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The Color Company
The Color Company
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Welcome to iMakr
Even though 3D printing has been on the scene for decades, much of the general public remains unaware of the technology and whether they could be making use of it. All this could change, however, with the arrival of 3D printing on the high street.
TCT Magazine and Personalize travelled to London earlier this month to get the lowdown on some of the industry's most exciting developments and emerging businesses and it was over the course of this research trip we met with two exciting companies with the same ambition - to bring 3D printing to the masses.
The Color Company - a successful reprographics franchise - has made the dimensional leap from 2D to 3D by offering a 3D printing service at its central London store, while iMakr in Farringdon is hyped as being the world's largest store dedicated entirely to 3D printing and has only recently opened its doors to customers after its glittering opening event.
So what exactly are these two very different operations offering the man on the street and could high street 3D printing be the last leap the medium needs to make to become a fully mainstream technology?
The Color Company
After taking a scenic route via the wrong office, we arrived at The Color Company's Poland Street store off the frantic main drag of Oxford Street. At first glance, the outlet does not look any different from an ordinary Color Company branch, but shortly after entering the shop you cannot fail to spot the sizeable 3D printer in the office behind the front desk.
We were greeted by Design & Marketing Manager Vanessa Ball and 3D Print Manager Dave Summers, who showed us their HP Designjet - AKA the Stratasys U-Print - and the King Rat model their machine had just finished building.
The Color Company's high street dreams are big - and you don't get much bigger or more high street than Oxford Circus - but just how are they harnessing the 3D printing market?
Summers explained that they began their 3D printing venture last year and the business has been bubbling away steadily since then.
"We are in the right area for it," he added, noting that there is no shortage of enquiries and he will gladly take the time to explain the technology and the service The Color Company offers to anybody who takes an interest. Indeed, Summers' sheer enthusiasm for 3D printing is likely to be instrumental in the venture's success, as he has clearly caught the 3D printing bug.
The resident 3D printing expert even discussed having a catalogue of designs on offer to print for customers, making The Color Company's own version of Thingiverse.
So what about The Color Company's existing customer base? Summers revealed his dealings are mostly with students who cannot afford their own printer - or at least not a 3D printer that offers them the quality of print they require - or the sort of prices bureaus are quoting them.
Ball stated: "This machine fits with our market."
Summers added that it is thanks to the student community that their 3D printer has been put to such good use since it was installed.
"We've done about 40 models in that time, so I can't say it's never been out of use but it is a building process," he admitted, continuing, "I'd say for such a new technology and the short amount of time we’ve had it then it will be a success."
"If demand grows The Color Company can grow with it now having tried out this service in one of the busiest branches," he asserted.
Few in the 3D printing industry would have missed the media campaign leading up to the grand opening of the new iMakr store in fashionable Farringdon. The event itself had to be spread over two nights to accommodate the number of people clamouring to get a peak inside the world's largest 3D printing store. But what is a 3D printing store and how does Founder and Director Sylvain Preumont plan to change the 3D printing industry landscape with his 2,500 sq ft of prime real estate?
Our Editor and Publisher attended the iMakr opening, but this half of the magazine waited until the dust had settled and the last of the canapés were polished off to schedule an interview and take a peak inside the iMakr store on a normal business day.
Preumont was pleased with how well the opening night had gone and told us how astonished he was to see the queue of eager 3D printing fans snaking down the street to the subway.
"The British love queuing," he joked, adding that people were afraid of losing their place in the line if they ventured up to grab some of the refreshments they had laid on to tide the baying crowds over.
The iMakr store is spread over two floors, with the ground floor showcasing a variety of 3D-printed artefacts, decorations and jewellery for sale, as well as a range of 3D printing gadgets. Downstairs, the space was still being organised for training events and seminars, which Preumont says will equip attendees with a knowledge of 3D printing.
"From newbie to expert," he smiled.
Preumont's interest in 3D printing started in 2006 but even though he had a business in mind, he did not believe the market, or indeed the technology, was ready. So the businessman bided his time and sensed a shift in the 3D printing market years later.
"The traction was incredible. It wasn't journalism or blog-driven," he remarked.
Like The Color Company, Preumont's zeal for 3D printing is infectious and he has great confidence in the technology's ability to change how people think about the way they consume.
The businessman - who hails from the Loire Valley in Central France - accepts that this seismic shift will take many years, but he hopes the arrival of iMakr on the high street will encourage the 3D printing revolution.
Nevertheless, Preumont understands that 3D printing is still quite esoteric and stated that the store will likely be a "destination store" for many of its patrons, which is why his business model includes the retail of 3D printers and filaments, 3D-printed objects and training.
Indeed, Preumont is so proud of his offering that he revealed he has received orders from US customers for 3D printers that are manufactured in North America, because he can have them sent from his shop to their address across the pond in such good time.
"The world is changing … people are discovering that it's not hard to make," he stated.
It seems clear that even the businesses behind these pioneering ventures admit that making the technology as commonplace as printing out your digital camera snaps is not going to be an overnight success - it will take a little more thought and time than that.
Nevertheless, 3D printing has infiltrated the high street and it seems likely that iMakr and The Color Company on Poland Street will be two of many before too long.