A tipster put us onto a new 3D print service: ZapFab. This Manchester, UK-based business is a bit different than your run-of-the-mill “send us your 3D file and we’ll print it” operation. They offer not only the printing process, but also have a highly usable user-generated library of pre-made designs of various types. Fabbaloo readers will recall our previous rants on the importance of 3D model libraries; ZapFab bundles both library and print service into a single, friendly environment.
ZapFab’s tagline is to “Zapfab: User-generated content meets 3D Printing”. We believe this is an excellent approach, since it leverages web2.0 principles to power the generation of 3D designs.
Some services offer premade design capability, but generally they are very narrowly focused (for example, picture frames). ZapFab seems to be building a large, general purpose social network of 3D designs – with print capability thrown in. Although not yet automated, participants will be able to post their own 3D designs into the library, where others can examine, comment, rate, customize and even print them out using ZapFab’s printers.
ZapFab is trying to address the needs of both casual, non-technical users (who could simply select a model from the library, customize it and print it) and the technical users (who develop their own models with sophisticated 3D modeling tools and upload it to ZapFab.)
We did the obligatory fly-past of ZapFab’s website and noted the following:
- Prints are priced at £4 per cubic centimetre, although there is “special introductory pricing” at only £2 per cubic centimetre.
- Designs are stored as VRML 2.0 models. No mention of STL or other formats. Is this good or bad? We think that ZapFab would likely have a much larger market base if they were able to accommodate Google Sketchup models (and perhaps make them a takeover target for Google!) But VRML will have to do for those that have the software to produce it.
- Designs are not directly uploadable yet, but ZapFab says they can manually upload models via email for now.
- ZapFab provides a multi-platform Java-based viewer, so you can truly understand the shape and nature of the model you have selected before you print it. Otherwise, you might face making a 3D choice based on a 2D picture!
- An extension to the 3D viewer is “The Customizer”, which permits users to mod the existing designs.
- Like most service bureaus, ZapFab uses an unspecified Z-Corp 3D printer.
- Models can be tagged, commented and rated. Searches can of course use these data elements to rapidly find whatever they seek.
- Designs can be printed and shipped anywhere in 20 days (15 in UK).
One other very interesting aspect we observed is the effect of pricing on models, which we’ll cover in a future post.
We find the ZapFab concept to be one of the most innovative of all the current 3D service bureaus. When we have some time, we’re going to give it a test ourselves and report back, right here at Fabbaloo!