving, Agnieszka told me the bad news. It turned out we only had THREE DAYS to complete the four masks for Norman Reedus (not counting the days required for 3D printing).”

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3D printed full color sandstone JiHAE mask. Photo courtesy of Melissa Ng.

“The second day, after endless Skype conversations and iterations with Agnieszka, I finally pulled together some skin texture mockups for the four masks. While we were making good progress, there was one big problem…we still didn’t have Norman’s measurements.

On the third day, the four masks were only 50% complete and we needed Shapeways to start 3D printing them the next morning. We only had one shot.

There was no time to waste. Agnieszka knew what she needed and she was trusting me to help bring this vision to life.

JiHAE also miraculously managed to bring Norman into the Shapeways office (despite his crazy schedule). Soon enough, Savannah got me the 3D scans and photos I needed to ensure these masks would fit and match his skin tone. Again, the scan wasn’t super clean but it helped me correct my measurements on Norman’s masks.”

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(From left to right). My mask sculpt over Norman’s 3D scan and Savannah Peterson getting reference photos at Shapeways headquarters. Photo courtesy of Melissa Ng.

“Within about two weeks, I had grown immensely and learned more than I could have imagined when it came to building skill, trusting myself, and trusting others. Shapeways also really came through for me and I can’t thank them enough.

Learning to love (and overcome) the challenge comes down to whether or not you are willing to identify and strengthen your weak foundations. In the end, dreams thrive or crumble depending on how far you choose to venture out of your comfort zone.”

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(Clockwise starting from the top left). Norman Reedus mask, JiHAE mask, Angry man mask, Demonic man mask, and Arrogant man mask. Photo courtesy of Melissa Ng.

Congratulations on such amazing designs, Melissa! We just love the concept that Agnieszka created and are so happy we were able to help you both with that vision. To read her full account on the process make sure to check out her site.

Introducing new pilots: Aluminum, Interlocking Metal and Black Nylon

We’re always working on new innovations –everything from new materials and new website features, to 3D tools and partner programs. Today we are launching 3 new pilot materials available for testing: Interlocking Metal, Aluminum and Black Nylon 11.

Over the past year, we’ve introduced various pilot programs that have allowed our community to experiment with our newest materials, features and more before they are offered to the public. Today, you can learn more about these programs and sign up through our new Pilots hub, our new destination for 3D printing innovation and boundary-pushing design.

When you visit the new Pilots page, you will now see all the pilot programs available for designers to participate in. Some pilots are open and available for sign-up, while others have a waitlist based on manufacturing capacity. We currently offer Porcelain, Full Color Plastic and RUSH pilots. With the official introduction of Pilots, we are also opening up three brand new programs:

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Interlocking Metal: We are experimenting with the process and ability to make new, unique and complex designs in our most popular cast metals; Silver and Brass. While you can currently design products with interlocking parts in our Strong & Flexible, this will be the first time you can create interlocking parts with some of our metals. (Product: Platonic Progression Earrings by HypatiaStudio)

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Aluminum:  This new material is a lightweight, strong, high tolerance metal capable of interlocking parts. Being a part of this pilot provides access to expensive new technology at the lowest prices in the market. (Product: Invertible Cube by aryser)

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Black Nylon 11: Different from our current Black Strong & Flexible, Black Nylon 11 is actually printed in a black powder. This material has slightly different properties than the former because it is a different type of Nylon (our White Strong & Flexible is a Nylon 12 and this one is Nylon 11). (Product: Mobius Nautilus by joabaldwin)

So why pilot programs? Pilots help us help you. At Shapeways, we are always working on new innovations – everything from new materials to partner programs. Pushing the limits of what’s possible with 3D printing helps us enable you to make anything you can imagine. You can test a new material, tool or service and provide us with your thoughts and feedback so that we can continue to improve the offering.

3D printing is a technology that will continue to evolve for a long time. As we learn more and update our services, we want to make sure that what we are offering is the best that Shapeways and the 3D printing community can find. In order to get to that place, we need to test, test and test some more. That’s where pilot programs come in – and why they are designed to be experimental. By inviting interested designers to partake, we are:

  1. Allowing excited and engaged community members not only a first look but a first try with our newest materials, services, etc. With our pilot programs, you can be one of the first to start designing in various new materials
  2. Getting a sense of what can and cannot be done when it comes to design guidelines. You are all constantly pushing the boundaries of what can be done, and we want to know from the beginning if a new material can support your creations
  3. Cutting down on rejections. You are helping us perfect the design guidelines for materials that could eventually be available to customers, potentially turning experimental materials into finished product materials

One of the most important aspects of pilot programs to remember is that not everything will become a public material or service. If the pilot does not seem to be working no matter how hard we try to improve it, we won’t make it public-facing. We never want to offer something that won’t work for our entire community (including shoppers); having these testing periods allows us to keep from doing so.

