Is this the material we’ve been waiting for?

Image is by Shapeways.  Used without permission; I hope it’s okay!

I’m a firm believer that 3D printing is going to change everything, but especially this hobby.  Since my first article on the topic in RMC in March 2012, I’ve been occasionally experimenting with the service offered by Shapeways.  I find it to be nothing less than miraculous, but until now, it has still fallen short.

Shapeways is a volume player in the 3D printing space.  Their goal is to make 3D printing available to everyone at as low a price as they can.  The result is that they have a service that is extremely slick – upload your 3D model, and it appears in the mail 10 days later.  However, to accomplish this, their machines are tuned for quantity over quality.  Better 3D printing is available, but often at many times the cost.

The main challenge with previous materials from Shapeways has been that the surface comes out wavy, as if each layer is ever so slightly mis-registered from that below it.  Now you can sand that away, but at the risk of losing surface details like rivets.

However, the pattern has been that prices have been steadily going down while quality goes up.  So, I am confident that 3D printing is going to transform our hobby; it’s just a matter of when.

On Wednesday, Shapeways announced the availability of a new material – High Definition Acrylate.  It seems like it may be targeted specifically at us!  Here is high detail, but with improved smoothness.  Even better, the price is lower than Frosted Ultra Detail!  I have an ore car, which I designed for Scott Calvert’s layout, for example, that I can print in FUD for $44 (Frosted Extreme Detail is $70!).  In HDA, I can print it for $39 (both in CAD).

I’m excited by the possibilities of this new material, and should have an order ready this weekend!



2 thoughts on “Is this the material we’ve been waiting for?

    1. Hi Mark,

      Now that I have a working CAD program again, I’ll at least open the file and consider what it would take to resize it to N scale. Sadly, it isn’t simply a matter of scaling as the HO version is so close to the machine tolerances; many parts need to get beefed up before they will work in N-scale.

      Having said that, HDA has new material guidelines from Shapeways, including a slightly reduced minimum wire, which may help with the finer details. The minimum wall thickness, however, actually went up!

      Anyway, I’ll have a look, and will let you know shortly.

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