Why Princess Twilight Sparkle May Be The Key To Keeping 3D Printing Revolutionary

from the don't-block-the-innovation dept

When toy company Hasbro was looking to launch its super fan store for lovers of My Little Pony (tag line: "Super Art for Super Fans"), they decided to do something different. They teamed up with 3D printing startup and marketplace Shapeways and had six designers put their spin on this revered childhood toy. While the commercial sector watched nervously to see if this was the start of brands-gone-wild, what transpired was clear: the 3D printing world took one step closer to the mainstream and one design closer to a major brand.

The result of this strange-bedfellows relationship, thus far, has been some interesting brand improvisation for My Little Pony. Take Can Can Pinkie, a modified version of Pinkie Pie pony designed by Nikita Krutov now available for sale on the Shapeways site. The figurine is dressed in fishnets and ready to can-can right into the history books as some of the first super fan art supported by the brand it's altering.

Although the technology for 3D printing has existed for more than 30 years, it's only recently become part of the popular consciousness -- as companies like MakerBot and Pirate3D made national news first for creating low-cost 3D printers and then for blasting through their Kickstarter campaigns. And designers today are taking full advantage of these lower cost technologies to personalize or in some cases remix existing designs into something never before imagined. Now designers and remixers are prototyping and often making new iPhone cases, jewelry, ceramic vases, and toy cars that are going from concept to creation faster than ever before.

Among big companies, though, Hasbro is still virtually unique in its willingness to partner with Shapeways. Most brand managers -- the people whose job it is to keep you aware that an iPhone is an iPhone and that M&Ms are M&Ms -- still do not want fans altering their product. It's marketing 101 that control of a brand is the best way to ensure its success.

Altering that basic business tenet is an uphill battle, but Hasbro's willingness to experiment could be the beginning of a hopeful trend that builds bridges to fans through the use of technology, and that allows the 3D printing industry to blossom.

So where is this technology headed? Straight to Imaginationville. 3D printing allows us to imagine a future where our children will be able to learn about their neighborhoods and then actually print a 3D model of their neighborhood. They may even be able to create something that embodies the changes they imagine would improve where they live. It's given us a world where fan art, instead of being relegated to the back of notebooks, can be made into real figures.

Part of the reason that 3D printing is so captivating is that it can be applied to such a vast array of products, concepts, and problems. Right now you can 3D print human tissue, fighter jet parts, concept cars, and your very own likeness. Scientists even see printing complete human organs in the not-too-distant future.

With such potential on the horizon, it's no wonder people can't stop talking about the future of 3D printing. At a session on 3D printing that the Copia Institute hosted this month, a cluster of tech lawyers, advocates, and developers sat around a table at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California brainstorming ways to fast-forward the 3D printing industry through the tumult the music industry faced in the '90s when it was rocked by online music sharing. That tortured pathway involved three steps: music labels suing people for pirating, trying unsuccessfully to implement digital rights management, and finally a move to the current system of allowing consumers to buy only the music they want. (When was the last time it occurred to you that you had to buy a whole album?)

As Natalia Krasnodebska, Shapeways' community manager, put it at the Copia Institute roundtable, many in 3D printing want the industry to skip straight to the third step, eliminating years of fitfully struggling to find the right way to get products to consumers who want them and making money doing it.

With seemingly limitless possibility, however, comes the concern about how to keep the technology viable as it advances so quickly.

3D printing is dramatically reducing the cost of prototyping, which in turn is reducing manufacturing costs. It's helping everyone from big business to doctors designing prosthetic limbs work faster and work cheaper. For that reason, not to mention the creativity it's unleashed in the average Joe, 3D printing is worth keeping viable.

Here are a few ways we can make that happen:

  • Develop a model revenue sharing agreement. This could be done by a group made up of both company representatives and designers facilitated by a third party like the Copia Institute, and would give 3D printing designers and brands a clear way to work together, eliminating potential legal battles.
  • Tell the stories of when designers who use 3D printers and companies partner successfully. The two groups don't have to be at odds, and real world examples, like the Hasbro/Shapeways partnership, will help companies feel more comfortable experimenting with having fans wax creative with their brands.
  • Legal issues can kill innovation before it starts. We should expand the capacity of legal service groups, like New Media Rights, that are already helping makers and entrepreneurs using 3D printers navigate challenges from brands, and connecting them with companies that may want to work with them.
  • Work with schools to get printers into the classroom. To enlarge the 3D printing community, and to expand access to the technology, 3D printing companies should work with schools to get printers in the classroom. Companies like Autodesk are already partnering with schools to provide free design software. 3D printers could be coupled with that effort and others like it.