When a new pilot program begins you are either free to sign up or allowed to sign up for a waitlist. Designers on waitlists will be added according to manufacturing capacity. This will allow our community team to provide more personal and thorough support to those in the groups. All of our pilot programs are managed by Shapeways employees who are available for questions, concerns, etc. We also have forums dedicated to each program so you can chat with others about your designs.

We’re so excited to launch more pilots and see what amazing designs you come up with. We’ll get these rolling, but in the meantime, tell us what pilot you’d like to see next? What’s your dream material?

Japanese Designer Creates 3D printed Transforming ‘STINGRAY’ Toy Kit

Artist and Designer Tomoo Yamaji who was inspired by the Transformers cartoons from the 80′s and 90′s has designed a fully functional, detailed, 3D printed, assemble yourself transforming robot. Tomoo felt that there was a need for a grown up version of transforming robot toys and decided to use Shapeways 3D printing to bring this impressive design to life. The product comes in kit form and needs to be assembled by the customer. All parts already have the screw holes, so they can be easily assembled with screws. No adhesive is required.

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(The kit is printed in White, Strong & Flexible nylon plastic unpolished) 

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 (STINGRAY kit unassembled) 

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Tamoo’s robot kit and parts were designed using the 3D CAD software Rhinoceros

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Here is a video of his transforming sculpture

Tamoo Yamaji’s STINGRAY kit currently sells for $190 US on his Shapeways shop. You can find the instructions on how to assemble it on his website here. We have seen a growing number of talented digital artist designing custom 3D printed toys and figurines, especially designs that are aesthetically pleasing and challenges traditional manufacturing methods.

What are some custom toy ideas you’d love to see designed by our community members for the Shapeways marketplace? Let us know in a comment below.

This 3D Printed Steel Sculpture Is Amazing!

San Francisco based Designer and Artist Tareq Mirza has a passion for exploring the possibilities in traditional metalwork and 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing for artistic and educational purposes. We recently came across his blog and instagram where we discovered his amazing 3D printed metal sculptures. This Shadow Self sculpture really caught our attention, the sculpture was designed in Zbrush. The sculpture itself was 3D printed in steel through a local metal 3D printing provider and the centerpiece was printed in brass with Shapeways.

 

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3D Printed Shadow Self Sculpture by Tareq Mirza

 

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 Brass center piece printed by Shapeways with garnet stones

Tareq is also the owner of the Shapeways shop Ektera where he sells this cool Vampire Head Bottle Opener.

We enjoy seeing community members that push the boundaries and create jaw dropping designs. We want to see more of your designs, especially on instagram where we discovered Tareq’s incredible work. Follow Shapeways on Instagram @Shapeways and tag us in your photos and your designs might get reposted on our page.

What is the largest design you’ve 3D printed and in which material? Let us know in a comment below!

Mani Zamani’s Epic 3D Printed Toy Collection

Shapeways allows designers to leverage 3D printing in an interesting way, whether they are making innovative designs, custom products, or designs that are simply not possible without the use of 3D printing. A very eye catching Shapeways shop by designer Mani Zamani creates incredible SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) 3D printed toys that wouldn’t otherwise be possible without 3D printing technology.

Mani’s 3D printed toy collection called “Extra Terestri Aristocrats” are printed in our nylon plastic material and are available in various dyed colors. His toy designs are unique and take on complex and unimagined shapes. Some of his toy designs are printed with moving parts and are fully articulated without any assembly straight from the 3D printers.

 

 

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Here is a video of some of the models of Mani’s 3D printed toy collection which are also available for sale on his Shapeways shop.

Have you ever designed a 3D printed toy? If not our nylon plastic material is a great material for pushing the limits for what traditional toys are suppose to look like. Explore more 3D printed toys and creative designs from our community on our marketplace here.

Designer Turns Brain Waves Into 3D Printed Sculptures

Imagine if you can visualize your thoughts into brainwaves and then turn those brainwaves into a 3D print. Architect and Artist Ion Popian deals with human perception and how we understand our environment and what effect that has on the individual and the greater community. This is why he created The Mental Fabrication Project. The Mental Fabrication project uses a NeuroSkyelectroencephalogram (EEG) sensor  to capture data on the brain and creates a 3D model based on the brainwaves.

