Printed In Space shop in Amsterdam, Erik Swetter: “Designers will have to demonstrate that their designs are more valid and more worth than the ones you find on Thingiverse, for example”
With a background in computer science and mechanical engineering, the designer Erik Swetter turned his hologram shop into ‘Printed In Space’, a shop in the tourist center of Amsterdam, where mostly self-designed and printed items are sold.
His experience demonstrates how 3D printing, and digital fabrication in general, are generating new kinds of activities in which professionals reinvent themselves and find their own way to make business in spite of the lack of reference points in such a young field.
Erik, how did you start Printed In Space?
“I started in 1988 in the center of Amsterdam with a hologram shop and I sold exclusively holograms for about 25 years. I have always been interested in things that have to do with 3D and, of course, I got interested in 3D printing when it appeared.
I started visiting hackerspaces, where people tried to build 3D printers and to make them work. At the beginning it was all very experimental, but then it got better and better and more reliable machines started coming out.
It was last summer that I decided to put holograms aside and to turn the shop into a 3D printing shop.
I had noticed that 3D printing raised a lot of interest in people, so I thought it would have been interesting for those who cannot design but would like to enjoy 3D printed objects, to have a shop with a wide selection of printed items.
The basic idea was: to start a shop to sell objects, printers, and to offer printing service. At the beginning the objects were mainly done by other designers, but now I sell almost only my own designs and print them on my own printers here.
This is something that I did not really anticipate: when I started, I thought the printers would have been nice mainly as an eye-catcher to attract people to see what was happening inside the shop.”
What are people’s reaction and approach to 3D printing?
“People who come here are always interested in the technique and they often have very wrong ideas about what is possible and what is not, and about how 3D printing works.
I also think that, in the media, the big hype about 3D printing brings a lot of people to think that already almost everything is possible.
3D printing is a very good technique for people who can design 3D models and print them out by themselves. It is also very good for prototyping, but it is not a suitable technique for mass production.
Here is a big misunderstanding: many people think that 3D printing will completely replace all the other existing kinds of production systems. Well, definitely it is not suitable for this, because 3D printing is a very slow process and it is good for single objects or for a small production.”
What do your products try to offer?
“Personally, I am always trying to make high quality objects but still to print them rather fast because, of course, their cost is directly related to the printing time.
I like to print things very thin, only one single layer thick. This is my specialty: to make things thin but still strong and also waterproof. A vase has to be waterproof, of course, and printing in good quality, fast, and waterproof is a difficult combination… It is tricky!
The same goes, for instance, for the lighter cases which I print also one layer thick, but of course they need to be strong, so that they would not break down immediately when you use or drop them.
And all these things are printed by my Ultimaker Original printers, which I have improved with some tweaks in order to get really the best out of them.”
Therefore, beyond the printing technique, there is always the competence of the designer who has to be able to design a shape which really works…
“Yes, best prints are made by knowing how a printer works.
When you design, it is easy to make a model which looks very nice, but which is really difficult to print because of overheight or too thin parts, for example. There are a lot of things that you have to take into account when designing for 3D printing.
It would be a little bit easier with SLS printers, but with FDM printers it is very important to create a model taking into account the limitations of the printing process. So best quality pieces are made by combining the knowledge of the printer and the creativity of the modeling: it is art and science coming together.”
How do you think the availability of free models on the Internet is affecting your activity and role, as a designer?
“On the one hand, this is a good thing because it creates a very large community and it really helps develop 3D printing, in general.
On the other hand, it makes things more difficult for people whose job is to design, people who spent a lot of time studying how to design properly and who are now trying to make a living out of it.
It is a little bit of a problem, but it means that designers will have to demonstrate that their designs are more valid and more worth than the ones you find on Thingiverse, for example.
It is not even that difficult because, if you look around on the Internet, you will see that a lot of free 3D models actually are not very well made: they can have very few polygons or be very blocky, and cannot be smoothly printed.
This is the drawback of this system: it is hard to distinguish which models are good and which models are not so good, especially for people who don’t know the field.
As for me, the things I sell are available only here in Printed In Space.
That is important because people know they are buying something special, which I designed and printed here in Amsterdam, and it is something that nobody else is selling all over the world.”