So, I came across this the other day: Fabjectory – Virtual Objects in Real Life.
The idea is that these guys have gotten hold of a rapid proto-typing machine and will print (manufacture?) whatever the customer orders, including Second Life avatars, Mii characters, and Google Sketch-up files. They also take custom orders via their website, which are then printed and shipped, the same as everything else.
At the moment, their prices are a bit high: $50 USD for a three inch Mii figure, and $100 USD for a five inch, and I'm not sure of the quality. The photos on the website make the finished products seem a little rough as they are printed out of colored plastics as opposed to painted plastics. The same photos seem to indicate that the surfaces are somewhat textured, not smooth like modern toys usually are.
Still, I love the idea and I can't help wondering where this technology is going.
Let's start with the idea. Personally, I like to draw and the idea that I could have any character I drew printed out and sent not just to me but to anyone, anywhere is very appealing. Add to that the idea of one of a kind pieces by artists or limited editions of special figures and the collectible crowd will come running. And how about producing blanks for the DIY crowd? Easily done.
The immediate counter-point is that there are lots of vinyl or plastic art toys out there, blanks included, so how is this any different? The answer is in the scale. Most individual artists cannot afford to have their ideas turned into physical form without serious financial backing due to the numbers involved. Typical production runs, even for limited editions often number in the thousands. Even at the lowest cost available in East Asian factories, a large amount of money is required up front for a product that may or may not sell.
So this idea that an artist can post a design on a website and fans can choose which figures they'd like to purchase on a single unit scale is very appealing. Especially if the software is in place to let designers limit the numbers on some designs, creating a quick-as-you-can market that may drive prices upwards and gain the individual some needed cash.
From there, let's look at the technology. I have no idea how much these printers run but I know that computers used to fill entire rooms and the idea of a desktop computer was laughable.
If the manufacturing becomes as installed as a microwave, the design is the only part that would have value; if the design is on a computer, anybody will be able to get hold of it, one way or another, thus making it impossible to limit the number of copies printed, thus driving the cost back down.
Either way, the consumer gets what he or she wants without trouble and the artist is saved the cost of producing thousands of potentially unwanted pieces.
And, in any case, this is a technology and a company I'll be watching, just to see what they come up with.