There was a day when designers, artists and other creatives were limited to the Zazzle and CafePress marketplaces to offer their creations on demand. But today, previously unattainable production processes have now become available for many types of designs. Technology is to thank again for providing multiple online avenues on which the designers can sell a whole new category of goods, such as items made in 2D laser cuts or in 3D manufacturing with materials such as steel, felt, wood, acrylic or fabric.
With on-demand marketplaces such as Shapeways, Ponoko and Spoonflower, designers can design, manufacture and sell some pretty intricate creations on demand, without mortgaging their homes or wiping out their life savings. And the rest of us can buy these “custom”, independently designed goods or, even better, we can get creative ourselves. I’m thinking of things like creating personalized centerpieces and table décor for an important event, wedding or celebration; redecorating the bedroom with a fabric that exists only in my mind; creating a custom trophy for the association awards… Endless possibilities.
Shapeways: allows users to design and print objects using a 3D printing technique which up to now had been prohibitively expensive. But no longer… . Objects can be 3D-printed in silver, glass, plastic, steel and unique composite that allows to print objects in color. This is a great platform for those who design in 3D. No worries for those who don’t though. There is a Co-Creator program that will team you up with a designer to bring your project to 3D reality.
Shapeways also has a marketplace, (though I find it limited and hard to navigate) where one can shop by designer or by category. Jewelry is a popular category though I’d love to see more functional items in the home accessories category.
Great for custom work, such as creating those custom napkin rings for the upcoming wedding… Or replacing that missing dangle on the antique chandelier. Or that custom pendant to thank the volunteers. Oh, and…
Ponoko: This is where 3D or 2D objects can be printed according to design. 3D objects are manufactured of materials that can include plastic, steel and ceramic while 2D are lasercut from materials that include leather, felt, metal, bamboo and acrylic. Ponoko refers to its service as the “Personal Factory Movement” and has a goal to reinvent how goods are designed, made and distributed worldwide. In this movement also called “mass-customization”, anyone can dream up their own products. That is, if you can use graphic design software. And even if you can’t, you can certainly find someone who does.
Ponoko has a shop as well, where one can buy finished goods or product plans to get started on your own designs. This shop is a little clunky too but I’m sure it will get more usable with time.
Spoonflower: all about fabrics. And oh, the things one can make with a pretty fabric… Here, anyone can design, print and even sell their fabric designs (As does Valentina Ramos, mentioned in an earlier article). The process has been made possible with large-format inkjet printers that have been specially modified to run fabric. The eco-friendly, water-based inks are printed on natural fiber textiles. Custom fabrics are now made affordable at between $18 and $38 a yard. What a great resource for designers that create fabric based designs or for interior designers to really customize a space.
On an sustainable note, it’s worth mentioning that on-demand manufacturing is friendlier to the environment, using only the resources as they are needed to meet demand. It’s much more cost efficient too when production runs into errors, no longer needing to toss out the hundreds of widgets that were off by a quarter of an inch… And then, the obvious savings in upfront costs, when manufacturing in quantities and storing such is no longer needed. Friendlier and liberating all around.
I’m dreaming that this type of manufacturing becomes a standard, a reflex, allowing all of us to become more creative with every single thing that touches our lives.
I think I’ll go redesign my toothbrush now.