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.
“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.”