Tag Archives: Shapeways

So Shapeways recently introduced Full Colored Plastic as a new printable material. I was super excited to try it out.

Compared to Full Color Sandstone, Full Color Plastic is stronger. The colors don’t fade with exposure to water.

We have tested this by submerging the FCP models in water for 2 months and the colors stayed the same. No color bleeding. ~Shapeways Customer Support

However, it also cost about twice as much per cubic cm, which comes out to a lot.

I printed a smaller version of my ArcheAge figurine. Here’s the result!full color plastic

Overall I’m a little disappointed. The resolution wasn’t super great and a lot of the colors didn’t come out.

You can really see the stripes and spots on the arms and legs. There was also a white graininess to the whole figurine.

full color plastic

Full Color Plastic

Full Color Sandstone

Full Color Sandstone

To be fair, my Full Color Sandstone version is about 4 times bigger than Full Color Plastic version. My hunch is that even if I scale the plastic version up, the white graininess won’t go away, and the colors will still be a lot lighter.

Due to the price, the sandstone version still cost less than the plastic version, despite the size increase.



  • Can print smaller / thinner models than Full Color Sandstone
  • Colors won’t fade with exposure to water
  • Stronger; thin parts are flexible


  • More expensive than Full Color Sandstone
  • Have a white grainiess
  • Colors are a lot lighter / less saturated
  • May not have as great resolution

For future prints, I’d probably limit gradients and shading, and stick to sharp contrasting colors.

Shapeways recently launched an automated thinness visualization for models.

It helps detect what areas are potentially problematic for 3D printing, based on the thinness limit of the specific materials.

It’s kinda neat!

When I heard the announcement on launch day, my first inclination was to try it out on the super high polygon models, to see how long it would take. I tried it out on Oona, and it seemed to take hours. However, I retried today, and it finished in a matter of minutes. Maybe the Shapeways engineers changed it? I’m unsure. But it’s pretty awesome.

When you upload a model, it automatically gets checked for thinness. For older models, you need to be in the “Edit Model” mode.

Any problem areas will be flagged.


Clicking the “View Thin Walls” link will bring up a detailed window with problem areas highlighted. Each of the links is material specific, and gives you material details.

Oona Shapeways

I compared this to the Sculpteo thinness check.


Both checks seems to highlight approximately the same areas. I like the way Sculpteo highlights better, with the intensity of the red indicating levels thinness. For speed, on a single pass, Sculpteo is faster. However, Shapeways has a couple spiffy design decisions that make it faster in the long run. First, Shapeways decouples thinness checking from model viewing, so you don’t have to run a check when you purchase the model. Second, it saves the results of the thinness check, so you don’t have to re-run the check, if nothing’s changed. Third, and lastly, it runs the check for all materials at once, so you don’t have to re-check when you select a different material.

I think this feature’ll definitely help speed up Shapeways’ turnaround time.

Of course, just because areas are highlighted doesn’t mean it’s not printable. Oona came out beautifully despite the warnings.


I’d like to see a better algorithm, in the future, from all folks.

For now though, Shapeways’ new feature is pretty slick. Go check it out.

A little while ago, I went to a Meetup that featured ShapeJS, a platform by Shapeways to create objects for 3D printing.


It uses a voxel system to create shapes, which is super neat. It bypasses a lot of potential problems with meshes.


Beekey, a software engineer at Shapeways, demo-ed a lot of cool apps you could make with ShapeJS, like the 2D to 3D converter. I’ve used the converter, and it’s been really helpful. Previously, I’d import my 2D vectors as surfaces in Maya, and then extrude. Now, it’s a super easy, one-click process.

Sculpteo has a similar app called Image Extrude (which I believe came first) but it doesn’t let you export the models, which is a bummer.

Beekey said they haven’t super stressed tested ShapeJS. I’ve definitely crashed Shapeways’ mesh fixer (Mesh Doctor / Netfabb) before, so I hope it holds up.

the horrors!

As from ShapeJS, I learned a lot about powder-based SLS from Beekey. However, I was shocked to discover he’s never heard of MAKE!

C’mon Shapeways engineer, gotta get with it! 😛

3D printing services have the best customer service.

When when I get frustrated, and turn into a whirlwind of anger, they know what to do.


