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Staples' 3-D Printing Service Has Arrived

The 3-D selfie just got easier. After two years of European trials, Staples has opened two experimental 3-D printing service centers in New York and Los Angeles.

Two years after testing 3-D printing service centers in Europe, office supply and services giant Staples is trying the concept in America, with two 3-D printing "experience centers" in New York and Los Angeles. The idea is to educate consumers and small businesses about 3-D printing and more easily facilitate its use.

The centers—which opened inside the Fifth Avenue and Studio City stores in the last month—are in partnership with 3D Systems, which is providing the design, scanning, and printing hardware and software for occasional use or to try out before purchasing. Staples offers assistance from 3-D printing experts and eventually plans more such centers.

[L-R] Tech consultant Gene Marks of The Marks Group moderates a Q&A with Staples' Damien Leigh and 3D Systems' Scott Turner during the April 29 experience center launch at the Studio City store.Photo by Matt Sayles, Invision for Staples, AP Images

"Part of our brand is to help small businesses market themselves," says Damien Leigh, Staples' senior vice president of business services. "3-D printing is an emerging technology, and most small-business customers have read about it in the media but don’t know how to access it. So, we’re creating a market for 3-D printing as a service—helping them understand the process and how they can apply it to their business, then giving them the means to design and print sophisticated renderings, without having to make major capital investments."

The 3-D printing marketplace has opened up around the world, thanks to declining costs of 3-D printers and services, increasing user-friendliness of the technology, and rising popularity of the DIY/Maker movement and hackerspaces. Staples decision for an overseas test first had less to do with the exploding European 3-D printing market than an opportunity presenting itself with MCor Technologies. Other conglomerates are attempting similar approaches. For example, The UPS Store is collaborating with Stratasys for an on-site 3-D printing service in Israel.

3D Systems' $1299 entry-level model, Cube2, was just lowered to $999 to make way for its next generation model in two months.Susan Karlin

However, Staples is the first major retailer to offer consumer and prosumer 3-D printers, which it does online and in 150 of its 1,500 U.S. stores. They range in price from $1,300 to $5,000, and printing sizes from 5.5 to 12 cubic inches in a range of materials: ABS (petroleum-based plastic), PLA (biodegradable polymer), castable material for dental and jewelry-making molds, and gypsum-based powder. In addition to entry-level machines, the experience center provides access to a $60,000 professional full-color 3-D printer.

Customers can print larger, more complex items off-site on a 3D Systems' $1 million set-up through a cloud-printing service offered in-store, which are then shipped to offices or home. The system prints up to 1.5 square meter objects, with larger models made by connecting those printed components.

Adam Reichental, 3D Systems' manager of retail, models 3-D printed glasses made by the Cube2. He'll be demonstrating 3D Systems technology at San Diego Comic Con in July. Susan Karlin

Customers can use in-store design software or 3-D print-ready files from their own computers or file sites, like Cubify.com and Thingiverse.com. They can also capture their own images using 3-D photo booths or scanners for personalized products, like figurines (think wedding-cake toppers) or smartphone cases. In fact, 3D Systems' senior research engineer Scott Turner used the technology to craft the rings and cake topper for his own wedding.

3D Systems' Joshua St. John (right) scans Gene Marks in preparation for a 3-D replica of himself. The scanning software is available at Staples.Photo by Matt Sayles, Invision for Staples, AP Images

Will Sturgeon, 3D Systems' retail training manager, sums up the process: "We can provide every solution from start to finish, seamlessly, or we can provide one or more of those elements with equipment or software you already own."

[Photo by Susan Karlin]

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2 Comments

  • Roni Roni

    It's a great idea. The technology is here, and its only right that there will be a center to mediate between the buyers and the companies. If you are interested in the 3D world, you can also learn about it from this site: http://3-ddd.com

  • Samuel Brooks

    Someone is going to pay to print Pau Gasol...really? But Staples is thinking ahead here and will come out ahead. 3D print fans, you can get free 3D files to print at www.Redpah.com