By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun
5:00 AM EST, December 3, 2013
Popping in to check out the newest store in Canton, Tony Vasiliades got a taste of what its founders hope will be commonplace in the near future.
He smiled for the cameras — four of them, all going off at the same time. Now he has three-dimensional photos of himself online that he can turn into equally 3-D items. A figurine. A pencil topper. A bust. A hologram.
"I told my employees, 'For Christmas, I'm going to get you all bobbleheads from next door,'" joked Vasiliades, owner of the Sip & Bite Restaurant.
What's next door is the Bmore3D store, a pop-up location that launched on Black Friday and will be open through December. Its founders say it's the first 3-D retail store in the region and one of a relative few nationwide.
Their goal: Get more people to see 3-D design, scanning and printing at work and grasp what the technology could mean for them, whether it's a bobblehead with their face or a prototype for their business.
"People think it's some magical thing," said store co-founder Todd Blatt, who runs Custom 3D Stuff in Baltimore. "You can come and see it's real."
3-D printers make items from plastics, metals and other materials by literally printing them out, building digital designs one layer at a time. Rings, toys, prosthetics, airplane parts, guns — 3-D printed items run the gamut. 3-D printers can even print out 3-D printers.
Both Blatt and his fellow founder — Michael Raphael of 3-D scanning firm Direct Dimensions in Owings Mills and its 3-D photography offshoot, ShapeShot — were involved with 3-D stores in New York last year. Why not Baltimore?
The store was the whirlwind work of a few weeks. Six days after they identified an empty location on Boston Street, they were up and running — a Black Friday start for a store they hope can capitalize on holiday shopping.
"This was really a last-minute thing," Raphael said. "We said, 'Let's do it here and not miss the holiday season.'"
Consumer demand for 3-D services is largely handled online, so physical locations are "more about the prestige of having a retail store" — and getting brand recognition — than about making sales, said Nima Samadi, research manager at market-research firm IBISWorld. The pop-up nature of the Baltimore store makes sense to him.
"You're meeting that holiday-based surge in demand, but you don't have to worry about the potential lack of demand year-round," Samadi said.
How many regular consumers will buy 3-D products is anyone's guess, but overall demand is rising fast. IBISWorld expects the industry will nearly double in the next five years, fueled by health care, aerospace and other specialty customers. Already, the company said, more than half a million 3-D printed crowns, bridges and other dental implants are in patients' mouths worldwide.
Some companies see endless possibilities. Microsoft, which launched a 3-D printing app in November, said in a blog post last summer: "Remember when we said there'd be a PC on every desktop? How about this — a factory on every desktop!"
For Blatt, a mechanical engineer who got into 3-D modeling as a teenager, it's an amazing shift — his hobby becoming an industry unto itself. He launched his Custom 3D Stuff business in 2009, the light bulb going off after a friend asked him to recreate a Star Wars sandtrooper radio from a photograph.
His nylon-powder earrings and necklaces are among the products for sale at Bmore3D, along with other jewelry, Baltimore-themed figurines and the like from other local artists. People's 3-D printed faces peer out from bobbleheads, bracelet charms and a miniature Mount Rushmore. Prices range from $10 for a version of your head that fits on a Lego character to $40 M.C. Escher-inspired necklaces to roughly $100 for a 3-D hologram.
Passersby who want their face on something can sit in ShapeShot's automated 3-D photo booth as Vasiliades did. He typed his name and email address into a computer, posed for three different snapshots — that part is like a regular photo booth — and was surprised that there wasn't more to it.
"That's it?" he said. "Awesome. Very easy."
The Baltimore store, open 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily, expects to host meet-and-greets and workshops with many of the area's 3-D artists, designers and engineers during the month. And it also will have Tinkerine Studio 3-D printers for sale — ranging from $999 to $1,549 — for customers who want to make things themselves.
Jan Baum, executive director of 3D Maryland, an effort to connect more businesses with "digital manufacturing," visited on opening day. The pop-up store might be more consumer-focused than her Columbia-based organization, but they're both trying to drum up awareness and interest.
People don't really know what's possible with 3-D printers, she said, until they see one in action.
"The technology's game-changing," Baum said. "We're not used to producing things in this way."
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