For Shapeways, the “Contact Us” button is magic. Recently, I had a print that didn’t color correctly. One click of the “Contact Us”, and I got a message the next day saying Shapeways’ll generously replace it. Super awesome.

For Sculpteo, my go-to person is Nora. If anything went terribly, Nora is there to help me out. From an typo in the shipping address to a last minute design disaster, Nora helps me get the order right, like a miracle worker.

Thanks 3D printing services for being so awesome.


Just when I thought all was gloom and doom, I get a shipping notification from Shapeways on one of my orders. YEAAAAAA!

I was so bummed this morning, because one of my Shapeways orders didn’t pass manual check, and I thought the rest of my orders were gonna get cancelled too.


If it gets shipped today, this would be the fastest turnaround I’ve had with Shapeways. Only 4 business days! That’s seriously awesome!

3D printing is a real emotional rollercoaster.


{Edit: They didn’t switch the order of the emails. It actually failed on the printer. D: ]

3D printing can be so frustrating.

I usually get an email from Shapeways many many days after my ordering, saying my model can’t be printed.

The latest episode was especially hair-tearing-inducing.

Previously, Shapeways only sent me the “your model is en route to the printer” only after manual checks have passed. I used to celebrate when I got this email, because it usually meant my models would actually be printed. Any failures after that would be due to failures during printing. However this time, I think Shapeways changed the order of the emails.

I believe Shapeways now automatically sends out the “en route” email, the day after an order has been placed, which makes that email kinda meaningless. I was so expecting my model, only to be let down a week and half later.

Also, this time, I know the model can be printed. I ordered it through Sculpteo a little while ago, but it broke during shipping. I was trying to test whether Shapeways had better packaging, not expecting it to fail manual tests.

Maybe Shapeways have less tolerances?

I don’t understand since they and Sculpteo use the same ZCorp printers.

end of rant

[Edit: Multicolor print comparison – they’re different colors!]

Shapeways v Sculpteo

I decided to write a post comparing two of my favorite 3D printing services: Shapeways and Sculpteo. I used to have wildly polarizing feels about them, that oscillated between which one I liked better, but now I’ve come to terms that they’re very different beasts.

A bit of history


My history with Shapeways goes far back to its early days. I’d just discovered a 3D printing service online and was ecstatic. I spent hours pondering what to print, and then finally settled on Jace. No help with mesh integrity meant getting anything to pass the checks was a nightmare.
There was also a $20 limit before something would be printed. Shapeways has come a long way since then, evolving into a giant marketplace for 3D printed goods.


I discovered Sculpteo a short while ago when I was trying to find an alternative to Shapeways. I didn’t think anything else existed and assumed Shapeways monopolized the market. At the time, I desperately needed something to be printed, faster than the timescales Shapeways provided. I came across it on a list of 3D printing services on 3DPrinterHub, narrowly missing investing in my own 3D printer. It boasted the similar range of materials as Shapeways, but with a 3-day turnaround time.

Comparison 1: Speed

Holy smokes is Sculpteo fast. Most of the time, anything printed in White Plastic (equivalent to Shapeway’s Strong & Flexible Plastic) will be shipped in 3 days. On Shapeways, it takes about 2-5 days for the model to be approved and another week for the printing to happen. I attribute to this amazing turnaround speed to the superior automated mesh integrity services that Sculpteo has.

On Shapeways, when you upload a model, the model is checked for integrity, and an email is sent to you whether it passes the tests  (no manifolds, no holes, etc). Their check system is backed by Netfabb Cloud, which works beautifully most of the time, but has a hard time handling certain meshes. With my workflow, it’s incredibly easy to generate meshes that Netfabb can’t seem to fix, such as collapsed faces of Sculptris outputs. I usually get an email with an obscure message like, “Uh oh! Seems like your model needs a bit more love before our robots can work their magic.” In rare cases, I’d even crashed the check server!

Passing the mesh integrity test is only the first step towards passing printability. The second part is passing thinness checks. Different materials have different minimum thickness requirements, and when an order is placed, the model is hand checked for thinness. This could be very slow (and sometimes inconsistent). Shapeways informed me every model of every order is checked, even if they had been printed before. I understand that minimum thickness is a hard constraint because the printer bots could crash and cause further delays. However, I presume the manual check is done with Netfabb desktop tools. It heavily depends on the checker to catch if anything’s too thin, by measuring with the Netfabb ruler. Depending on different checkers, and how much they want to measure, very similar models could be passed or failed inconsistently.

