Controversy Around The E3D BIGBOX Contest?

By on May 5th, 2016 in Event

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BigBox3D is looking for a 3D mascot design for their new BIGBOX open source 3D printer, but it seems that they’ve upset some designers along the way. 

BigBox3D, as we explained last year when the project launched, is a collaboration between hotend maker E3D and printer maker LittleBox. Their product is the well-designed, open source BIGBOX 3D printer that is specifically set up to provide a large volume, high-res, hackable machine with auto-calibration. It’s specifically targeting DIY operators who wish to tune and tweak the machine to the highest levels of performance. 

BigBox3D felt the need to create a fun 3D “mascot” that could be used to demonstrate the power of the machine and anchor their brand a bit better. That’s not a bad idea at all. 

To develop the mascot, they opened a public contest to create the design, likely in the spirit of open source sharing, as is the philosophy of the machine. Since then they’ve received a number of submissions for the design.

The contest closes on May 6th, but there’s some controversy brewing. 

While many participants to the contest are OK with the concept, those that are professional designers are not. One anonymous submission to our blog read: 

Looks like out of all companies, surprisingly E3D is the one who has created a very deceitful contest into cheating and devaluing designers. They are trying to masquerade a very cheap tactic into having many people provide a service to them and calling it a contest when it is a evident case of spec work.

And there are further comments of this nature in the Reddit thread, including: 

This is a sad attempt to get a logo without paying anybody.
I’d feel differently if:

  1. The contest guaranteed that somebody would win

  2. Ownership of a winning design would NOT be transferred to bigbox–they could use it (given the original had an appropriate CC license allowing for commercial use) but not change the terms of the original license.


I noticed that this was sleazy attempt at spec work when the contest was posted. I usually just lurk around here but I strongly feel against this as well now that others have spoken up. As a professional 3D Modeler, I feel we have put in just as much contributions to growing the 3d printer community just as much as the engineers who built the printers. What E3D is doing here is disrespectful to all 3D modelers. Either pay someone to build a customized model/logo for you or compensate everyone here for their service to you. I also guarantee you that the 10+ models made on here, if you had 1 person create all these wide varieties, it would surpass the worth of your printer easily. $1000 for 10+ finished models of totally different concept directions, you’ll never find that in the professional world. And cmon, $1000 is only the retail price of the printer, the cost to you is a lot significantly less. If you really claim that you are not having people directly work on your model/logo you shouldn’t be taking ownership of any of the works, even the winning entry. It’s not difficult to discern your intent of spec work here.


I think this is the most unethical “contest” to date, and can’t believe it is done by e3d. I touched upon this a little in a reply. What e3d is doing right here is getting free labor. Also there is no guaranteed prize because they can say no to everything here because “it’s not up to their standards”. This is definitely spec work. Think of it this way, if you consider yourself a respectable engineer and someone held a contest to make them a printer, and if they like it, they’ll award you with a prize only if they like it. A company then holds a “contest” for it and only awards it to the person they like then take their rights away for it. The other 30 contestants would have worked for nothing. 

Too bad. Thanks for grinding for us for free.

While there are multiple people entering the contest without issue, the event has definitely riled up the designers. 

I’ve seen this scenario before in other areas, where a company with limited resources wishes to convince pro designers to provide their skills and time for no fee. I’ve read many complaints from designers about this practice, as it hits them quite hard: it’s their job, after all, and they should be paid to do the work. With too many job opportunities going “free” in this way, it limits their ability to make a living. 

On the other hand, the BigBox3D project is an open source project, so participants are expected to contribute their piece without fees. However, the contest rules specifically say: 

The model must have licensing that allows commercial usage.

Which kinda puts a bit of doubt about whether the project is truly open source or not. 

Regardless of the above, it is always a good idea to use professionals to develop creative materials. It’s a skill that not everyone has, and you should be paying for it unless it is given freely. In this case, it may be that some good designers may not participate in the contest and thus BigBox3D may be losing an opportunity here. And in many cases, the cost of doing so is not at all prohibitive, particularly when you’re funded to something close to USD$500K in your launch campaign like BigBox3D.

Via Reddit and BigBox3D

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!