Tis the Season for 3D-Printed Tchotchkes and Stocking Stuffers?

12/2/13Follow @jpruth

With the gifting frenzy now underway, some companies in 3D printing want their goods on more consumers’ wish lists.

Naturally grandma can knit scarves for everyone, but what if she busts out with custom-made jewelry or figurines this year? That is the gist of what 3D printers claim they can offer a public eager for unique gift ideas.

Brooklyn-born MakerBot Industries, for example, has a couple of holiday ideas in the works. The company makes desktop 3D printers people can run at home. Just before Thanksgiving, MakerBot said it would crank out 3D-printed ornamental snowflakes—for select holders of MasterCard who shop at Saks Fifth Avenue. People who visit the Saks store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, on certain days, can also see the snowflakes being made.

Meanwhile Shapeways, another 3D printing company in New York, is pushing its online marketplace of designers. Rather than sell 3D printers to individuals, people pick designs they like from the Web gallery then order them to be printed. Shapeways has taken to social media showing off the intricate items its can produce—from rings to Doctor Who swag.

Zack Schildhorn, vice president with Lux Capital in New York, says 3D printing technology can do more than help people play Santa. “I think 3D printing has an opportunity to impact people’s lives in much deeper ways than just gifts for the holidays,” he says. Lux Capital is an investor in Shapeways.

However, the holiday season is a chance to up the mainstream exposure for the technology, he says. Shoppers might buy desktop 3D printers as presents, Schildhorn says, and get their first taste of it. “This is one of many opportunities for 3D printing to really shine,” he says. “It is going to be pervasive in our culture in the coming years.”

He expects to see the technology to see more action in 2014, particularly for industrial use and the creation of finished products. “We’re also going to see a lot of software innovation,” Schildhorn says. That may include giving consumers ways to design objects for 3D printing—opening the door for more widespread interest.

There is even a bit of speculation in the 3D scene, he says, about what Apple plans to do with PrimeSense, a recent acquisition. PrimeSense in Israel is a maker of 3D sensors and Schildhorn wonders if Apple will integrate that technology into consumer devices.

“Everyone will effectively be carrying a 3D scanner in their pockets,” he says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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