The sign that convinced me that 3D printing has gone mainstream was a newly opened retail store which I spotted downtown the other day. This store is the first I’ve seen offering 3D prints of . . . people! So instead of going to a professional photographer to have your photo taken, you can now walk into this store and have a figurine created of yourself. It starts with a full body scan and ends with a 3D replica of you, in the scale of your choice.
When I saw a 3D printer being used to create a mask in a Mission: Impossible movie a few years ago, I assumed it was pure science fiction. But just as Star Trek’s communicators made the leap from science fiction to fact, so too have 3D printers.
My first question after walking into the store was what material they use to print the figurines. I was told that most of the figurines on display were made of gypsum powder, but plastic is also available. My second question was if they could print objects other than people. The answer was yes, but not at the store. For that, I’d have to contact head office.
Of course, there are already online 3D printing services like Shapeways which offer custom printing. But there are lots of esoteric services available online which cater to extremely small markets. The fact that a retail store now offers this service indicates that the market is big enough to justify a bricks and mortar presence. This means that demand is increasing.
You can also buy your own 3D printer. At this point in time they’re extremely expensive, and would only be justified for someone constantly making prints. Prices won’t come down that quickly because the market for these machines is limited. They’re specialty items, unlike LED TV sets or DVD players, which dropped dramatically in price because of high consumer demand.
The mainstreaming of 3D printing is a significant development for diorama artists. No longer are we faced with scratch building items which aren’t available in kit form, or overpaying for resin garage kits. More choice is always good, and diorama artists will benefit.