NEW YORK CITY -- It was bound to happen. Digital imaging company Direct Dimensions (Baltimore) has teamed up with MakerBot Industries LLC, a designer, manufacturer and marketer of 3D printers, to launch the ShapeShot three-dimensional photobooth. This enables patrons to make a self-portrait and then receive a three-dimensional plastic sculpture formed by the MakerBot printer. The initial ShapeShot booth has been installed in MakerBot's first retail store, which opened in lower Manhattan last September.
Contemporary 3D printing (or "additive manufacturing") is performed by a computer reading a 3D graphic file and using the data to control the movements of an extrusion nozzle and a bed. The nozzle lays down successive layers of softened plastic polymer on the bed, to build up the desired object.
Originally developed for engineers, scientists and manufacturers making prototypes, 3D printers have become much simpler and more affordable over the past few years. Entrepreneurs like MakerBot founder Bre Pettis have been offering increasingly low-cost machines; MakerBot's Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer is portable and sells for just over $2,000.
Pettis and his company have attracted considerable attention. The MakerBot Replicator was named "Best Emerging Tech" at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and the company has received glowing reviews in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Wired.
The MakerBot store, located at 298 Mulberry St. in New York City, is a showcase for Pettis's 3D printing technology, as well as a retail outlet for products made with 3D printing. A line of bulk venders against the wall shows off these wares as capsule merchandise, along with several display cases of larger 3D printer-generated products.
The ShapeShot "3D photobooth" makes the necessary images and saves the data as a 3D graphic file that the MakerBot printer can read. The patron returns at a later date for the finished product -- it takes time for the computer to build up those layers of plastic. Prices for sculpted busts run from $20 to $60. Patrons' files also are available to them online at the Thingiverse file-sharing website (designed for 3D printing enthusiasts) and at a new website, the ShapeShot Market Place. Both offer services that customers can use to apply the files to creating a variety of useful and ornamental items.