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Behind the Scenes. Mental Fabrications Project from Ion Popian on Vimeo.

Ion uses Shapeways to 3D print his brainwave sculptures and his work has been exhibited in galleries like SoHo’s HarvestWorks gallery. You can learn more about Ion and his work on architecture fabrication projects on his website here.

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Using 3D Printing to Recreate a Lost Sculpture

We say this a lot, but we are always in awe of our community and excited to see the projects you are working on. One we’re really excited about is from UK-based designer, Matt Smith, who has launched a campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds to recreate a sculpture by Umberto Boccioni that was destroyed nearly 100 years ago. Shown in 1913, all that is left of the sculpture is a collection of original photographs and sketches.

Using those sketches, Matt will recreate the original piece using digital sculpting techniques and 3D technology to exhibit the work at various galleries, with the first showing in London.

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For background: Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) was a prominent Italian artist of the Futurist movement, who rejected traditional materials and embraced technological advances. Several of his plaster sculptures were destroyed, leaving an important gap in his artistic legacy. It seems appropriate that the contemporary technologies of digital sculpture and 3D printing, which Boccioni would have probably embraced, are now being used to recreate his lost work. Replacing his missing work will be an invaluable contribution to the art world; benefiting scholars, researchers, artists and the public .

Matt discovered Boccioni’s work as an art student and was immediately inspired. During a trip to Italy, Matt discovered Boccioni’s own photographs of the lost sculptures and began an exhaustive investigation of the remaining records of the missing artwork. As he states in his press release:

“I wanted to understand more about this unique sculpture, to study the work. As it no longer existed, that was going to be a challenge. The photographs taken by Boccioni over 100 years ago are an invaluable guide. I saw the possibility of piecing the fragments together and sharing what I learned with others. I believe I have found enough evidence, photo references, drawings and research to help me recreate the work in 3D as the artist intended.”

Matt became an avid 3D designer thanks to constant inspiration from 3D in all its forms; at Art School it was clay, then 3D computer graphics. Having worked in the virtual 3D world of games, using Maya, Lightwave and ZBrush, 3D printing allowed him to use his experience to make virtual objects physically real. His first 3D printed object actually  was Umberto Boccioni’s ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.’ This was before 3D scanning was feasible, so he took reference photographs and sculpted it in ZBrush.

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He believes the “all or nothing” funding approach of Kickstarter makes the most sense for his project, and is sure backers will make a significant different (he’s already raised almost half his goal!). If the target goal is reached Matt is offering some great rewards to those who make pledges. Be sure to check it out and support a fellow 3D designer!

 

Help Shapeways 3D Print The Next Big Meme Contest!

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We all love memes — they’re hilarious, introspective, and sometimes downright deep. It’s time for us to expand our collection in the Shapeways marketplace, and we want you to help us pick our next meme!

Share your favorite memes on Instagram & Twitter with the hashtag #SHAPEWAYSMEMES until April 30th. We will choose one of the memes with the most shares to be modeled by one of our community all-star designers and put it up for sale in the Shapeways marketplace. Be sure to check if we already have your favorite meme in our marketplace before you share!

To help you build your meme collection in preparation for the new model, we’re giving you $5 off all memes and figurines in the Shapeways Memes Gift Guide until April 30th. Simply use the promo code SHAPEWAYSMEMES at checkout to save $5 when you order one of our memes.

The fine print: Offer is for $5 off any order containing any selected figurines. Eligible products are listed on shapeways.com/gift-guide/memes-and-figurines. SHAPEWAYSMEMES code cannot be combined with other discounts and is valid 5 times per customer. If you return your purchase, you will be refunded the amount paid. Expires April 30, 2015 at 11:59pm PDT. The winning meme will be determined by Shapeways using criteria chosen at Shapeways’ discretion.

 

 

Happy National Beer Day!

Today is National Beer Day in the US, so we figured it was about time to revisit some of the fun bottle openers available in our marketplace. Whether or not you choose to celebrate this “holiday,” there is never a shortage of unique tools designed to help you open bottles of any kind.

Last year Shapeways Crew member, John Fitzpatrick, put together a list of his favorite 3D printed bottle openers. Check out a few more below!

Vampire Head Bottle Opener

Skull Bottle Opener

Ethanol Molecule Bottle Opener

Poop Emoji Bottle Opener

Beerhead Bottle Opener

There you have it! Do you have a favorite 3D printed bottle opener? Share it in the comments below!

