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HelpTutorialsRunning Your ShopChoosing the best material for your products

Choosing the best material for your products

When picking materials for your model, think about how the material will help to position it as a product. Is it an exclusive piece that you want to only offer in Fine Detail Polished Silver? Or a versatile design that looks great in a range of materials and price points? Using different materials, a single design can become a variety of different products. For example, a model of a ring could become a fun, inexpensive piece of costume jewelry Versatile Plasitc, or a precious keepsake in Polished Brass. Each deserve unique photos, descriptions, and price points.

Choosing the right materials for your products isn’t always easy, and has a huge impact on the value and success of your product. Here are some tips from the materials team to help you make the best choices.

Bicycle Chainring Cufflinks by GothamSmith in Stainless Steel, Natural Brass and Polished Brass

Brass, Bronze, or Steel?
With our recent launches, there are a wide range of steel finishes, and high-detail cast metals available. Both make for great products, but at different price points and levels of finish. Steel tends to be a bit rough, almost vintage looking, and lower resolution, with a lower price point to match. Our various steel finishes, including Gold and Nickel and Bronze offer the highest surface quality and consistency, while Patinas such as Matte black, and the basic steel is better for more rustic or steampunk pieces. To achieve much higher resolution and surface finish, our Brass and Bronze use the same casting process as Silver, and reproduce the finest details at high-end shopper ready quality.

Polished vs. Natural

Brass, Bronze, and Silver use such a high resolution production process that enables us to offer both Natural and Polished version of these materials. Both are shopper ready materials, so the choice here is mostly an aesthetic one: Natural is rugged and rustic, while Polished is elegant and refined.

While we offer Natural Versatile Plastic, you should think of these as low-end materials for prototyping and functional parts. Aside from special cases such as large or delicate designs and functional parts, we’d recommend directing shoppers to Premium Versatile Plastic and Professional Plastic that have a smooth, semi-glossy surface.

Polished vs. Fine Detail Polished Silver
The difference between Polished and Fine Detail Polished Silver often causes confusion. Both are polished, but the key distinction is the amount of polishing time invested in polishing internal details and hard to reach spaces. A simple ring may look very similar in both finishes, while something like Bathsheba’s Ora pendant will look very different;


Ora Pendant by Bathsheba in Fine Detail Polished Silver (left), Polished Silver (right)

Miniatures as Products

Many successful shop-owners already have amazing miniatures on Shapeways that they offer in Fine Detail Plastic. With cast brass and bronze, you can now offer these models in all their glorious detail to a much wider range of customers, and at a higher price point. When we launched these materials, we bought some popular miniatures in brass and bronze, and they haven’t left our desks since!

Schlepper RS01 "Pionier" (M 1:120) by Engineer in Natural Bronze

Choosing Materials that wear well

While great for visual models and items which don’t see extensive wear, our Black Versatile Plastic is not recommended for things like iPhone cases which see constant surface wear. They look great at first, but eventually the dye can wear through, creating lighter spots in the finish, and potentially disappointing your customers. White Versatile Plastic doesn’t wear through in this way, but because it’s white it can look dirty with wear. For functional parts, or things where you don’t mind a bit of a worn-in look, this can be just fine. If that’s not what you’re looking for, Premium Versatile Plastic or Professional Plastic are great alternatives. 

For smaller and more precious items, Brass and Bronze, in both Raw and Polished finishes, are durable solid metals that will wear beautifully, adding to their character. Steel is similarly long-lasting, but offers lower resolution, and a lower cost. Gold Plated Brass, is durable, but can eventually wear through if exposed to constant rubbing on clothing, skin, or when used as functional parts.

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