Shapeways is a 3D printing service we've talked about before. We've covered many print services in the past, and the reality is that they are all operations focused around a fleet of 3D printers that must be kept busy. So what's the difference between them?
We think it's the choice of audience and how well they serve them. Traditional print services seemed to be engineered for engineers, where it was assumed the user of the service knew what was to be done. Today we're seeing more services that leverage well-known social networking and friendly interface techniques to create amazingly easy services that almost anyone can use.
Shapeways is one of this new breed of services, along with a very few others. Their ultra-clean website offers the ability to upload your design and print it so that "Within ten working days you'll hold your own design in your hands." It appears to be very easy to use, and we think you should give them a try.
Some highlights of their service:
- Expects either COLLADA, X3D or .STL formats. They recommend AccuTrans 3d as a (windows-only) tool to convert formats for incompatible 3D modeling tools
- Supported software includes: 3DS Max, AutoCad 8, Blender, Daz Studio, Lightwave, Maya, SolidWorks, Strata 3D, TrueSpace, XSI. Other tools can use AccuTrans to convert file formats
- Forums are available to discuss designs, logistics, how-to's and more. Shapeways staff respond frequently
- Four kinds of materials are available, in cream, white, bright white and semi-transparent, with varying strengths. Costs range from USD$1.87 to US$2.89 per cubic centimeter
- Several tutorials help newbies understand how it works
- Searchable help database
- Shapeways is working on a new backend that can provide Google Sketchup support
- Instant quotes for print options, including a size calculator
- Blog to keep everyone up to date (with comments from readers)
- Social networking features to display, tag and rate your designs. Highest rated objects are prominently displayed
We'd like you to give them a try, but unfortunately they are not quite open; they're still in beta stage. However, Fabbaloo has arranged for 50 invites to Shapeway's private beta program. To get started, just http://www.shapeways.com/beta and then use Beta Code "Fabbaloo". But note, only the first 50 will be accepted, so get there quickly!