3D printing has been around for a while, and has traditionally been used to create small prototypes of larger products (or parts of products). The folks at ShapeWays are bringing 3D printing to you, and you don’t even need to know how to use 3D modeling software.
From the ShapeWays website you can use the Creator tool to design and personalize a few stock items, like the LightPoem above, which turns your words into a candle holder: you select the font, and whether the text should wrap or spiral, and their software does the rest. You can try the Creator for yourself, or watch an expert using it in the YouTube video below.
Products are printed and shipped anywhere in the world within 10 days. All costs include shipping and are displayed up front, either as you use the Creator or after you’ve uploaded a 3D model, so you know exactly how much each design will cost you.
People with 3D modeling software can upload files that ShapeWays can then print: great for model hobbyists or those who want a chess set made of entirely custom pieces. Almost anything you imagine can be printed. 3D printing is an additive process, so the final product is built up by placing successive layers of material on top of one another. This process allows extremely complex structures to be built with no seams or gaps.
ShapeWays allows you to make your projects visible to other users of the site, and also allows control of whether or not to permit others to order designs you’ve uploaded. There’s no CafePress style profit sharing yet, but I don’t expect it would be overly hard to add later on.