Get your CNC fix — without spending a fortune
Owning your own tools is great, but the bigger they get the more they cost. Plus, it can be tough to fit a 4’×8′ CNC router or vent a laser cutter in a small house or apartment. Jonesing for some 3D printing time? Want to “try (and train) before you buy”?
Don’t despair! The growing popularity of the Maker Movement combined with the desire for locally based advanced technical education and democratization has led to an unprecedented level of tool access.
How to Find a Shared Workspace
There are numerous FabLabs, makerspaces, hackerspaces, and TechShops (currently USA only) popping up all over the world where you can access all types of digital fabrication tools. Many of these spaces have the following computer-controlled tools: large CNC routers, laser cutters, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, small milling machines, lathes, and 3D scanners. To find one near you, check out the directories linked above.
Unsure of where to start? Confused by the options? Check out this article from Artisan’s Asylum founder Gui Cavalcanti for insight into the differences between hackerspaces, makerspaces, TechShops, and Fab Labs.
Starting Your Own Makerspace
Interested in creating a makerspace in your community? Download a copy of the “Makerspace Playbook” and check out the rest of Gui’s “Making Makerspaces” series for info on creating a business model and acquiring insurance.
You could design your project and have someone else fabricate it for you, but where’s the fun in that? However, if you simply can’t get machine access, or require professional level tools, here are some options.
3DHubs is a great service that connects you to makers in your area who have equipment you can use.
Shapeways caters to hobbyists and designers, offering high-quality prints in a wide range of materials, including sterling silver, stainless steel, brass, and ceramic. They often have the lowest prices, but with production based in the Netherlands, their stated shipping times of 2–3 weeks haven’t always been accurate. They recently built a production facility in New York to meet demand.
Shapeways also offers a marketplace of designs where users can open their own shops. Because theirs is the most visible of these services, having a shop on their site is almost essential to getting started selling your work. There’s little up-front cost or commitment.
Another 3D printing service based out of the Netherlands, i.materialise has a very clear and easy-to-use interface. Choose from more than 20 materials — including titanium! — and print objects as large as 6 feet. Objects you create can be sold on the company’s gallery. Depending on your location, objects ship in 1–5 days.
Ponoko offers 3D printing in a wide range of materials, from plastics and ceramics to stainless steel, gold plate, and Z Corp plasters. Ponoko operates several regional production facilities, so printing and shipping times vary.
Material choices from the France-based Sculpteo include multicolored plastic, resin, ceramic, wax, alumide, and sterling silver. They offer a printability check, batch control services, and automatic model repair from inside the web interface. They also offer many “creator” apps. Shipping times vary 1–30 days depending on the material (upload your files for real-time estimates). Users may also post their objects for sale on the company’s website.
Kraftwurx is a platform that enables individuals to create, buy, sell, and display 3D-printed products. Headquartered in Houston, Kraftwurx does not own a factory. Instead they use a network of more than 120 manufacturers for local on-demand production. This distributed production model allows them to provide 85 different materials, including gold, sterling silver, titanium, Iconel, stainless steel, platinum, plastics, and paper.