3D printing company Shapeways had a banner 2012 — it locked up a $6.2 million Series B last year in a round led by Lux Capital, and established a full-blown factory in Long Island City. And it’s hoping to make the process of designing and printing physical knickknacks even easier this year.
The plan? To inspire developers to create a slew of new design apps that hook into Shapeways’ printing and shipping workflow. To that end, the company officially released a new dev portal and REST-based API to developers and 3D-printing buffs earlier today.
For the uninitiated, Shapeways is essentially the cross between a 3D printing firm and a consumer-facing marketplace. Artists and designers who upload the digital blueprints for their wares to Shapeways can simply have them printed and shipped to them for their personal enjoyment, but they’re also able to set up shop and list the finished product(s) alongside a slew of others in hopes of making a sale.
The new API features some much-needed modifications like finer-grain controls when uploading models and the ability to generate real-time prices for models regardless of the materials and finishes desired, but the release speaks to a greater focus on apps as a means of creation.
“Apps are now a first-class entity on Shapeways,” said representative Elisa Richardson, who also noted that the company has plans to better showcase those apps going forward.
While the new API was only formally released this morning, Shapeways teamed up with a handful of developers during a private beta period to get a feel for what was possible using the API. The early results are rather nifty — a web app called MixeeMe allows users to design tiny Mii-esque avatars that can be printed and shipped, while TinkerCad acts as a full in-browser object-design tool that hooks into the API to pass along completed designs for printing.
With the API (and the apps that will eventually tap into it) Shapeways is clearly pushing to bring 3D printing to the mainstream. Part of its approach is to play up its consumer-facing side — Richardson also noted that the team is dedicated to showcasing the company’s “marketplace and manufacturing platform” with this launch. Not a bad move, especially considering that Shapeways has been treating some of its sellers rather well.
Shapeways notes on its official blog that the platform’s 8,000 shop owners made “nearly $500,000 in profits” last year, and CEO Peter Weijmarshausen told Forbes recently that he expects to see the first Shapeways millionaire some time next year. That said, Shapeways isn’t without competition — players like Cubify have marketplaces of their own (though arguably Cubify’s main focus is on selling its own 3D printers), and upstarts like Azavy are gearing up to throw hats into the 3D-printing ring.