The Hasbro/Shapeways partnership is a model that more companies and designers should use, but it's only a starting place. Generating models that companies can use and test will let us continue to expand on creative uses for 3D printing.

Megan Garcia is a Senior Fellow for New America. This post was originally appeared in a slightly different form on Medium, and was written after attending our Copia Institute inaugural summit.
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Filed Under: 3d printing, intellectual property, my little ponies
Companies: copia, hasbro, shapeways

Reader Comments

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  1. icon
    Max (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 3:38pm

    Meanwhile, on planet Earth...

    ...3D printing is still looking for an actually useful use case beyond "pirated" action figures and shower curtain rings.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Tom Landry (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 3:46pm

    If history has shown us anything, its to never trust Hasbro to "do the right thing" in the end.

    I remain hopeful but skeptical

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2015 @ 3:52pm

    Can you make a Twilight Sparkle that DOESN'T HAVE WINGS, LIKE SHE'S SUPPOSED TO BE???

    Screw Hasbro and their stupid ham-handed attempts to get kids to buy the same toy multiple times. And don't even get me started on all the fan projects they arbitrarily had shut down, while pretending they "had to" shut them down. (As if licenses didn't exist!)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2015 @ 4:04pm

    Re: Meanwhile, on planet Earth...

    I can sell those shower curtain rings as jewelry and make a profit, so we can rent a car!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2015 @ 4:52pm


    You're not doing yourself any good by still fighting the Twilicorn battle. You come across like those people who still refuse to use the word alicorn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2015 @ 5:08pm

    Re: Meanwhile, on planet Earth...


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    PopeRatzo (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 7:07pm

    You think they can make a human-sized Pinkie Pie that's, um, washable?

    Asking for a friend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Watchit (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 10:42pm

    Re: Meanwhile, on planet Earth...

    Actually, 3D printing is pretty much used by everybody in the engineering industry nowadays. Even NASA (speaking from experience).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Watchit (profile), 24 Mar 2015 @ 10:51pm


    Just a little PSA, for your friend, don't use a dildo made with a regular home 3D printer, it's unsafe and unsanitary. There are special services online you- I mean, your friend can find to make your own 3D printed sex toys that are much safer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Ninja (profile), 25 Mar 2015 @ 4:11am

    No, really, who wouldn't love a 3D-printed sculpture of Batman in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader? This is only possible if things like that go ahead. Or, you know, 'pirates'. Notice the ' ' as I use the word loosely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    cryophallion (profile), 25 Mar 2015 @ 5:57am

    Buying a cd

    Maybe off topic, but they did ask the question:
    I always want to think about buying the full album. First of all, I can prove ownership, rather than a nebulous "license" that can be revoked (which is why when I do buy something digital, I immediately back it up somewhere).
    Second, there are often far better songs on a cd than the popular ones, and I can't always tell in a 30 second snippet (thank goodness for Spotify for taking that restriction away, at least it gives me a chance now).
    Third, I'm old fashioned and like album art.
    I also like supporting bands who have had consistently good music, and who try to tell stories with their albums (a few still do this).
    Yeah, I have cultural add me distraction levels and half the time, most mass market pop stars may have one song I like. In that case, I'm not likely to buy that song anyway. I WILL buy good music for the bands I like. And shockingly, at my local store the cost is not much more than a buck a song. And more often, more of that less profit sale (due to store cut, shipping, packaging) goes to the artist (remember what happened to Eminem with license fees?). So yeah, I still do it.
    Now get off my lawn!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Stevart Johnson, 9 Apr 2015 @ 3:06am

    3D Technology

    3D technology has brought the revolution to the world now you can actually enjoy the real graphics just sitting in your drawing room in front of your TV or in your bedroom, I really am enjoying this technology. What more information you can bring about 3D to us?

    Stevart Johnson

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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