Jul 22, 2014

    Hasbro and 3D printer team up to sell fan art


    IN THE not-too-distant future, 3D printers may provide the public with anything from a whole new wardrobe to meat, furniture - and even human organs.

    We aren't there yet. But a few major retailers and brands - eager to keep pace with potentially game-changing technology and generate a bit of marketing buzz - have begun to explore this 3D world.

    One of those early experimenters is Hasbro, which planned to announce yesterday a partnership with a 3D printing company, Shapeways, to sell fan art inspired by its long-lasting toy line, My Little Pony.

    "We have been investigating 3D printing for quite a while, as have many people," said John Frascotti, chief marketing officer of Hasbro.

    "What 3D printing truly empowers is the creation of artwork that maybe wouldn't make sense for mass production, but does for a unique item."

    For this project, which Mr Frascotti described as "mass customisation", the company will start with five artists, whose work will be available for order online and printed in a colourful plastic polymer that Shapeways executives described as feeling similar to sandstone.

    The designs must be cleared with Hasbro to ensure they are not obscene, violent or hateful. Otherwise, the artists largely have free rein. Even the price for the figurines will be set by them.

    One piece that is available for sale on the project's website shows a perky, purple dragon named Spike. According to his official bio, he has an inexplicable ability to send and receive messages when he burps.

    The piece is called "Spike, Take a Note". Another piece is a blue-and-purple unicorn with a luxurious mane.

    Hasbro hopes to expand the partnership to include more artists, more of its brands and other materials, given that Shapeways prints using everything from high-end plastics for iPhone cases to gold for jewellery and ceramic for coffee cups.

    The advent of 3D printing has created enormous potential for sales, but it also creates opportunity for theft, especially of intellectual property. Why go out and buy a doll if you can just print one yourself? But, instead of snapping a tight lid over its characters, Hasbro's collaboration with Shapeways may extend the reach of its trademarks while keeping control of what is associated with the brand.

    "Instead of trying to prohibit it, they're enabling it, and I think that's awesome," said Peter Weijmarshausen, chief executive of Shapeways. "By embracing this new technology, it's good for everybody."