Long time Fabbaloo readers may recall a distant post describing the Fabjectory service that could 3D print your Second Life avatar. Fabjectory has long since disappeared, and we're not likely to see a similar service because Second Life's owner, Linden Lab, now strictly limits digital capture of in-world virtual items (including avatars) due to intellectual property concerns. That was it for the relationship between Second Life and 3D printing; the bridge between the virtual world of SL and the physical world was closed.
What's happened? From its beginning all virtual objects in Second Life were created in-world using very primitive 3D modeling tools. These in-world 3D modeling tools were simple to use, but posed significant limitations when producing complex objects. Recently Linden Lab released a new feature for their virtual world: Mesh import.
The new feature permits skilled 3D modelers using widely available professional 3D software to develop highly complex 3D models and then import them directly into the Second Life using Collada format. Once imported these objects could be used in many ways, not the least of which will be virtual sales for real money.
We think this development could have a big impact on Second Life, since it theoretically permits mass import of many beautiful and interesting objects. It also provides a new platform for 3D artists to deploy and possibly monetize their works. However, there's two challenges for professional 3D artists using SL: first, imported 3D models must have certain technical characteristics (detailed in the Wiki below) and secondly Linden Lab charges a fee to import mesh objects that rises with the complexity of the object. Should professional 3D designers succesfully import a lot of great content into SL, it could impact current in-world makers who now must compete against new mesh objects made with superior tools.
Years ago Fabjectory was able to reach across the void to make things from a virtual world real enough to hold in your hand. Now SL's mesh import will again make it possible to 3D print virtual world objects, except that those objects will have been created outside the virtual world. The bridge between the virtual world and the physical world is open once again.