Aug. 25, 2014 | By Alec

Looking for a safer and more durable way to carry a photo around that holds great emotional value? Why not try a custom made, 3D printed lithophane key chain? Engineers and 3D printing enthusiasts Zach Kauble and Tyler Watson have started Print 3D For Me to make that a reality. Their web service will allow you to upload the photo of your choice, and a 3D printed keychain will arrive at your doorstep within a few weeks.

Watch this video to see the finished product:

As can be seen in the video and the images of their creations, these custom keychains are relatively small; they're about 1, 75 inches wide and 1,25 inches high, and only about 0,3 inches thick. Because of this small size, they recommend using pictures with limited detail that don't feature too many subjects. And while the final products are not exactly toys or safe for children, they are durable enough to use as a keychain.

While your loved ones are barely recognizable when these printed creations are just held in your hand, the full effect of these custom keychains can be perfectly seen when held up to a light. Your favorite photos will suddenly become clearly visible, and this is because these keychains are lithophanes: a type of artwork that relies on the perception of light to make designs visible. This technique has been used for more than 200 years to create 3D designs, long before 3D printing technology was even a theory. Some people even argue that this etching technique can be traced back to an even older Chinese technique.

Print 3D for me, however, doesn't etch your photos into delicate porcelain. Instead, as they explain on their website, they generate a 3D model based on a photo that you upload, and then send that 3D model to their production partner, Shapeways. 'Print 3D for me' integrates Shapeways API into its platform, while purchases are made and paid through the Shapeways web shop. It does, however, allow you order your own keychain within minutes.

Kauble's started this line of products after becoming obsessed with the design possibilities of 3D printing. As he explained to Shapeways: 'I became somewhat obsessed with designing a unique product. A single question was repeated daily in my head no matter where I was or what I was doing? How does 3D printing change this?' He had experimenting with various designs and objects, including lithophanes, long before starting Print 3D For Me.

'What most inspired us was the reaction of my coworkers at seeing some of my early prototypes. […] So, based on this enthusiastic response, we decided to create Print 3D For Me and sell the lithophanes as key chains.

In the near future Kauble and Watson hope to expand their business with a wider line of products, but both are quite optimistic about their endeavor: 'Of course we hope to grow the business and several more products are in development. However, our primary goal in this endeavor is learn and have fun, and we've already done both quite a bit.'


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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