Sunday, 15 February 2015

More pondering on 3D printing and pricing

Let's suppose, hypothetically, I were to design a range of 3D printed miniatures for a game - let's go with spacecraft, since vehicles are actually more feasible on current hobby printers than figures, and spacecraft mean you can even get away without wheels.

To get it pre-printed by someone like Shapeways, you'd be looking at about $25 for a large ship (15 cm3 print volume) and $10 or so for a smaller one (7 cm3). Let's then suppose that a typical fleet is half a dozen large ships and, say, ten small, from a total of three designs each of the large and the small.

FX: counts on fingers...

That's $250 or so. Call it UKP 160 or so (yes, I know the dollar exchange rate is a bit variable at present, but lets work with the figure of 160 quid's worth of 3D printed starships for a single fleet). That seems to be a reasonably comparable price to a similar fleet in other materials (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong).

Supposing you own a 3D printer of your own...

What's the right price for those six designs?

Assuming the 'pre-printed' ships are done in Shapeways "white strong and flexible", I'd be paying Shapeways $1.40 per cm3, which works out around $170-200, so you'd be paying me (for the sake of argument) $50 for the intellectual property, the design work, call it what you will.

So: would you pay $50 for the 3D files for those 6 ships? Say $12 for the large ones, $6 for the small, and a package discount for the lot? Fundamentally, I'm basing the figure on the typical amount of money I'd make from Shapeways if you ordered a representative fleet. Assuming you already own a printer, it's going to cost you (relatively) peanuts in ABS or PLA off-the-reel (not at Shapeways prices!) and power.

What if I said (purely on an honour basis): "those designs are for your personal use. If you want to print stuff for your club, or your mates, the price is $100 for the bundle"?



  1. It's an interesting idea and one that will hopefully start to appear as 3d printers become cheaper and better. The difficulty would be understanding that someone could easily pay for the home use license and then start mass printing them for friends/gaming clubs without the modeler ever knowing. That spit level licensing deal relies upon honesty on the part of the buyer

    Having said that, most people are fairly honest, especially when it comes to smaller businesses. If GW started doing this (fat chance, I know), you know full well that those files would be available to download on dropbox soon afterwards.

    I'm just waiting for Apple or someone to come up with a 3d printer and start something like the app store/itunes where everything is licensed and can't be shared easily.

    Anyway, back to your question. I think $50 sounds like a pretty good deal for something like spaceships..

  2. How do you enforce it?

    Monetising electronic content is difficult - see Film, Music and Books.

  3. As the other commentators have said, most people are honest when dealing with small traders, but enforcing copyright will be difficult. This is something I already face as a published author with e-format books. Certain protections can be put in place, but pirate sites abound. Dealing with these is like a game of whack-a-mole. I can imagine a similar situation occurring with 3D model schematics.

  4. Something like this is definitely coming.

  5. As a guy a little further along this track than you are, let me ask you something. if you release, either for free or for sale on a site like PinShape, what makes you think you have the right to dictate how someone uses their 3D printer just because they're printing a template you created? The 3D file can be used to create something, but it's no more a thing than a digital picture is a framed work of art.

    Yes, the creators of the templets should have rights. And they do. Copyrights. But those rights, near as I can tell, do not extend to the things made with a template used specifically for use as a template. Nor should they, in my opinion. Determine what's fair for your time as the designer, charge that, and don't stop them from using it however they want.

    Protect your right to copy it or make derivatives. But the moment we start thinking of these files as the things they could one day make we begin down a slippery slope that has been traveled so many time it's amazing to me that we have yet to learn the 1 lesson that copy protection, or DRM as we're calling it these day, has to teach us. It is that copy protection or DRM only ever creates it's own competition.

    3D printing is supposed to be disruptive. Is there any chance that can extend to copy protection? Can this be the one industry that says "Copy protection? We don't need it." Please?


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