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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Real-life 3D printing of Second Life © Designs – Stareyes Galaxy Reporting…

Three-dimensional (3D) printing of small objects at home has become a popular hobby for wannabe designers, and this shows also in the new technology “hype” statistics.

Anything from decorative and hard-to-find spare parts to the constituent parts of the printer itself can be manufactured using mesh designs and an export file for the printer in question. Second Life © (SL) is also a viable platform for viewing the designs before printing them in 3D, and now also designs made for SL can be printed in glorious 3D for real-life (RL) use. Stareyes Galaxy discussed the technology and real-life examples of SL jewelry with Joja Dhara and Maxi Gossamer.

Joja Dhara is a a community manager for FabLab Dronten in the Netherlands, specializing on 3D printing. She is also the organizer of MetaMeets, a conference series on 3D virtual reality spaces. I met her at the Venice sim, and we sat down for a cup of cappuccino to discuss the past, present, and the future of bringing SL designs to RL by 3D printing. She began by saying:  We have been creating in 3D for many years and honestly, 3D printing is not new. I remember, around 2007 there was a company in SL that could 3D print your avatar already. Only in that time 3D printers were expensive. Now it is more available for the masses so it becomes more interesting, that you can create something here and someone around the world picks it up and likes to have it for real life.”

SLE: So, the development is going toward where avatars can take their designs and print them for real life, at their home, instead of having someone to do it for you?

JoJa: Yes, indeed, and the fun part can also be that you both work on an item. I love for instance the open-source Pixelviewer that has the ability to print out your object that you created in-world.

SLE: How do you think the current offering of home/hobbyist 3-D printers can do this for you?

JoJa: With some interesting open source 3D programs like Sketchup and Blender, it makes [this] possible. So yes, it is interesting to have a 3D hobbyist printer.

SLE: Home-grade printers have some problems with regard to the filament getting all over the place, filament supply cutting off at the wrong spot etc. Do you experience these problems as an obstacle?

JoJa: In case of material instability... I think we all are pioneers in this whole 3D web environment... Yes, there are still some down things like material leaking etc., but as we are so known to ‘xyz’ we quickly can adjust.

SLE: If you are eager to get a design of yours printed as a 3-D object, what should you do?

JoJa: First design it outside the world ... like I say with Blender or Sketchup... let someone look in-world to it, adjust, and then print it out...

SLE: So, you need to be a mesh-qualified designer in SL (easy quiz) and have the software tool to convert the design to code for the printer.

JoJa: To bring it in so far as I know you need to know about how to import it inworld... so yes.

We then discussed color and texturing. With the filament-style (additive) hobbyist printers, only one color at a time is possible, but with subtractive-style printers it is possible to color the resulting resin object by painting it. Textures are difficult, as today it is costly to print a texture on a model. Second Life could, even with these limitations, become a platform for sharing designs. JoJa: “Hobby printing is great for prototyping, besides outside world object to replace if broken. But it would be interesting if for instance a button of a coffee machine is broken and you have a file of this made, and share this here... press on the coffee machine to get the file for the broken button or something.”

SLE: Where do you see is the greatest demand for 3-D printing, currently?

JoJa: Prostheses, jewelry business... prototyping of architecture... food printing... and as said broken things... handles, buttons, beside all the great creativity in art... but also in printing out the printer itself!

SLE: Yes, I have often wondered - are we entering the era of self-replicating machines?

JoJa: We work at the FabLab with a 3d printer that most parts are printed out by the printer... Felixprinter. Exactly!

SLE: I know that all of these open-source printers have their own web forums. Would it be a stretch to expect to see some of that activity here on SL?

JoJa: Thingiverse is one of them .. I dearly hope so.

SLE: Technically - what are the size limits in 3-D printing?

JoJa: Of the hobby ones, I would say 20 cm cubed.

SLE: So, no printing a house to live in.

JoJa: No you need bigger printer for [that] - but you can do brick by brick.

SLE: Is the 3-D printing of objects expensive, in RL terms?

JoJa: No, you really can take a lot out of filament of let’s say 1kg, only it is a matter of mass and time.

Maxi Gossamer, the well-known jewelry and accessory designer joined us, and we paid a visit to her in-world store “Gossamer Jewellery” as well.

SLE: Maxi, maybe you could tell me about how you came about the idea of taking your SL jewelry to the real world, in the first instance?

Maxi: Well, I was making SL jewelry and found Shapeways while browsing one day and I was totally amazed that I could get my SL jewelry printed out in RL. In fact, I was stunned this was possible. I didn’t know it was possible to print in silver and other metals until I found Shapeways, and I saw all the other creators at Shapeways printing all sorts of things - jewelry, lampshades, toys, etc. and I thought, I just have to have a go at that! In fact I'm now thinking about opening a website to sell my silver RL jewellery collections. Shapeways make it very easy to get your designs printed.

