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Staples Announces In-Store 3D Printing Service (wired.com)
315 points by swohns 1696 days ago | hide | past | web | 78 comments | favorite

Minor nitpick with the title - the 3D printing will not be done in store (yet), it will be done offsite and shipped for pick up in store.

I think it's more than a minor nitpick. The appeal of 3D printing is that you get the end result quickly.

Yeah, totally. I can already order 3D printing and get it shipped to my doorstep. No drive to staples required.

Maybe many of the people that shop at Stsples are not aware this technology even exists.

In my experience, at least in my locale, the shoppers ask for help finding a USB cable over an HDMI cable. If they are in Staples paying 10x the rate on a cable instead of at monoprice, this just might be something of a value add on.

What many don't know is that a few Staples offer a significant print shop on site. Yes, you can order 1000 rounded corner 4/4 business cards online for near free, or you can pay $90.00 at Staples. Some just haven't yet learned how to enter words into google yet. It's surprising actually. So surprising that LMGTFY is a huge whoosh!

You don't have to drive to Staples. Apparently, they will deliver, much like their existing print services.

They are using a 3D printer that uses glued paper, rather than plastic. I don't know if Shapeway offers that. It'll be interesting to see what the pricing is, and what you can do with layered paper vs. plastic.

The important thing isn't whether you can get stuff 3D printed at Staples. The important thing is that we're nearing an inflection point for 3D printing the way mobile was when the iphone came out in 2007. Meaning, if you missed the elevator ride up with the smart phone, there's another ride coming around the corner.

We don't currently offer the Mcor iris line at Shapeways. It actually just launched so I'm not sure if anyone does yet.

Our CEO was just at Euromold so he may have some insight as to whether or not we should look into the paper-based tech.

Or just buy the thing that you want printed in 3D.

Most times it's a small item such as a connector or some small thing, like a small part to fix your toilet.

Is there a technology that is as versatile and cost effective for small scale batches, but slower to finalize the product? The promise of 3D printing is appealing to me because it means I can start making things out of materials that I have thought to be previously out of my budget's reach.

Time is less of a concern from my point of view. If someone can create my one-off plastic model using, say, injection moulding for tens of dollars but it takes a month to get back to me, I'm cool with that. Does such a thing even exist though?

Not quite one-off, but you can get small runs of injected molded parts from Protomold:


They also do machined parts on a smaller scale:


Though your fisrt link says it starts at $1495, compared to the $2 that some 3D printing services start at. You can build some pretty impressive things for under $100 with 3D tech. I'm not sure it is the same league. The second link might be a little closer though.

They two links are for the same company. The first link is for an injection MOLD. The mold can produce a few thousand parts at ~$1-$3/each. For 1,000-10,000 parts, ProtoMold is an great option.

Perhaps I didn't make myself clear in the original post. I'm interested in one-off pieces that I can design to solve problems around the house and if it takes a month to wait for that, no big deal. I don't need thousands of pieces.

The parent to my original post suggested there was something akin to 3D printing out there in terms of cost and versatility that was just slower to produce. Something designed for mass production certainly isn't it.

I'm interested in one-off pieces that I can design to solve problems around the house and if it takes a month to wait for that, no big deal

This does not seem like a big market, though. Exlcuding perhaps interior decoration. The engineering properties of 3d printed items for DIY are still TBD (lots of plastic cracking complaints, glued paper doesn't seem much better in terms of field-use). Also, in practice waiting 30 days for a DIY prototype is unlikely to be acceptable (serial project workflows & all that). small batch CNC will get you access to metal. Access to ABS does not seem all that special. Is there something in mind you have (like a project?) or is this all just theoretical?

Like I said, I was just interested to know what other technologies are directly competing with 3D for one-off builds that can produce the same result (in terms of cost, function, etc.), but have the downside of being slower to produce as suggested by the poster before me.

The slower/faster thing is really more an issue about iteration and time to market for projects. Project costs are a function of overhead--in addition to piece-cost. Overhead is a function of speed and thus project cost is a function of speed. This cost is/can be an order of magnitude larger than the unit-piece-cost. In other words, if you relax the speed constraint you implicitly relax the cost constraint, at least in a normal context. But these tradeoffs (and choices) depend on understanding a project's scope/spec. You are high-light at least one edge case, though: the home DIY, where time is no value but unit cost is paramount. In this case 3D printing might be a good idea, provided your project is suited to such an ouput.

