“It’s much easier to work with, and there’s less waste,” he said.
For consumers who aren’t tinkerers or designers, industry experts say, a potentially bigger market could lie in on-demand services. Think of it as Amazon.com for custom orders, only with no warehouses required because a purse or belt is only made after it’s ordered.
Shoppers can already go on sites such as Shapeways or Cubify, run by 3D Systems, and either find a designer for a custom design or tweak an available product.
More than 10,000 shops have been set up by designers on Shapeways, which manufactures and ships a product after an order comes in, said company spokeswoman Elisa Richardson.
Bestselling items include iPhone accessories, jewelry, home decor and wedding cake toppers _ grooms and brides-to-be send in photos of themselves and receive toppers with their faces printed on them.
Kimberly Orvitz, a fashion designer who recently launched a 3-D printed jewelry line, said the technology saves money: There’s no requirement to order products in bulk from a factory and no storage costs. Shoppers can also “customize by selecting colors and materials,” she said.
But the technology has not been without controversy.
Cody Wilson, the owner of a gun-manufacturing firm in Texas, made headlines after he successfully fired a 3-D-printed gun of his own design earlier this year (he also uses the technology to make firearm magazines and lower receivers).
For now, such guns may pose more of a danger to the maker. Australian police who tried making Wilson’s design reported the plastic gun exploded after firing. Still, a recently leaked Department of Homeland Security bulletin said such firearms pose public safety risks.
Industry experts say there is more danger in consumers making ordinary products that are defective.