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We still have a ways to go before being able to print out an entire PC's worth of components ordered through Newegg, but imagine taking that killer motherboard layout you've been brewing in your head and printing out a 3D mockup. Then the only question is do you send your design to your favorite motherboard maker, or start up your own company and show the competition what a real enthusiast's layout is supposed to look like? Forget about Fatal1ty, and slap your own forum nick on your custom mobo!
Sound farfetched? It is, but only because of the high costs associated with 3D printing. Looking to break that barrier is Netherlands-based Shapeways, an ambitious startup who hopes to help you transform your 3D modeling designs from software creations into hard printouts, all without breaking the bank. After submitting your object, Shapeways decides whether or not it can be produced and provides a real-time cost estimate, which the company claims usually runs between $50-$150.
It's all part of Shapeways' private beta for a new online consumer co-creation community and do-it-yourself 3D printing service. The site beta has just gone live, but the only way you'll get to try it out is with an invite. That's no problem for Maximum PC readers, as we've secured 250 exclusive invitations! But first, let's get familiar with how this is all made possible.
While you don't need a custom scanner or specialized printing tools, you do need 3D modeling software to flesh out your ideas. Shapeways accepts formats in STL, Collada, and X3D, all of which should be familiar to any CAD guru. Once submitted and approved, budding 3D designers can select both the size and material, and within 10 working days the company says it will have a tangible product "produced and delivered to the consumer globally."
Such a quick turnaround without an enormous price tag might sound too good to be true, and while it normally is, Shapeways says they're able to do this by creating a large community. But how exactly does the technology work?