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The Color Company/JAL-Design
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The Color Company
Empire State Building
Printed in ABS in hours.
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The Color Company
The Color Company Logo 3D Printed
Dave Summer's first 3D design, stolen by a proud Boss....
When you think of the “high street” one of the first places that springs to mind in the UK is Oxford Street and Oxford Circus. The West End is a mecca for flagship stores of retail giants like Topshop and H&M, attracting millions of visitors per year.
So, when The Color Company decided to become the first retail outlet to offer 3D printing on the high street, choosing their branch just off Europe’s busiest shopping street was probably a wise idea.
Traditionally, the company is a well-established 2D printing firm offering services from exhibition banners to high-quantity printing for huge companies and individuals alike. They decided to make the foray into the extra dimension in 2012, 3D Print Manager Dave Summers explains, “In January last year we had an Objet on trial at a different branch, it didn’t really get a lot of work because of the price of prints and location really. So we decided to try this machine, A HP Designjet (or Stratasys U-Print depending on where you are), which can produce models for a heck of a lot cheaper and now our customer base is growing. We’ve done 40 or so models in the past few months, and the orders get bigger every week.”
Situated somewhere between an industrial machine and a home consumer 3D printer the HP Designjet gives Color Company the ideal place in which to start. A lot of their custom comes from design students who can’t afford a printer themselves or afford a bureaus pricing. “Most of the entry level printers like the MakerBots of this world can’t print support material, so you are therefore very restricted in what you can print. With this machine and its heated chamber you can pretty much print anything and it works, moving parts, you name it. For what it costs in comparison to the Objet machine I don’t think there’s that much of a difference in terms of what we are printing.” Design & Marketing Manager Vanessa Ball interjects “This machine fits with our market.”
Fit it certainly does, the pricing structure at the Color Company is very reasonable with most models costing around the £40 ($60, €48) mark, though it does, of course, depend on the amount of material your model requires.
But one of the best things about going to a shop like this instead of a faceless online service is the ability for a discussion with the person who is going to print your model. Ensuring you don’t get a duff model is top priority for Dave and his team, “We run it through our the software - Mesh, Netfabb and the HP software - to see if your model will print, if not we send it back to you until we feel the model is suitable to print. The guy who has made the model that is in the machine now has been back about three or four times with adjustments, we don’t charge until the print is in the machine.”
Dave and his team are dedicated to the process; they showed us step-by-step what they do to ensure the highest possible quality ABS models. The pre-print software, the placement of designs to ensure as little wastage as possible and the wash and post-processing. It is certainly a learning curve for the team, but they are learning fast, “Early on we did a robot model for a film – I can’t digress what film that is because it hasn’t come out yet - but it wasn’t designed quite right. We printed it with all of the support material but when we put it on the wash, it fell apart. It was a 15 hour run with a 12 hour wash so we’d spent two days working on a model that was never paid for. “
As frustrating as that process was, Dave has come out the other side, eager to show us the successes that adorn the front desk as you walk into the Poland Street branch. He talked us through some of the success stories. One model The Color Company is particularly proud of is that of Anna May, the mascot for the popular UK anime website animepicks.co.uk.
The 3D version of Anna May was designed by Game Programmer Josiah Allen-Litchmore, who told Personalize “I was really impressed with The Color Company, I had thought about having it injection moulded but found out through their website and Facebook page about the 3D printed service. I took the model to them on a Friday and I had it by the Monday. I was and still am pleased with my model”
The HP printer has is not without restrictions though; The Color Company explained to us about how costly the material and build plates are for the machines. This coupled with the initial outlay and reasonable pricing structure means it will take the company quite a while to make their money back. Asked whether he thought the venture for a 2D company into an extra dimension was worthwhile Summers replied, "It [custom] is building, we’ve only had it since October so we’re getting used to having it and word-of-mouth in the student community has kept it in use. 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 continues,“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.“