Using Shapeways

In a previous post I talked about using 3D programs to design jewelry. I’ve continued to play with using Shapeways to design and create rings. Here are a few examples of what I’ve done, along with some of the difficulties I’ve encountered along the way.

Shapeways is a site that permits you to upload models you’ve created using 3D software. You can then print the models using their high-end 3D printers in a variety of materials: plastic, ceramic, stainless steel, alumide, sandstone, silver, brass. The cost of the service is a function of the volume of material needed to print the model, with additional fees for special handling; for example, it costs extra to have an object polished after it’s printed.

Shapeways has a few tools to ease the creation of common items like pendants. One of their pages allows you to design rings; you create a 2D image, and the software wraps it into a circle and applies depth to turn it into a ring. Here are some examples.

What I designed What Shapeways displayed Material I chose What I got
Pentacle-shallow shapeways pentacle solid screenshot white plastic full pentacle ring
Pentacle outline shapeways pentacle outline screenshot white plastic outline pentacle ring
Triple Moon shapeways triple moon screenshot white plastic triple moon ring
Hecate's Wheel Ring design shapeways hecate's wheel screenshot stainless steel hecate's wheel ring
Hermes Council skinny shapeways hermes council screenshot stainless steel with bronze matte finish hermes ring
3D pentacle ring render shapeways 3D pentacle screenshot stainless steel 3D pentacle ring photo

Depending on your browser, you should be able to right-click on these pictures, select “View Image”, and see a higher-resolution picture.

Some things to note:

  • The ring-design application can accept gray-scale information in the picture to create engraving and embossing in the printed ring. I used that feature in the first five ring designs. The sixth design I created in Cheetah3D, a low-end 3D modeling program for the Mac.
  • Shapeways is picky about small details in designs. They have guidelines on the level of detail permitted in their models, and they’re rigorously enforced (for the rings, at least). Their automated model-review software will reject any design that fails those guidelines.
  • As an example, consider the last item in the above table. Shapeways’ automated software accepted the design for stainless steel, but rejected it for plastic because of the tips of the points of the pentacle were too small.
  • If you look carefully at the final results, the stainless-steel models in particular, you can just make out the layers of the 3D printer. Even the high-end 3D printers can’t match what human jewelers can sculpt… yet.
  • It took me time to design each ring, mainly because I’m a perfectionist; I wasted a few hours tweaking details that were far too small to be visible on the final rings. I estimate I spent 1-2 hours on each ring I designed using Shapeways’ application, and about six hours on the 3D model. This does not include the time I spent learning the software, and creating about three rings for every one I show here that were flawed in some way.
  • The cost of a plastic ring is roughly $3.50; that of a stainless steel ring roughly $20; that of a silver ring about $100. On top of that, there’s a shipping fee of $6.50 per order. This means there’s not much point to ordering one plastic ring at a time, unless you’re really desperate (as I sometimes was) to get a prototype.
  • Delivery times also vary based on the material, with plastic the fastest (roughly a week) and stainless steel taking 2-3 weeks.
  • I learned that hard way that stainless steel can rust, at least in contact with my skin. I have to coat the inside of a stainless steel ring with nail polish to prevent this.

What’s next? For me, it’s this:

acorn bowl render

This a libation bowl I designed for Acorn Garden rituals. I’ve wanted one like this ever since I saw a beautiful libation bowl used by Deborah Lipp. It has separate compartments for libating food and drinks, so you don’t get an unsightly pile of swollen bread as the bowl is passed around. I’ve hunted around in stores for one, but all I could find were chips’n’dips bowls that were shaped like footballs. Thanks to modern technology, I can have a bowl crafted to my own specifications. It’s being printed in ceramic, and should arrive in a week or two.

If it turns out to be flawed, I can always use it for chips and dips…

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  1. sabrinamari

    Your libation bowl is both brilliant and beautiful, Bill.

    1. wgseligman

      Brilliant and beautiful, eh? Then I shall nickname it “Sabrina”. With any luck, the bowl will have some flaws and imperfections that will make all who see it appreciate it all the more (though the bowl might not always see it that way).

  2. Anonymous

    Painting a polished white strong and flexible ring for long term use?

    I want to buy and wear a polished WSF ring for about 3 months before I buy it in silver so I would like to paint it and make it durable enough for daily wear.

    I checked the types of paints that could be applied and realised that I know someone who has the colours I need in nail varnish (which shapeways says you can use). So I was wondering if I could simply wash the ring when I get it, dry it and paint it using nail varnish?

    Advice will be very much appreciated.

    1. wgseligman

      Re: Painting a polished white strong and flexible ring for long term use?

      The short answer is: I don’t know. I never wore my WSF rings for any length of time. I made them to see if the shape/size was correct, then jumped to stainless steel or silver.

      I know that nail polish adheres to the steel rings quite well. When I first wore one of the Shapeways steel rings, the inside of the ring rusted a bit and stained my finger. From that point on, when I got a stainless steel ring, I painted the inside with clear nail polish. I never had to do that more than once with a ring; it’s months later and none of those rings have stained my finger again.

      Depending on your budget and your skills in 3D design, you may want to consider prototyping in steel instead of silver. Once you add postage, the cost difference between WSF and steel is not that much. The reason to do this is that a design may be accepted by the Shapeways software in WSF but rejected in steel/silver due to their manufacturing process. For my particular designs, I had to make many tweaks before they’d accept the points at the tips of the pentacles.

      Good luck!

      1. Anonymous

        Re: Painting a polished white strong and flexible ring for long term use?

        Thanks for the quick reply, I’m going to follow your advice and get it printed in steel first.

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