Good catch, that is a major point to me. There is still no reason for them to have stores as a business. They are basically a direct competitor with XYZ internet 3D printer.

If they have any success at all, it is meaningless to their bottom line because Amazon and everyone else will be joining in.

[Edit] [Deleted]: "only less convenient since you need to go to the store to pick it up instead of it just being on your door when you get home."

Wrong for 3 reasons, I think:

1. in-person help and advice from store associates.

2. Established supplier for many businesses, which means employees can start using it without having to go through the vendor approval process. It's much easier to dip into an existing corporate budget for some new project than to create a budget for it.

3. First mover advantage. It would be better again if they had it in the actual stores, but I bet that's coming in larger markets.

I like the way you phrased this: "Wrong for 3 reasons, I think:"

Here is my counter argument for what it is worth.

1. in-person help and advice from store associates. Someone below pointed out that you may be overestimating in store associates. I'm not sure eitherway, but what I do know is that the printing will be done offsight and I would rather deal with a specialist over the web than someone who does some 3D printing, and sells regular printers etc. for my product.

2. Established supplier for many businesses, which means employees can start using it without having to go through the vendor approval process. It's much easier to dip into an existing corporate budget for some new project than to create a budget for it.

This is a great point and I could definitely see some value coming from the fact that I could just give my admin a part number for a 3D print rather than go through a ton of work getting a vendor approved.

3. First mover advantage. It would be better again if they had it in the actual stores, but I bet that's coming in larger markets.

Almost never in the history of business has a first mover advantage been a real advantage. I say almost because there was a previous discussion where someone mentioned 2 or 3 big companies that have done it, but the other 497 fortune 500 companies were copying someone else.


1. I agree that the in-store staff won't be expert. But as long as they're half-way competent, that will be a big help for people who are brand-new to the technology but don't know where to start. I think this will improve over time, but I may be biased; I have this theory that we're moving away from retail being totally unskilled and that brick & mortar suppliers will start competing by improving service, because that's one area where their online competitors are weak.

2. This should have been point #1 really.

3. I think the internet is pushing things that way, insofar as one can't easily afford to let someone else establish themselves as the market leader: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superstar#Economics_of_.22super...

Now I'm not at all sure Staples will end up as the market leader in 3d printing, but it may be sufficient for them to simply beat out competitors like Office Depot and become the leader in their market segment.

> 1. in-person help and advice from store associates.

I think you are overestimating the skill level of the average Staples employee.

I think you are overestimating the skill level of the average Staples customer.

The article specifically mentions home delivery as an option.

If you want to rapidly iterate on a design this simply isn't going to work. Waiting a day between versions greatly limits the usefulness of this service.

It's all about perspective. 1day turnaround is very slow for software but extremely fast for hardware. In the harware world, high-quality parts turnaround in 1 day is revolutionary.

If you need to rapidly iterate that badly, then you're probably going to buy a 3d printer for your business. Not everyone requires this.

Oh interesting - good catch!

This makes little sense. Ordering a 3D model online is easier, they ship it to your door (and it's probably cheaper).

However this does make the service that much more visible. I'm not sure that 3D printing is that well known yet. Also, dealing with a B&M establishment provides some with additional assurances that they may not have with an online-only business.

I would argue the exact opposite. Online printing turnaround time is slower, costs more(for printing in batches), and is inconvenient when UPS/Fedex keep leaving "sorry we missed you" notices because you're at work.

As opposed to what? Staples doing the same, but then you have to go pick it up.

In-store pickup is nice in that once it's there, it's there. You can just go grab it at your convenience, instead of dealing with the "can only pickup during this small window" thing UPS does.

Huh? UPS delivers to my door.

Wierd. UPS Delivers to my door only when I am at work. Then, if I don't want to/can't take time off, they tell me I must pick it up between 7 and 9 pm, as those are the only acceptable times, unless I call and arrange a pickup at the office instead of a delivery. If I am really lucky, when I call and arrange for a pickup, they will actually keep it in the office, and won't send it out on the next day's truck. After 3 attempts at this, they return it to sender.

I guess you don't live somewhere interesting and/or don't leave the house.

