The future has arrived.
It’s at a kiosk at the Everett Mall.
Whatever you want, a printer can create it.
What’s up with that?
At 3D Buildtower, a printer creates solid three-dimensional objects from a digital blueprint.
“Just as a sign shop prints banners, stickers, posters, business cards, all that stuff,” said owner Samuel Hightower. “That’s pretty much the way I am. It can be any object.”
At first glance, the results might resemble arcade prizes.
The appeal is that they’re made here, right before your eyes, while you wait.
Instead of ink, the printer uses spools of colorful plastic filament.
“It essentially looks like WeedWacker cord,” Hightower said.
The items are made one at a time. The process starts with a digital file.
“There are websites where you can find tons of things to print,” he said.
Hightower, 27, of Everett, opened the kiosk in May.
I’ve stopped by several times. Each time, there have been people gathered around, asking questions while two printers in the middle of the kiosk quietly construct things. It’s an additive process that uses successive layers of material to form an object. It’s not flashy or sexy or fast; it’s slow, silent, small and, well, boring. Yet it also is mesmerizing.
“A lot of the general public have only seen it on YouTube,” Hightower said.
Customer Mike Dorfman, a tourist from Israel, happened by Hightower’s kiosk during a souvenir shopping trip.
He had a tiny dachshund figure made. “For my mother,” Dorfman said. “She has a collection of hundreds. This is the first one made with a 3D printer.”
It took the printer about 45 minutes to make a dog modeled after Dorfman’s mom’s dearly departed Lissie. Cost: $7.
Dorfman said he’d never seen anything like this 3D kiosk in Israel. “You have to go to a specialized lab.”
The objects Hightower makes range from custom gauge jewelry for stretched earlobes and tiny shoes for PEZ figures to statues and masks.
It’s not fine art. It’s pop art.
Want to see what you look like as a statuette?
Hightower can 3D you for about $30.
The result is like a three-dimensional silhouette. “It also gets the details of the shirt and their hairstyle,” he said.
But it’s small, about an inch-and-a-half and one color. You might be the only one to recognize you right off the bat.
The masks are bigger and bolder, such as the bird mask he custom designed.
“I found a beak on a website called Thingiverse,” he said. “I cut the model in a way that allowed me to create the upper part. I sliced the original piece and I 3D screened a little girl and recreated the eye-socket area. I fused the two and was able to create a mask that resembled a bird, but had the area for the eyes.”
You might not want to try that at home.
Hightower went to art school in Minnesota for computer science and design. He came to the Art Institute of Seattle to study animation and visual graphics. He got interested in 3D while working at a Microsoft store.
His two 3D printers are on loan from a friend through Snohomish County Makers, a group of hobbyist, entrepreneurs, artists, mad-scientists, hackers, geeks and other technologically savvy persons interested in creating.
The possibilities of 3D end with your imagination.
“The hurdle is really trying to get people to wrap their brains around that you can do anything you think about,” Hightower said.
Contact Andrea Brown at 425-339-3443; email@example.com. Twitter:@reporterbrown.