The Wow of 3D-Printing Toys
December 16, 2014

The Wow of 3D-Printing Toys

CGTrader  and our community of 100,000 3D design professionals have been hearing dramatic stories about 3D printing opening up entirely new worlds of possibilities in nearly every industry. The media has showered the new technology with exciting headlines and set the hopes very high, and there has been numerous for-the-first-time-ever moments across all fields.

Not surprisingly, the toy industry has also been touched by the transformative power of modern technology and is now one of the industry’s most promising growth areas. But what does that mean? Will 3D-printed, customizable toys soon replace some of the most iconic characters like Barbie and My Little Pony? 

Many believe that this unexpected yet perfect marriage of digital technology and creative expression will result in a long-awaited manufacturing revolution and will undeniably have a critical impact on the toy industry. 

Let’s get real. How useful is it?

Given that the US toy industry alone had more than $22 billion in revenues in 2013, it’s only fair to say that the potential here is huge. One of the most escalated aspects of the new technology that has got everyone convinced of its future success is mass personalization. 

The growing demand for personalized products is already revolutionizing the clothing and footwear markets, since customizing your sneakers and designing bags has become an essential requirement to retain customers. 

Custom-made toys. It’s very likely that 3D printing will change the way we make purchasing decisions. Whereas today custom products are highly desirable, price-wise, they’re still quite out of reach for many buyers. Until now, it’s been a certain luxury to have something tailor-made, but that is slowly changing with the adoption of new approaches to product design. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be able to customize everything from furniture to cars, so the pressure that 3D printing puts on toy manufacturers is very real. For toy makers, it’s a clear and, quite frankly, scary message –  today’s must-have toys will be replaced by personalized, customized 3D-printed objets d’art

Although the idea of seeing the most popular, super-branded toys, like Disney dolls and Marvel superheroes, being pushed off the shelf by personalized 3D-printed items may seem far-fetched, it’s actually a fairly reasonable threat. 

When 3D printing breaks into mainstream retail markets, the combination of advanced customization (that is, the originality factor) and dynamic product offering will make the new technology a serious rival to any traditional manufacturer. That’s why the biggest toy industry players have been closely following the advancements in additive manufacturing, and some have already successfully tested the waters. 

Hasbro, one of the largest toy makers, has recently ventured into several innovative projects to investigate the possibilities that 3D printing brings to the table. Its partnership with Shapeways to launch SuperFanArt page, through which fans are able to create their own unique 3D printable expressions of Hasbro brands, including My Little Pony, Transformers, Monopoly, Play-Doh, Magic: The Gathering, Littlest Pet Shop and Nerf, confirms the company’s serious approach to assessing the value of the adoption of new technology. 

More recently, Hasbro and 3DPlusMe have launched a “Super Awesome Me” campaign, which lets anyone become a hero by putting a face on a Marvel superhero action figure. Jumping on the hot customization trend, which toy makers are placing their bets on to fuel sales in the industry, the company explores 3D technology’s potential in reinventing its iconic products. The project is built around the idea that 3D printing itself is not fun for kids, it’s what you do with it that creates value. 

Priced at about $45, the Super Awesome Me personalized heroes are not too cheap, but due to the prefabricated action-figure body that helps to keep the costs down, they’re approximately half the price of most of the entirely 3D-printed toys. It seems that comparatively high prices of 3D-printed toys may be one of the anchors delaying the take-off of the new trend.        

Makies is one of the first successful examples of the customizable, 3D printable toys that already found its niche. This user-friendly platform allows anyone to design individual dolls in just about 10 minutes, selecting and modifying features, choosing skin tone, face shape and eye color, picking out hairstyle and cut, as well as selecting the outfit and accessories. 

It’s fun and easy, and the high level of customization means that the dolls hardly ever look the same. With a press of a button, you can have it 3D-printed and shipped to your doorstep at approximately $115 per item. Now, that’s quite a solid reason for the media to run wild with the idea of Barbie getting her butt kicked by 3D-printed dolls. 