SLE: For a designer, what is required of you to make that happen?

Maxi: There are a few special rules you have to stick to like thickness of metals so things don't snap. Also I'm learning that on bigger pieces, if you're printing in silver or metal you really need to make them hollow so you don't use too much silver so the pieces are cost effective and affordable.
SLE: But those rules would apply to any RL jewelry?

Maxi: Yes that's true, although I think you can make jewelry with 3D printing that would be very difficult to do using traditional wax carving method or you would have to be a master carver and jeweler to do it. I can do things in 3D that I could never make in RL for RL jewelry by carving wax blocks, but with mesh I can be clever and look like I'm a master carver and jeweler - but I'm not really.
SLE: Do you know of other services besides Shapeways who can do this?

Maxi: Yes, also print 3D files. They also print in gold. iMaterialise were more expensive than Shapeways so for the moment Shapeways are my first stop.

SLE: What materials are available to you from Shapeways?

Maxi: Silver is my preferred metal as it gives the most details when it's cast. But Shapeways also do stainless steel and bronze which can look nice for less detailed pieces, but they are slightly grainy in effect. You can also print all kinds of plastics and ceramics at Shapeways too. The file I send to Shapeways is used to print the wax cast for the Lost Wax method, which has been used for thousands of years to cast metals. There is another way to print gold and silver called laser sintering. Totally amazing process, like science fiction, where you can print directly in gold and silver, no wax cast needed - really expensive right now though. Direct printing in precious metals is the Holy Grail I think.

SLE: How about gems?

Maxi: I have thought about buying in jewels, getting the setting 3D printed and then putting the jewels myself, but that's a second phase for me, I need to learn more before I do that.

Maxi then described the items she’s had made for her in RL silver by Shapeways, the first being the “Marrakech Heart” and the “Forget-me-Not Flower Heart”. She had the “Candy Love Heart” printed in plastic in different colors. She also showed some rings she has had made by Shapeways and hinted at designs she has had done in RL that are not available in SL yet. Of the tools at her disposal, she said: “I couldn't do any of this without Zbrush, which is a really amazing tool for 3D artists. As I learn more I think Zbrush will be a major tool for 3D jewelers. Zbrush you have to pay for, but wow, it gives you lots.”

JoJa: It’s so great to see you Maxi get into the real life jewelry making. I had just a jewerly maker real life getting into the 3D making... would be fun if they would then enter these 3D worlds to present it here... circle go round.

Maxi: Yes, JoJa the crossover is wonderful and great fun.

SLE: Are there any final remarks you might want to make about bringing SL designs into RL?

Maxi: Amazing things are going to happen with this technology. This is just the beginning and the future is full of potential. 3D printing is going to enable artists of all kind, virtual and otherwise, do wondrous and beautiful things. Human beings are tool makers and we now have at our fingertips the most amazing tools to help us make things. A new age of making is dawning. I do love this technology, it frees us artist types.

JoJa: Amen to that! As I say if more will start to design for 3D printing they will come across the same tools and might understand more what virtual worlds / 3D web is about.

I contacted Bart Veldhuitzen of Shapeways  and in our e-mail discussion, he noted on the technology adoption:  “In general, models that are optimized for real time 3D visualization will need some work in order to be 3D printed. The most important cases are when models aren't 'water tight' (they don't have closed outer surfaces), or when the physical construction would be too weak to print/handle/transport.“ He also commented on SL designs that are to be printed in 3D for real-life use: “I find it hard to give a statement on the business development of SL/3D printing. Maxi is a successful story, but I think she has approached her 'shop' like any other shop owner who works with us - create relevant models and market it in the right way. One observation that I can share is that product designers may have a different skill set from designers of game/real time content. As such, for an SL designer to become a successful product designer, he or she may need to learn some new skills. In general, product design is different from design for computer graphics - after all, in a virtual environment you don't have to obey physical reality.”

The physical reality of Second Life objects is closer than we think, with the emergence of the 3D printing industry. Maxi Gossamer and Shapeways are a prime example of the pioneering work. As JoJa Dhara pointed out, there is a lot of utility printing already happening with real-life designs – I am hopeful that also the fantasy elements of SL will be brought to life with this technology.

Further reading:

SLURL to Gossamer Jewellery:


  1. Printing things that I made in SL would be amazing!
    Almost like a RL-SL bridge in which I can hold my beloved SL objects in my hand!

  2. Pleasant to be going to your blog once more, it has been a long time for me.
    Cheap Printing Services Near Me


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