3D printing myself

Back in March I wrote a piece on the rapid mainstreaming of 3D culture that included coverage of the Omote 3D Shashin Kan pop-up store in Tokyo, where families could get themselves scanned and have their own 3D figurines printed. Now this concept has made its way to Europe, with the likes of My3DTwin in London and Twinkind in Hamburg offering full-body scanning and colour printing on the high street.

In Brussels too, a similar service (not yet full colour) exists. Located just a few minutes walk from my base in the city, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a ‘mini-Justin’ made by the people at Vousen3D (“You in 3D”).

“The concept is to create a 3D scan of people and print it on the printer. We started something like one year ago with friends and we seemed to enjoy it, so we decided to start a small business out of it,” explains François Chasseur, who co-founded the company with Alyne François.

The scans are done with a Kinect, using software called ReconstructMe. “It’s made by an Austrian company (Profactor). We tuned the software to make it work very well for what we do,” says Chasseur.

The scanner is attached to a rail, allowing the operator to move it steadily up and down, whilst rotating the client on a small turntable. Standing perfectly still on this device as it rotated was harder than it looked, so a second scan was necessary, although, even then it took only a couple of minutes in total.

Vousen3D uses Netfabb for the cleaning and post-processing of the scan, before loading it in another piece of software called Cura, which is a slicer. The whole process from scanning to having a ready-to-print model took less than 30 minutes.

Chasseur and Francois are currently using an Ultimaker to do print the figurines. “For a low-end printer, it’s one of the best,” says Chasseur. “For the price of the set up, it’s quite amazing what you can actually have,” he believes. I was able to collect my PLA figurine the next day and, I have to say the likeness is impressive, even for a so-called low-end product.

Services offered by Vousen3D range from a simple bust (with printing outsourced to Sculpteo) to a full-size scan with source file attached (enabling the customer to go and get another print – of whatever size – later).

I discovered Vousen3D in a pop-up shop for artisans in the commune (borough) of St Gilles. I asked Chasseur what would happen at the end of July when that shop’s lease expired? “That’s a good question. We have day jobs – I work as a developer in a medical imaging company. We started this as a side business. It takes up quite a bit of time, but so far we enjoy it.”

Despite growing interest, Chasseur is less bullish than many in the industry about the demand for 3D printed figurines, particular given the cost of the full-colour services to consumers. “It’s probably because of the [economic] crisis also, but getting something like this, it’s low priority on the family budget.” Something worth remembering next time you read a breathless piece of 3D printing boosterism.

This article was written for SPARPoint Group, July 2013. For more like it, see: http://www.sparpointgroup.com/

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