Introducing Our Coolest Material Yet – Moon Dust!

Last year, 3D printers took off to print in space. Now, Shapeways is incredibly thrilled to announce that we’ve added the most innovative material to our portfolio yet – moon dust. Our engineers obtained samples from our friends at NASA  and developed a unique method for leveraging our current SLS printers to 3D print with this groundbreaking material.

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Moon dust surprisingly shares many of the same properties as the nylon powder we use in our SLS printers, so the design guidelines are the same. The finished product, though, has an extraordinary characteristic: a silver shimmer that only appears when held under moonlight. In daylight or under indoor lighting, moon dust products will have the same coloration as the color that we see the moon – a nice light gray with some white gradation. When held under moonlight, however, moon dust products have a beautiful, sparkly quality to them. Imagine how you will wow your family and friends with a smart phone case or bow tie that sparkles under moonlight, like the ones our community member created below!

Stay tuned for more details on our moon dust material, which we’ll open up to the public on the date of the next full moon. In the meantime use #ShapewaysMoonDust to let us know what you will design with this exciting new 3D printing material.

Happy creating!

 

Behind the product: Pocket Clip for Fitbit Flex

We love to hear all about the amazing products we see here at Shapeways. What was the inspiration? How many times was it printed before it was perfect? This series is about exploring the stories behind the creative and unique products that go through our printers.

The Pocket Clip for Fitbit Flex has been a popular product since it was introduced. It’s the perfect example of a product that fulfilled a market need – something that really can’t be found anywhere else. We caught up with the designer, Tom Felker,  to find out more about how the idea came about and how he works with customers to create various versions and improve upon the model.

Where did the idea for this product come from? 

I think this fell into the “necessity is the mother of invention” category. My job’s health insurance program gave everyone Fitbits as part of a fitness incentive, but I already wore a watch and didn’t want two bands. My friend and I were talking about it, and we thought maybe we could 3D print something. The way it snaps in was sort of inspired by how the Fitbit USB charger works, though that snaps in a little differently and uses a spring.

I think I just got sort of lucky in that the problem I solved is shared by lots of Fitbit users, and there are quite a few of them out there.

Walk us through the iteration process? How many designs did you go through?

I iterated the design on paper a little bit before even making a model. At first I didn’t have a great idea for how you’d take the Fitbit out, and I was thinking about having a bendable tab you’d push or something. I decided to figure that out later, make a model and sent it to Shapeways to be printed.

When I got it, I put the Fitbit in and it snapped in perfectly – but I forgot that I had no way to get it out so prying it out was quite a project. Around then I had the obvious-in-retrospect idea to add a hole in the back so you could just push it out with your finger. First I just used a rasp to add the hole into the model I had, and then I changed the 3D model and ordered version 2. I think I made one more version with some minor changes to the geometry to make it snap harder.

Somewhere along the way, I also tried different materials. I found that alumide was too stiff, and I knew the UV resin materials would be a little too brittle but WSF worked great. I had tried rubber and realized I would need a very different design to make that work. Much later, I tried a different design to work with metal but I haven’t gotten too far with that yet. I also tried a version my friend printed out on his hobbyist FDM printer in ABS, but it wasn’t dimensionally accurate enough and was way too stiff – and didn’t look too good.

How important has customer feedback been to you?

When making the first proof-of-concept model I wasn’t talking to customers yet, but later I was. There was a customer who wanted to put it on a pendant, so I made that variant for her and have sold a few of those. Another wanted the pendant loop to go the other way, and so I modeled that, then added a ring to it so you’d have a choice, and at that point you might as well add a chain, and the keychain version was born. Somebody was asking about a version you could use to make a paracord bracelet, so I did that as a beta model. I also ended up strengthening the clip on the pocket clip version due to customer feedback.

What have you learned about the 3D printing process through this product?

I think a lot of what I’ve learned has been more about selling things. The power that exposure can give you. The need to be very clear when communicating to customers.

Do you think gadget accessories will continue to be a popular category for 3D printing?

I think gadget accessories will always be a pretty big part of 3D printing. I come from an engineering side of things, and I probably don’t have a good understanding or appreciation for art (or a lot of budget or space to spend on purely artistic objects), but when you have a dealy-bob and you really need a widget holding bracket for it, 3D printing is perfect for that.

Thanks for the insight into this popular product, Tom. We’re excited to see what else you come up with in the future!