3D printing services outside of Rapid Prototyping seem a little stuck for the time being. There should be a lot of potential for using 3D printers to make bespoke products for consumers, so we are told, but so far expensive bespoke toys, aimed more at adults than children, are the main ways 3D printing has been used.
Customization of toys is proving successful for a few businesses selling online including Robot Nation, firms offering action figures with a customers own head and features and now Makies: user designed dolls from MakieLab of Finland.
Does the prolificacy of 3D printed toys though sum up the current way 3D printing is seen? As something fun, a gimmick or technology for the sake of technology rather than a serious tool for businesses to manufacture short run and bespoke products?
MakieLab of Finland though seem to have some early stage investors who take 3D printing services seriously and have invested $1.4 million in early stage investment including from the likes of Sunstone Capital and Lifeline Ventures.
Makie dolls are about $150 and can be designed online, they will therefore need to be a major fad to make the investment back. Makies certainly look unique, the dolls are made in white plastic with oversized heads that can be made by selecting from different options for each part of the face: a similar process to making characters in computer games such as the Sims or on the Nintendo Wii, but they are printed and posted to you anywhere in the world.
MakieLabs have only been up and running for a couple of weeks but have already seen a large number of customers flock to their site and play around with designs before finally choosing a favorite to have made. Some customers choose to make characters that look like themselves others create unique characters and as well as the shape of faces eyes can be added as well as bespoke hair and outfits.
MakieLab have plans to add further customization options to their dolls, they presumably will also want to roll out new products as well in future though and using their 3D printing services to create fantasy creatures and animals. The current look of Makies and the price means these are probably going to be mainly toys for adults and teenagers but they make great gifts as well and this is where a lot of the value comes from.
Gift buying is hard for a lot of people and something that is bespoke has that extra personalization to make it special, this is what other companies using 3D printing services for toys have found and the value of figurines, dolls and personalized gifts worldwide is perhaps big enough to support a number of these companies.
Meanwhile however fans of 3D printing services will carry on looking for other ways to use printers to make bespoke products not just for individuals but also for businesses. Cost may remain an issue though but if this can be overcome corporate gifts, bespoke parts and other objects made to be molded to your own body, such as headphones, are all areas where growth could come from.