Polishing the Storefront

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post on why I removed plastic items from Kickin’ Wiccan, my jewelry shop on Shapeways. This post, like the last one, was inspired by the advice I received from the talented artist Vann Godfrey, and what I learned from putting his advice into practice.

Shapeways offers 3D printing in a wide variety of materials. They include semi-precious (brass, bronze) and precious metals (silver) that can be printed with or without polish (“raw”). Shapeways also offers metal plating over polished brass (14k gold, 18k gold, rose gold, rhodium). When I created a design for my shop, I normally printed it in raw brass. Then I’d photograph it and put up the picture in my Kickin’ Wiccan shops on Shapeways and Etsy.

I picked raw brass as my “standard” material because it was a lighter color than bronze, and so looked better in photographs, especially against the black felt backdrop I used. Here’s my basic pentacle pendant in raw brass:

Also, I prefer the rough texture of unpolished metal. Here’s a ring I wear I wear every day, based on my large pentacle ring, which I printed in raw brass:

Of course, unpolished jewelry costs less than polished jewelry, since Shapeways does its polishing by hand. Vann recently looked at my samples of jewelry. His comment was that while many, like me, would be content with raw metal, it was polished metal that would capture their attention. This was especially true for my shop photographs. I put his advice to the test, and printed some of my items in polished metal. Vann was right. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of two prints of my Wheel of Hecate ring. On the left is the ring in raw bronze, on the right is the ring printed in 14k gold-plated polished brass:

A potential customer might settle for the ring on the left, since it costs $20 less. But to get them to click on the item in the first place, it’s better to show them a picture of the ring on the right.

Here’s another example. This is my Triple Moon Goddess ring. The ring on the left was printed in raw (unpolished) silver; the ring on the right in rhodium plating over polished brass:

The raw silver ring isn’t bad. In fact, even without manual polishing, silver jewelry from Shapeways tends to come out smoother than brass or bronze does. Here’s a different picture of the silver ring that shows how reflective it is; you can see the black felt reflected in the front face:

But it pales in comparison to the polished rhodium-plated ring. (It doesn’t hurt that rhodium is more reflective than silver.) Here’s the rhodium-plated ring on that same piece of felt. The reflection is so good that the front face ring looks transparent:

The same ring against a better choice of background. Shapeways’ polishing is so good that this photograph almost looks like a digital render:

So I should print all my samples in polished metals from now on, right? It’s not that simple. For one thing, Shapeways’ design rules for polished materials are stricter than for unpolished ones. For example, take another look at the side-by-side comparison of the Triple Moon rings. I had to change the original 3D model used for the ring on the left slightly in order for Shapeways to print the polished ring on the right. Can you detect the difference?

Some of my designs may not be adaptable for polished materials. Consider the pentacle pendant at the top of this post: the points at the tip of the star are rejected by Shapeways’ automated scan for printing in polished metal. I could “file down” the tips of the pentacle in the 3D computer model, but that might detract from its appearance. Or consider this oak leaf pendant:

The polishing process would almost certainly remove the fine detailing on the surface of the leaf. There’s a balance:

  • Marketing: A better visual appeal.
  • Detail: Can this design be polished?
  • Cost: Can I afford to print polished models? Will the customer be turned off by a higher price on my Shapeways storefront?

I’ve learned I have to include these factors in my future designs.

A ring of Triple Moon rings. Starting clockwise from seven o’clock: 14k gold-plated polished brass, raw silver, raw brass, raw bronze, rhodium-plated polished brass.