3D Printing, The New Merch!?

CantTouchThisWhat if you could provide a completely unique one-a-kind experience to your fanbase? No, I’m not talking about a new t-shirt design or buy-one-get-one promo… I’m talking about 3D printing, the completely relevant and attainable concept of creating brand new tangible objects on demand. Recently, The Orchard’s own Kele Okereke of the band Bloc Party made headlines for releasing a 3D printed vinyl record. If 3D printing a vinyl record is possible, what isn’t? Could 3D printing become the new merch?

3D printing involves taking a computer-based 3D blueprint and printing it by successively adding material from the ground up. The concept has been around since the 80s but it’s really catching its stride and is poised to grow by leaps and bounds in 2014. Much of this expected growth is due to the shrinking price points on home-based 3D printers. Traditionally, Brooklyn’s own MakerBot has lead the charge in relatively low cost 3D printing with printers in the 2k to 3k range. However, as of earlier this week at CES 2014, 3D Systems has jumped out to be the lowest with the soon-to-be released Cube at an estimated price point of $1,299.

Okay, so this amazing technology now costs as much as a new Macbook but how do you create a 3D object? No fear, all the biggest players in 3D printing are building out online communities to share designs and services. MakerBot has “Thingiverse” where 3D blueprints can be shared, customized and commented on. Shapeways and Sculpteo are both sites that offer to help turn your 2D designs into 3D objects as well as printing services. Shapeways even has an online store where they’ll promote and track your sales. Finally and even more amazing, MakerBot sells a digitizer, a piece of equipment that will scan a physical object and create a blueprint ready for 3D printing!

If the cost is still too steep or risky, companies are popping up to help facilitate design and printing so the customer doesn’t have to make the initial equipment purchase. A large company like Autodesk has created a workspace called Pier 9 in San Francisco, and a smaller startup, 3D Heights, has launched in New York.

Now imagine 3D printing your most popular song titles or lyrics for fans to proudly display on their desks or in their homes. It could begin with paperweights and iPhone cases then grow to custom flash drives of unreleased material, on-demand vinyl copies of the album, and full-fledged action figures! If done creatively, the results could help drive sales and press.

So is this a passing fad or the real next industrial revolution?

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