A choice of steel

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on removing plastic jewelry from my Kickin’ Wiccan shop on Shapeways. My thoughts on plastic back then were:

  • Photos of plastic jewelry can look cheap.
  • It was not worth customizing jewelry (such as rings) in plastic because I wouldn’t make enough money for the time I spent adjusting the design; if I charged more for my time, the price difference between plastic and steel became insignificant.
  • My skill in 3D design is sufficient that I don’t have to make test prints in plastic anymore.

I’m beginning to think that the same logic may apply to steel as well.

All of the above points on plastic can apply to steel to some degree, though price is a lesser issue. But a new one comes up: customers have different expectations for items printed in a material named “stainless steel.”

Plastic is plastic, and if a potential customer orders an item in, e.g., “green polished strong and flexible plastic” they’ll get what they expect. When customers see the words “stainless steel,” I find they expect a surface that looks like stainless steel cutlery, even if I include a picture of my jewelry in stainless steel.

Let’s take a look. Here is a picture of my large pentacle ring in stainless steel:

Bronze-infused steel cropped

It looks exactly as Shapeways describes on its steel materials page: rough with visible print lines, infused with bronze from the printing process. Here’s a video that demonstrates how Shapeways prints its steel items:

I’d wear it, if I wasn’t already wearing a version of the same ring in brass. But even with the picture, I had a customer complain to me that the ring wasn’t stainless steel and the surface wasn’t smooth. I had little choice but to refund his money.

Shapeways offers a variety of coatings and polishes for steel items. Here’s the ring printed in “matte gold steel”:

Matte Gold Steel cropped

And here it is in “polished gold steel”:

Polished Gold Steel cropped

The color is consistent, and the polished version is smoother, but they certainly don’t look like cutlery. What the customers probably expect is something like looks like the “raw brass” version:

3D pentacle raw brass black felt cropped

I try to temper the customers’ expectations on my Etsy shop by calling the material “bronze-infused steel” instead of “stainless steel.” I also describe the material in detail the FAQ section of the stop, but Etsy places that near the bottom of the page so it’s easy for the customers to overlook.

The lesson learned so far: You can show the customers a picture of what they’re going to get, and they still might not believe what they see!

For now, I’m leaving the steel versions of my jewelry on my shop pages; it’s a sturdy material and I personally like the rough texture effect. I’m getting test prints done of more of the items I sell so I can put up pictures of the steel versions.

I’ll see if this is enough to keep my customers aware of what they’re getting.

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