UPS delivers to my door too - but they literally drop it there, ring the doorbell and leave.

If it's raining, the package gets soaked.

If the neighborhood kids are particularly rowdy, my package is gone when I get home.

Dropping it off at a specific location and requiring me to show up and prove my identity before I can take it home fixes these issues, among others.

BufferBox will solve this problem.

This is a fascinating announcement on two levels, the first is that these guys believe there is enough of a market to support the service, and two that the printers themselves are nominally turning cellulose back into wood carvings.

Has anyone seen a demo print from these guys? Something you could hold? I'm curious about three things: 1) relative density, 2) durability over time, 3) relative strengths in compression and tension.

I have some demo units sitting on my desk; one 'brake caliper' type bracket we received can be tossed 15ft. in the air without structural damage, and hardly a dent.

to answer your questions: 1)The parts feel equally dense to an Objet polyjet print, more dense and rigid then most SLA process parts I've seen. On par w/ ABS from a FDM, but definitely less brittle. One thing worth mentioning is the part does have "twist" as in, the layers will move the slightest bit allowing you to effectively twist a part. Think phonebook.

2)I've broken one part (a chainlink) now, from two layers spreading apart. This was after me and several people I know had loaded it up w/ 20-30lbs force, twisting and pulling on the chainlink.

3)If I put the same load on a VeroWhitePlus Objet chainlink, I would have broken it quicker. I cannot speak to many other technologies, but I know that much is true.

Awesome, so it sounds reasonably credible for a number of tasks. The twist is an interesting 'feature' in terms of using it structurally. Depending on feature size a killer app with 'true color' is to create a prototype consumer device at scale with the appearance of the actual device. That can certainly inform things like pocket usability, grip flexibility, finger kinematics, etc.

The demo video made it also look like it would be awesome for architectural visualization (buildings) and city planning.

I was curious about the price of MCOR IRIS printer mentioned and found this:

The Mcor IRIS can be ordered today through Mcor’s worldwide reseller network for December delivery at €11,300 (£10,200 or $15,866 USD), the manufacturer’s suggested retail price per year for the three- year Free D plan. The unique Free D plan includes machine use, free materials and service, and reflects Mcor’s commitment to unfettered innovation – encouraging access to and use of powerful 3D printing technology. Instead of discouraging use through expensive consumables, the company rewards use with a flat price.


This is a brilliant move by Staples.

- Get people through their doors (to ultimately browse and purchase stuff)

- Associate 3D printing with the Staples brand so that when personal units hit the market, people will "know" where to buy them

This is a great step imho.

I wish other large box stores would step up to the plate aka BestBuy. BestBuy should be reaching out to successful Kickstarter projects and start selling them in stores. e.g. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/flomio/flojack-nfc-for-i... or http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thingm/blink1-the-usb-rg... or even http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pimoroni/picade-the-arca...

As for Staples other services - they still need to make it "easy". Focus on deals for startups like creating notepads, stamps, etc. monthly subscription and/or better design/offers. SXSW deals, etc. Stuff they already do but don't market as aggressive.

Just my $0.02

What's neat is that the MCOR printer uses A4 printer paper & PVA (Elmer's Glue) - so it's cheap and very-human safe (even more than the FDM type).

I think this is a Dunder-Mifflin move though. "3-D printers are great. We sell paper! Success" I love the MCOR concept, their models are just such a bizarre fit in the market. All the drawbacks of paper, all the cost of 3-D printing.

Have you had good success with them?

Disagree, this is a service and Staples already offers paper printing and other services.

Kinko's might be a better fit though, as they're more well known for them.

I'm not real familiar with Mcor's technology, but they claim the results are like wood, which seems like it would be good enough for a lot of the use-cases people are using PLA and the like for.

But more than that, sometimes you just want to bring your 2D printed page to life for presentations and things of that nature. Paper-printed 3D models would be perfect for that. Given Staples' primary audience, I would assume this it he market they are really going after.

Especially for things that you kind of need to touch. If you are designing something physical it could be a cheap alternative to whatever the current mockup methods are.

They're not in wide circulation. People were wondering if they were vaporware actually - but I've only see parts once, and they were pretty good. People still use the old Helisys machines that there's corporate servicer of them:


This is the way that 3D printing will take off before in-home 3D printing -- instead of having to get a small part or prototype shipped 2,000 miles, you'll drive 5 miles to your nearest Staples.