Getting a quote and scaling is also a pain. Shapeways gives you a quote for a model, but doesn’t offer scaling services. After receiving a quote, if I decide I only want to pay half as much for a model, I would need to scale it on my end, upload it, and wait for another quote when it passes the mesh integrity checks (fingers crossed).

Let’s talk about Sculpteo.

I absolutely love their mesh integrity services. I’m not sure what algorithm they’re using to fix my models, but even the most troublesome ones have successfully been patched. It’s black magic. They’re just announced a new suite of tools to give you an option of a couple possible fixes, if you’re not satisfied with the default.

Their thinness check is also real-time. By the toggle of a button, all thin parts will be highlighted in red, given a particular material. You can adjust the scale to see if the problem goes away or upload another model with the fixes. They even show you a really nice clay-render of your model in the color of your chosen material.

Sculpteo also takes a larger range of files types, so if I want to print a colored model, I don’t have to use VRML.


For Rakdos, it took me about 4 days of fixing to get Shapeways/Netfabb to accept my model. It took Sculpteo 2 hours of their server time to fix my model for me. Shapeways, a day after my order, notified me my model had too thin components. I fixed it, reuploaded, and it passed. However, while my figurine passed, my Rakdos dice holder did not, even though they had the same model but a different base. I am still awaiting news on my dice holder.

Comparison 2: Price

While Sculpteo has this amazing ease-of-use process, it is definitely far more expensive to print objects. For one, shipping is terrible. There are three tiers of shipping. If an order costs less than $10, a cheap shipping option is available. However, that shipping takes about a month to arrive, which severely negates the speed benefit. Orders between $10 and $50 cost about $20 to ship, which is ridiculous. Orders above $50 cost about $6 to ship. It would be more worth it to print another object, or scale something up, to qualify for the $6 shipping than pay $20 for shipping.

The prints themselves are also more expensive. For small objects, like plastic rings, the base price is $8, while in Shapeways, it’s priced by the volume. In my experience, it costs about 2 to 8 times as much to print through Sculpteo than to print through Shapeways. 3DPrintingPrices is a nice check on prices with a lot of different services. Very seldom do I see Sculpteo as the cheapest option.

Though Sculpteo has a bulk discount option, the discount is not nearly enough to match Shapeways’ prices. The site is also not designed like a marketplace platform. I could be wrong, but don’t see people stopping to buy goods off of Sculpteo like they would in Shapeways, just because the UI isn’t as friendly. Aside from the amazing clay renders, the overall Sculpteo site feel isn’t as well designed as Shapeways’. I don’t like having to go through nested menus to find the upload button. Though, Shapeways has also made “upload” slightly nested, because it’s opting for more of a designer shop platform.

Shapeways provides cheap shipping without minimum order requirements. This allows for awesome business opportunities, where you don’t have to keep a stock of goods, and can order on demand. I feel like it has a larger user base and a great community (almost like the Etsy of 3D printing). The community building aspects are wonderful, as well as the really nice UI to browse and shop.


This Rakdos only had about $3 different in price between the two services. However, the dice holder would’ve cost ~$25 to print through Shapeways and ~$40 through Scupteo. Based on the price, I decided to print through Shapeways.


Both Shapeways and Sculpteo are great printing services. They both have an awesomely large range of materials to choose from, and super friendly customer service. Since Sculpteo’s turnaround is faster and Shapeways’ pricing is cheaper, I use the services very differently. If I want an object, and I want it now, I tend to choose Sculpteo. If I want to perhaps sell my design in the future, I tend to choose Shapeways. I think I secretly hope they’d merge and everyone can have the best of both worlds, but I’m sure both companies would hate me for saying that.

Hope this article is useful for someone out there, because I didn’t see any in-depth comparisons of the two services. The base price comparison is a little unfair because they are so different. I’ve also used a little bit of iMaterialise and Ponoko, but not enough to be authoritative about them (and also because I like Shapeways and Sculpteo far better).