3D printing hits the high street for plastic selfies
We’ve been talking about 3D printers for years now, and it’s never made sense to me to buy one of the things: they’re expensive, require serious CAD skills to make anything useful and they smell bad — burning plastic isn’t easy on the nose.
Print shops, on the other hand, always seemed like the perfect home for 3D printers: such businesses could buy better hardware and therefore print higher-quality products than consumers could afford, and offer a chance to make bespoke objects without investing hundreds of pounds first.
Step right up Ryman. The stationery and printing shop has started to offer 3D printing services in two of its London stores, bringing 3D printing to the high street — well, to The Strand and Great Portland Street, at least. We swung round to the latter to see how it works — and get another 3D printed self-portrait to add to our terrifying collection.
The key to Ryman’s 3D services is that it not only offers printing but scanning, so you don’t necessarily need to be a CAD expert to create your own… thing, whatever that may be.
Ryman prints using 3D Systems’ CubePro Duo, which sells for about £2,760 exc VAT and can print items up to about 25cm square. Ryman also has the smaller consumer version (pictured below, £999), which it will sell. The latter is faster as it prints at lower quality, but it’s worth noting the CubePro Duo is still a consumer piece of kit — commercial machines remain too expensive, even for a print shop.
If you want something printed, you can email over your own .STL file, download and modify a creation from the web, or come in and have the item scanned. There’s no set printing cost, as it depends on the object and the print quality; Ryman will look at the file before giving you an estimate. Time to print naturally also varies.
So far, it only uses PLA plastic — described by Ryman print specialist Mathieu Gaspard as the “hard” one — but the printers can take multiple types of plastic, so that could change. Products can have two colours right now, but Gaspard said there’s potential for an extra feature that’s essentially an inkjet printer, which paints colours and textures to the finished printed product — slapping a slightly more realistic face on that plastic selfie.
Ryman is trying to capture the attention of high-street shoppers by offering an “ultimate selfie” service. For £50, they’ll scan your head and print out a mini model of you in a single colour. To be scanned, you sit on a stool — I was told to sit still and quit giggling — while the Ryman staffer creeps around, pointing at your face and head a contraption that looks like a lit-up staple gun.
That’s the scanner, and it captures enough detail to make a 3D image with very little touching up in post production.
The scanning took a few minutes, and then Gaspard had to digitally fix my hair (and nose — that was hard on my self-esteem) and smooth out any mistakes. The 11cm minature of my face and chest — it wasn’t a good day to wear a bit of a low-cut top, if I’m honest — is currently printing in tan PLA over on Great Portland Street. It should take about ten hours.
I’ll update this post with a photo of my mini me when it arrives tomorrow, but here’ the 3D image:
While I’m eagerly awaiting the small, plastic version of myself, it’s still tough to see the point of these bespoke trinkets. So far, this location of Ryman has sold 3D-printed objects to local design and marketing agencies, as well as to the post-production and special effects studios in the area — apparently it’s nice to have a model of the character you’re creating digitally.
What bespoke object — including but not limited to your own head, and, er, cleavage — would you like to see rendered in plastic?
Update: the model’s arrived
Picked up my mini me from Ryman today: it’s a mixture of terrifying and impressive.
It’s about 13cm at the widest point on the base and just shy of 12cm in height.
It’s worth pointing out that the models don’t print perfectly. Anything with a bit of overhang needs a bit of support, so underneath my nose and chin had excess plastic that needed cleaning up with pliers and sandpaper.
My hair was also a bit wobbly; anyone with longer locks would be wise to pull their hair back for their model, or ask the Ryman staffer to smooth out your hair in the editing process, so you don’t get the same funky looking hair as me. (To be fair to Ryman, my hair was quite the mess that day.)
Also, if you sit for a scan, let the person doing it take their time; the more time spent on the scan, the better the detail in the final model.
Anyway, I now have my face and chest in miniature, in plastic. Now comes the real question: what should I do with it?