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Latest China fad: 3-D photographs

LIFE-LIKE: Three-dimensional images produced by Epoch Time Machine, a photography studio dedicated to 3-D printing. It is the first studio of its kind in Shanghai. Each image costs between 1,200 and 3,000 yuan.


    Jun 19, 2013

    Latest China fad: 3-D photographs

    HAVING a profile sketched, a sculpture done, or a studio photograph taken is not in vogue anymore. The latest trend is having a 3-D image of oneself printed.

    With the increasing affordability of 3-D printing, young and old people in China are showing increased interest in having a 3-D picture taken for the price of an iPad Mini.

    "People are curious and the response has been overwhelming," said Mr Le Meihao, the co-founder of Epoch Time Machine, a photography studio dedicated to 3-D printing. It is the first studio of its kind in Shanghai.

    Opened early last month, the less than 40 sq m shop sits on the second floor of a rather-deserted shopping mall in the city's People's Square. It has printed at least 40 3-D photographs or "mini people" in the past month.

    "We have the capacity to print only two or three models every day. That's the main problem we face in growing our business," said Mr Le, 27, a Shanghai native and a finance graduate.

    Inspired by a Japanese 3-D printing shop, Mr Le, together with three friends, invested 1.2 million yuan (S$247,000), mostly sponsored by their parents. They call their investment "the future of industrial manufacturing".

    One of the partners, 26-year-old Shao Qizhe, was a student of Dr Behrokh Khoshnevis, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California, who has figured out a way to print a house.

    The process to "print a person" is simple, or so it seems.

    The person stands on a special plate which looks like a lazy Susan, against a green background. As the plate rotates, two scanners take a full-length scan of the subject, one catching details and the other, a general picture.

    The images are immediately sent to a computer and processed before being printed out using an imported ZPrinter 650, the biggest investment of the shop, according to Mr Le.

    It takes about 10 minutes for the scanning process to be completed, and two to three days for the print version, depending on the waiting line. The cost is between 1,200 and 3,000 yuan, based on the size of the copy, usually ranging from 15cm to 30cm.

    Mr Le admitted that the high cost is the main thing that discourages people from printing a model. But the interest from customers still surprised him.

    The customers included young couples who wanted to put the miniature on their wedding cakes, loving parents who wanted to keep the 3-D look of their newborn babies, students who simply wanted to show off, and an 80-year-old couple who wanted to "try something new".