It sounds like it is still shipped 2,000 miles. You just receive it at your local Staples instead of your mailbox. Though I'm inclined to agree that the next step will be in-house 3D printing businesses.

Just like desktop publishing.

Does anyone have an idea of what their cost structure will be and time frame for coming to the USA? Are there any other business that offer a service like this in the US?

How well it works, or even how well it competes with other online offerings isn't important. The most important thing about this development is that there's going to be a sign in the store advertising this service.

Regular people asking "What is this '3d printing' thing" is a huge step towards mainstreaming it.

Random comment: Great to see this, Mcor technologies started in a little village in Ireland (the next village over from me). I called them once and asked if they had a bureau service. They put me directly on to one of the founders who was really friendly and knowledgeable (we started chatting about C++, OpenGL & slicing algorithms). I tried to get some of my best graduates (I lecture on OpenGL) to apply for their C++ jobs but most of my graduates have a Dublin/City-only view of the world and I never could convince them to interview for it.

Wow. Staples would be the last place I'd guess disruption coming from for the 3d printing industry.

Now when can I download a pirated schematic of an iphone and send it off to staples to get a fully working product.

I wonder if they would allow me to 3D print something they already sell in the store - for a cheaper price.

I guarantee they'll have "no printing things that fall under IP law" policies.

Besides that, what objects in a Staples store could you 3d print with paper? I can't imagine any of their products (that isn't trivially cheap) being simple enough.

Furniture. Not cheaper, though.

I wonder how long this company has been around and how visible they are. From days ago Iris used to be the name in pre-press digital proofing. Before you went to press, you better get an Iris or a ChromaPress to be certain everything was ok.

Even now, their printers are pretty heavily saturated within google image search. If not the sane company, I'm smelling a name change or a trademark issue.


This made me think of William Gibson's book Idoru [1]. A entertainment celebrity AI takes advantage of a worldwide convenience stores' installation of nanotech object printers to enter the physical world by creating thousands of bodies running its personality. Written in 1996.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idoru

Staples Easy 3D will launch in the Netherlands and Belgium

This partly because Mcor, the printer manufacturer, is European, but I suspect also because there's more demand in Europe thanks to the ubiquity of fast cheap broadband. It disturbs me that the US is falling behind in the digital infrastructure stakes.

Are 3D printer files amazingly huge or something? Why would broadband matter so much?

No, but I think for casual users print providers will want to host 3d models in a browser app.

I wouldn't read much into it. When HP started selling Stratasys 3-D printers it got the same reaction as this. They were also only sold in a couple European countries. It had nothing to do with broadband and everything to do with a VP from Europe thinking it would be a good idea. The experiment fizzled out after poor results.

interesting to see that what apperently matters most to prospective 3d printing users is the availability of a large color palette. I'm sure staples did extensive research and I believe future 3d printers will not spread into every household until the pieces can be colored in every way imaginable (even if it's just a last step surface paint).

Full-colour is huge. Not for practical stuff, but for anything decorative, it's massive.

For example, MMORPG players wanting to print their characters will cheerfully provide a six-figure market on their own, I'd think!

Agreed. If someone can nail full color printing that feels like injection molded plastic, it will be huge.

Seems like that would be a waste of paper/natural resources.

Paper is a renewable resource.

Yep. If you're a paper company, the cheapest way to get wood pulp is to grow and harvest your own forests. Replanting is how you stay in business.

To add to that, it is also incredibly recyclable. Any waste paper this process creates is undoubtedly recycled.

Depends on the glue used how recyclable these things are

"Mcor 3D printers employ water-based adhesive – no toxic fumes, lasers, airborne powder or toxic resins – enabling the machine to easily co-exist in an office or classroom."


That doesn't speak to recyclability.

Well true. I was thinking about the unglued paper that is cut away from these during the creation process though.

Every tonne of paper is a tonne of carbon that's not in the atmosphere right now.

Cellulose is only 40% carbon.

It is very easy to return that carbon to the atmosphere if needed. So easy, a caveman could do it.

It takes about 4 to 8 Megawatt hours per ton to make fine paper.

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