Will 3-D Printing Change the Future of Events?

Three-dimensional printing is becoming more prevalent, but the still-high costs of equipment and staffing are keeping it from fully breaking onto the event scene.

By Jenna Berris June 7, 2013, 7:15 AM EDT

A 3-D printer made tiny figurines of guests at the Omote 3D pop-up.

Photo: Courtesy of Party

The reality of 3-D printing has come a long way, and now the technology is popping up across various industries to produce objects such as jewelry, clothing, hairbrushes, and headphones. The process works by scanning 2-D images, then building them one layer at a time using materials including plastic, ceramic, and metal.

Proving its relevance to the event world, several companies are taking the concept to the consumer space as an activity, in particular as an updated photo booth that can print miniature figurines of its subjects, which Japanese creative agency Party did for its recent Omote 3D pop-up in Tokyo. Participants paid between $265 and $530 and stood for a 15-minute scan to capture their images. A 3-D printer then constructed tiny replicas of the subjects, keeping the original colors and textures intact. Similarly, Brooklyn outfit MakerBot introduced its 3-D photo booth inside the company’s Manhattan store last November. For $5, visitors can scan their faces inside the booth and walk out with a replica of their heads.

Artists may soon be sketching 3-D portraits in plastic in lieu of caricaturists at events, too: WobbleWorks’ 3Doodler is a pen that emits hot plastic as the artist freestyle draws in the air, and the plastic then solidifies into the shape of the design. The lightweight device costs $75; however, 3Doodler is currently only available for preorder while the company focuses on getting the first batch of pens out to the product’s Kickstarter backers.

Also on the horizon: 3-D printers that create event decor. New York-based company Shapeways—an online marketplace for 3-D printed objects where users can upload images they want to print and receive a finished product via mail—recently hosted a contest challenging users to design 3-D wedding decorations, including centerpieces, cake toppers, vases, and party favors. The company also hosts tutorials and demos and can send staffers to entertain at private events.

But while the creative possibilities are nearly endless and the technology is growing more affordable, pricing currently remains somewhat prohibitive when it comes to hosting 3-D photo booths at corporate events. Party, the agency behind Omote 3D, does not currently offer the scanner for private events due to the high cost of equipment transportation and staffing. (Though it does plan to host other pop-up events in the future.) MakerBot printers range from $2,000 to $3,000 retail, plus the cost of the printing materials. Although the company does not currently offer its photo booth for event rentals, its four New York City locations can host private in-store demos, and staffers can create custom 3-D products and paraphernalia for corporate events.

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