Most low-cost 3D printers offer rather constrained build sizes, of less than 20-30cm per side, sometimes much smaller. Print services can be similar, unless they use SLS approaches, but Shapeways has broken through this barrier by now offering a gigantic build envelope of 70cm x 38cm x 58cm (27.6" x 15" x 22.9"). This is large enough to construct impressive household objects, such as the chair you'll see in their post.
While larger, there are some interesting restrictions:
- The only material offered is their common "white strong flexible" plastic, although we suspect they're doing experiments on other materials behind the scenes now, and may offer different materials for short trials as they've done in the past
- There is a very slight loss of detail, with resolution degrading from 0.2mm to 0.5mm on the large prints. This, we believe, is quite acceptable, as the objects created will be proportionally larger than small objects and thus the loss of resolution will not easily be noticed by the common observer
- Weight becomes a concern: "Depending on the geometry of your model you may need to increase the wall thickness of your model up to if there are large unsupported spans". That's something we haven't heard in 3D Printerland before.
One concern we do have is cost. While unique small objects are somewhat pricey but still affordable, particularly if you choose one of Shapeway's amazing materials or finishes, this could add up very significantly for larger objects. Good thing we can't order that chair in Gold!
All in all, a great move by the 3D Print service that loves to push the envelope. In this case, it's their build envelope.