Build an Army of 3D-Printed Supermen!

By | Wednesday, March 17, 2021 Leave a Comment
I recently came across a company called Toybox Labs. They make 3D printers specifically designed for kids. Meaning that they're small (about 8" in each direction) and made as idiot-proof as possible. They also seem to have pretty low fidelity, relative to professional-grade printers I've seen lately. Which means it's perfectly fine for making fairly simple toys that are imported from another design program, but you're probably not going to be able to use it to make a custom housing for your smart speaker.

What caught my attention, though, was that they have apparently gotten a license from Warner Brothers to make available several DC-centric designs, including action figures for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. (The license appears to also include Looney Tunes and Cartoon Network, but the only other currently available figures I recognized from them were Finn and Jake from Adventure Time.) The figures are all designed in such a way that no painting is required -- you print each piece using colored plastic and the pieces snap together such that the correct colors show up in the correct places. (You could, in theory, still go back and paint in detailing and whatnot, but it's not necessary per se.)

I figure this means the modeling system in the software here doesn't allow for exporting designs in any way. If you could, how long would it take before someone took one of those official designs and uploaded to a free server somewhere so that anyone with access to any 3D printer could get one of these figures for free? The system does seem to have an import functionality, so it's not a completely closed system but I gather the only way you can get these DC designs is by selecting them after you sign in with your account and they're sent directly to the printer without the user actually being able to see/modify the designs. Although, I think you may still be able to change the scale at least.

It's not really comics per se (although I suppose you could argue the figure assembly instructions are) but I think it's an interesting development in how comics might be promoted. Particularly with online events being so much more common now than even a year ago. You used to go to the DC booth at a convention and could get a Wonder Woman magnet or a Batman stress ball or something. Now you might go to a digital booth and get a series of STL files to print your own Daily Planet replica.

Granted, 3D printers are hardly common at the moment but given that we're talking about a kids-friendly version that's available for under $300, I expect we'll be seeing them propagate more and more in the near future. The question will be whether companies like DC will be willing/able to capitalize on that, and whether we'll be able to download exclusive con materials from them without having to attend a convention booth in person!
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