Posts

False teeth, bikinis, pills and skin – is there anything that 3D printing technology can’t do?

While we’re beavering away making our delightfully quirky personalised 3D heads for you, our parent company, Elat3d Ltd, continues to work on producing a very different range of products – architectural models and medical models of bones.

The 3D bones we produce provide the medical community with valuable, cost-effective teaching aids and are widely used, while architects rely on our accurate and visually exciting 3D scale models to showcase their designs. Other innovative 3D technologies are growing across the globe, and there’s no doubt that 3D printing is capable of revolutionising our lives in so many ways.  So, what is 3D printing and how does it work? Here comes the science…

3D printing starts with a virtual design of the object, then the 3D object is created by the laying down of successive thin layers of material until the object is completed.  Taking our heads as an example, we start with a set of 2D images -photos – and using digitising software, we turn these into 3D images.

The digital file is then prepared for 3D printing by the software ‘slicing’ the digital object into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers. The ‘sliced’ file is uploaded to the 3D printer, which reads every slice, and prints out each layer until the 3D object is finished. There are various types of 3D printers, but they all work in a broadly similar way, with the most common being a 1986 technology called stereolithography (SLA), which uses a UV laser to ‘cure’ the photo-reactive resin that ‘prints’ the object, layer by layer.

Some IT companies, including Microsoft, have already enabled their hardware to perform 3D scanning, making it only a matter of time before even the smartphone in your pocket has an integrated 3D scanner that you could use to digitise your 2D images.

The uses of 3D printing are numerous and range from life-saving to wacky. The medical industry not only uses 3D bones as teaching aids, but patients all over the world already benefit from 3D-printed implants and prosthetics. And bio-printing research aims to combine layers of living cells with a gel medium to build 3D organs and body parts using inkjet techniques. These techniques can save lives and greatly improve quality of life.

NASA 3D prints its rockets’ combustion chamber liners and four squadrons of the RAF’s Tornado GR4 aircraft are already flying with 3D printed components – an innovation that could save £1.2m in maintenance and service costs over the next four years.

Of course, there are numerous applications in manufacturing where rapid manufacturing – such as our Funky3DFaces – enables personalised products to be produced and delivered quickly, while rapid prototyping shortens the time from product design to production – Nike uses 3D printers to create multi-coloured prototypes of its shoes.

At the wackier end of the scale, if you’re pregnant and you’ve had a 4D scan, you can now – at least theoretically – have a 3D custom print of your unborn baby.  Or maybe you’d like to print your own chocolate or cake decorations? Yes – 3D-printed food is now a thing, using sugar and cocoa butter to create sweet treats.

In the meantime, why not settle for the ultimate selfie? Funky3DFaces is at your service…

It’s all about the image

At last! Our move to a larger space has finally been completed and we’re enjoying having more room to pack our deliveries and more room for the little guys to move around. And, with that slight distraction out of the way, we’ve been spending some time looking at how we can further improve our service to you.

The process we use to make the heads involves careful hand finishing, and that can’t be rushed because keeping to this high standard is as important to us as it is to you, but the team has found ways to streamline other parts of the process. This means that we’ve cut the time from acceptance of your order to delivery down to between two and four weeks. We feel great about this, and we know you’ll appreciate it too.

However, we do still receive quite a few orders with images that simply won’t work with the conversion software, and when this happens it does inevitably slow down the process. Often, it’s because no flash has been used and there are shadows on the image. This part is up to you, so to make things easier, we’ve put an explanatory video on the website that shows exactly how to take photos that we can convert to 3D images – and there are print guidelines too.

Remember – it’s important that images should be clear, well lit and without shadows. You will need to use a flash. Also, a selfie is really not going to hack it – plan the shot, the background and the lighting beforehand and use a self-timer if there’s no-one around to take the photo for you.

We want to deliver your personalised mini-fig head to you asap, so please give yourselves a ‘head’ start. (Sorry – couldn’t resist that one!)