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But though cheaper than previous efforts, printers like those are still expensive for the average consumer. It'll be a few years until everybody starts 3D-printing their morning papers at home. In the meantime, 3D-printing contractors are looking for ways to break out of their niches (prototyping, or creating models for architects, to name a few of the most popular) and into a mainstream consumer market.
Sculpteo is one such contractor, and they were at the CES Unveiled event to show off their new iOS app. Called 3DPCase, it lets anyone customize their own iPhone case, and then have it 3D-printed and shipped to their front door. The app comes preloaded with some templates you can experiment with—skulls, cutouts, speaker cases, and a geography-relief design—as well as a gallery of other users' mockups.
If you whip up something you like, Sculpteo will sell it to you for $34.98—not cheap, but cheaper than some non-custom cases. The whole experience is a little bit rough around the edges, though. The app's interface could use some polishing, particularly to make it easier to understand all the steps involved in the design process, and some extra design templates would be great.
We also have a hunch that most folks won't connect the dots that their new iPhone case is coming from a newfangled 3D printer, so it doesn't do much to increase awareness and excitement about the technology. The app has 100,000 downloads according to company reps, but only eight user reviews. While they wouldn't discuss how many cases they've printed so far, they do say it's exceeded their expectations.
But even if 3D-printing tech remains under-appreciated by the general public, it's a major change in the manufacturing world for individuals to have such direct control over their goods. Sculpteo users have come up with some great ideas so far, like the stitch-it-yourself, old-Apple-logo case (right) on display at Sculpteo's CES Unveiled booth.
This tech can only get better. Once we can 3D print our actual iPhones from a mail-order service, then we'll really be on to something.