Personal toy factory. Following the logic that 3D printing is just a tool, desktop printer owners are nothing less but on-demand toy manufacturers, enjoying an unprecedented opportunity to create their own personal toy factory. And from the perspective of multinational toy companies like Hasbro, home 3D printing is an ever-expanding, profit-sucking dark hole. 

There are thousands of free or low-priced 3D designs online for all ages and interests that can be cheaply printed using nontoxic, durable ABS plastic. And then there is always that awesome option of customizing or designing your own toy, if you feel like it. 

What is special about crafting your own toys is that you custom-build specifically for the person: personalized sheriff badges or chess pieces, rocket ships or poker chips, puzzles or Jenga blocks. There’s an infinite list of choices, but more importantly, what we’ve noticed, there’s a fast-growing demand for 3D printable toys for children and adults alike.      

Diesel locomotive that will fit LEGO tracks - FDM optimized 3D print model by Wojciech Pachocki

Chess Set by Gregoirepfenning 

It’s not too hard to see how 3D printing nurtures kids’ creativity. Free-of-charge projects, like the Open Toys parts, which encourages children to turn fruits and vegetables into planes and race cars, or the classic Rubik’s Cube, are the driving force behind adding yet another layer of relevance for the home user. Adults, on the other hand, have a vast range of geeky toys to choose from – think drones, steampunk goggles, mechanical toys, and so forth. 

Open Toys 

Nursery Shape Sorter Toy by Mugegoken

When Christmas shoppers scramble to spend record amounts on holiday gifts, including some trendy toys with high price tags, 3D printing enthusiasts explore the alternative of ordering unique 3D printable toy designs or even printing some of their presents at home. One doesn’t need to be well-versed with the 3D printing technology to enjoy the luxury of custom-building a perfect gift, and that is one good reason to have a go at it. 

3D-printed toys make fun collectibles. With the advent of 3D printing technology, a new, cool collecting trend has gripped the hobbyists, as 3D-printed collectible toys and figurines are stealing the show at nearly every toy convention. Even the global fast-food giant McDonald’s has publicly discussed its research on employing the 3D printing technologies to launch their famous Happy Meals toys as a collectable set to comply with the demand. Since the announcement of the idea last year, it’s been postponed due to the cost and cleanliness issues, but the company remains enthusiastic it will work out in the near future.   

There are quite a few professional online retailers, like Things3D , that specialize in producing officially licensed, authentic limited editions for world’s leading character and entertainment brands. Additionally, there are special collectible collections available through particular 3D printer manufacturers – MakerBot has an exclusive series of collectible Hello Kitty and UglyDolls figurines, Cubify has its Bugdroid collectibles, while 3D Systems offers the fans exclusive, limited edition Star Wars, Alien, and Marvel figurines from its Gentle Giant Ltd. brand. 

Merged with the pop culture, 3D printing technology allows the comic fans and gamers to get further invested into those fictional worlds, and that leads us swiftly to another hot trend – 3D printable game characters.    

M-Girl toys by TommyLin

3D-printed game characters. Although “the thing to have” culture still holds the gaming and toy merchandising in a tight grip, as the majority of users continue to go to great lengths to have what others have, personalization has begun to make waves in the industry. To generations born with 3D printing, the value of personalization will be much higher than that of the status. So projects such as Toyze App, Gambody or FabZat that allow fans to create personalized physical gaming characters seem to have a very bright future.  

3D-printed toy parts. Toys break, parts go missing and the options that parents are left with are scarce – either spend a good chunk of your time looking for a replacement part or replace the toy altogether. And that is no doubt a costly issue. What 3D printing brings into this scene is convenience, as the missing parts (the ones that are available for 3D printing) can be re-created with a single push of a button. The British high-street retail giant Tesco is working on a project that will involve 3D printing technologies to offer a wider range of products to consumers, including clothing, furniture, personal gifts and even foods. The stores will also be able to facilitate on-demand 3D printing of spare parts for a product that has already been purchased as well as repairing broken items. If successful, the project could be a major breakthrough in 3D printing industry.