Hi, I’m Trevor. I’m a freelance designer, running a small graphic-design business in the green and sunny (sort of) south-east of England, and for a couple of years now I’ve been working in the field of 3D design and 3D printing.
When I last had a meeting with my business advisor, about how I could grow my business and find more customers, she thought for a moment and then said, “We’ve got several clients who are in creative fields, but I reckon you’ve got the toughest job of all of them.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
Her answer brought me to a realisation I’d never really had before; when a member of the public (like you, dear reader) goes looking for a vendor in the creative industry they pretty much already have a picture in their head as to what they’re looking for.
Everyone KNOWS what a pair of curtains, or a new dress, or jewellery, or a cake etc is, and therefore pretty much they already know where to look, what their needs are and how to explain them. 3D printing, however, is such a new technology (relatively) and is only now starting to break into the mainstream and therefore people, even though they may have heard of it, usually have no understanding of what it is or exactly what it can do for them.
“And therefore,” she concluded, “you’ve got a huge uphill battle because you’ve first got to explain the whole thing to them and THEN move on to the selling. You have twice as far to go as everyone else”.
She’s not wrong. People are, as a rule, generally a lot better able to realise what 3D printing can do for them if they actually see the results; then they can think, "Ah, NOW I get it. Hey, I need..."
This is why I opened my Etsy store, the link of which is at the end of this article, where people can see my work and get some ideas of what I can do for them.
So what actually IS 3D printing? Simply put it’s taking a computer generated 3D model, using software to turn that model into instructions which can then be used to drive one of several different varieties of machine which will build up, tiny layer by tiny layer, a real, physical object. 3D printers used to work only in various kinds of plastic (the most common being ABS, the same sort of stuff used to make car bumpers and Lego bricks) but in the last decade or so the technology has exploded in a myriad of ways.
3D printers originally were used for creating prototypes of industrial components or products so they could be test-fitted or their functionality checked before a large-scale manufacturing effort was started. This saved a lot of time and a huge amount of money because it eliminated the need to tool up a whole factory just to produce something you weren’t even 100% sure would actually fit or work.
Now a small prototype could be produced in a matter of hours, fairly cheaply, and when everything was tested THEN the tooling could start. Then people realised that same versatility could be applied to making small production runs of unique objects (basically what I do now!). The possibilities multiplied exponentially from there.
There are now 3D printers which print in a whole manner of different materials and for an ever-growing list of applications; there are medical printers which produce biodegradable scaffolds onto which stem-cells can be seeded, therefore allowing them to actually grow whole new body parts; ears, skin, supportive tissue for joints, even (maybe in the near future) whole new organs grown from a patient’s own stem-cells, eliminating the need for donor organs and saving thousands of lives.
There are also huge 3D printers, carried on the backs of low-loader trucks, which can print not in plastic but in liquid concrete, and can actually print in the space of a day or so a fully liveable house for a fraction of the cost of traditional building materials. There are other giant 3D printers which use a process similar to arc-welding to produce structures in metal; bridges, fences, support scaffolds and so on and so on, all sturdy and fully functional.
There are even 3D printers which print with chocolate. I’m SO getting one of those one day…So when someone asks me “so what can 3D printing do for me?” my answer is usually “a little bit in every single area of your life.”
Got some old equipment which works really well, but it’s got some broken plastic parts and doesn’t quite work how it should? Rather than having to scrap that old equipment (meaning you have to break it up, take it out, buy some new gear usually for a horrific price, get it delivered, set it up, train people to use it etc etc) 3D printing can replace those broken plastic parts and save you time, money and effort.
Getting married? 3D printing can produce your wedding rings (designed in a computer, 3D printed in castable wax and then cast in gold or platinum). It can also make cool novelty earrings and cufflinks for your best man and maids of honour, unique place-setting card holders for your reception dinner, little present boxes for your party favours and so on and so on.
Are you a musician? 3D printing can make personalised scratchplates, trussrod covers, control knobs and pickup surrounds for guitars, stick holders for drummers, novelty plectrums, phone holders and pint holders for your mic-stands and so much more.
Are you (like me) a massive life-long sci-fi and fantasy geek? 3D printing can produce decorative coasters and plaques, clocks, mousemats and more, all in the theme of your favourite fandom (Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, etc).
Are you a cosplayer? 3D printing can make props, badges, insignia, costume components (armour, replica weapons, Borg implants etc.) and so much more, all sized to fit YOUR outfit and really help you to stand out.
Have you got a niggling problem in your home or working life which needs a unique little gadget specially designed to solve it? For example, do your cats love that new cat food in the pouches but when you wake up at stupid-o’clock in the morning you can’t bear the cold gravy all over your fingers, which ALWAYS happens? 3D printing can design you a pouch-squeezer which can use to open those pouches while keeping your fingers gravy-free, incidentally meaning less waste and therefore more savings for you (coincidentally I did, and the Pouch Squeezer is one of the most popular homeware products in my Etsy store now).
The list goes on. And on. And ON. 3D printing can solve problems which you may not even realise you have, and make things for you which you just won’t find anywhere else.
This has kind of been a short(ish) introduction into who I am and what I can do for YOU, and yes a lot of people don’t really care about sales-pitches. In future articles, I’ll go deeper in the subject and maybe branch off into tips, advice, general musings and anywhere else the subject takes me.
And I’m always more than happy to hear suggestions for future articles, questions, critiques (constructive please, trolling will be ignored) and any other feedback you want to send. I’m always delighted to hear from you.
It’s nice to meet you. Let’s see where we go from here!
Check out my Etsy store: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/enterprisexddesign
Check out the 3D printed jewellery designs in my Shapeways store: www.shapeways.com/shops/enterprisexddesgn.