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Summary:

Layer by Layer protects designers’ original files, giving them more confidence to offer new creations to people with 3D printers.

Buccaneer 3D printer
photo: Pirate3D

If Shapeways is the Etsy of the 3D printing world, Layer by Layer is the iTunes. The brand new online marketplace provides a place for designers to sell one-time prints of their designs, from vases to phone cases to toothbrush handles.

The key phrase is “one-time.” Unlike sites like MakerBot’s Thingiverse, which allows you to download design files to your computer, Layer by Layer users do not receive a file. After they hit the “Print Now!” button next to an object they desire, Layer by Layer sends instructions to their personal 3D printer, automatically printing that object.

Screenshot of Layer by Layer

“The whole process is a little too complicated for average people who aren’t engineers or computer scientists,” co-founder and CEO Jonathan Schwartz said. “This takes the whole printing process and simplifies it to the click of a button.”

The lack of a file transfer presents a layer of protection for designers who wish to keep their original design under wraps. When someone posts their design on Thingiverse, they are broadcasting it to anyone who cares to look and enabling endless duplication. That’s not a good feature if they want to make money off of their design. Right now, a lot of sellers turn to Shapeways, where they can set up a virtual shopfront with their designs. Shapeways takes care of the entire 3D printing process and ships objects out to buyers.

Layer by Layer preserves the home printing aspect while also allowing designers to bring in cash. Many objects are still free, but others are as high as $10 or $25 per print.

More traditional makers probably balk at this concept, as personal 3D printers have long been associated with the open source movement, but Schwartz said their system to protect files is the answer to a major complaint they heard from designers.

In a further effort to streamline the printing process, Layer by Layer employees inspect and approve every design that goes up on the site. One of the company’s main goals was to make sure people can trust a design will be of good quality and compatible with their printer. Schwartz said they wanted to differentiate the site from Thingiverse, where the number of designs seems endless. You find what you want and download it, and sometimes find it is not compatible with your printer.

“Is this going to print or not?” Schwartz said. “That shouldn’t be a question in your head.”

Designers and the people who use their design often have different settings on their printers, which can result in an object turning out differently on each end. Every design on Layer by Layer prints with the designer’s original settings and is advertised with its compatible printers. In this early stage, the company is limiting compatibility to MakerBot’s Replicator line. To appear on the site, each design has to be compatible with all of the models. They will expand to other printers in the near future.

Schwartz co-founded Layer by Layer with Max Friefeld and Oliver Ortliev, all of whom met while students at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. They had used 3D printers to make prototypes and custom parts at school, but only became really excited about the possibilities when they saw them take off as a personal tool. They started work on Layer by Layer in September and launched it in beta mode early last week.

“We’re trying to increase the availability of great things you can print,” Schwartz said. “Instead of having to download files and apply settings to get them to print properly, you just have to click a button. People are seeming to really like that.”

  1. Payed designs and DRM are not going to fly. with the current crowd and hopefully not even when there is mass adoption.

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  2. Block Builder Thursday, July 4, 2013

    What happens if there is a printer error?

    You might not download the file yourself but there is a transfer of data. What if you know how to sniff network traffic? All you have to do is run wireshark and grab the code as it heads off to the printer. You could just scan the object and have a model in a few minutes.

    When the supply of a good (digital media) is (generally speaking) infinite the old model of supply and demand stay true and the price should reflect it. The cost should be small. Like viewing an advertisement or optional a la the humble indie bundle.

    “….as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously” — Benjamin Franklin

    Despite the issues, good on them for finding a niche market.

    Happy Fourth!

    — The future requires a degree of flexibility and strength just as it always has –

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  3. Block Builder said it better and faster than I could have.

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