When it comes to readily available OS designs, what is the role and responsibility of sellers and buyers in the 3D printing marketplace? And why buy when you can DIY?
A few weeks back, our very own graphic designer Pete Holm ordered a nifty little moon lamp --- a small, round object with a texture matching the moon and a light source inside. This little lamp has been popping up all over the internet lately, and we were all pretty stoked to see it in person.
When the product arrived, we immediately noticed that it was a 3D print, something Pete was not anticipating. The product photos definitely do not look like 3D prints.
To be fair, the product page clearly discloses the materiality of the product: "INNOVATIVE 3D PRINTING TECHNOLOGY." Nonetheless, Pete didn’t read that when he ordered it, and when he got it there was some air of disappointment. In his own words, "For some people, getting a 3D printed product might be like OMG cool! It's a 3D print! But for makers, I'm like oh, I could have just made it myself." Pete uses the 3D printer a lot and is comfortable with electronics, which of course brings up the age-old question, “Why buy when you can DIY?!”
In a very SparkFun move, we were on Thingiverse no less than 30 seconds later looking for some moon files. And we found them. In fact, we found a lot, in many different sizes, with plenty of design files available online under the Creative Commons license. It's available for download for free. Pete may have been kicking himself, but I was stoked to DIY a very cool product with very little effort. This is going to make an incredible last-minute gift!
The moon print is broken up into two pieces so that you can place your light source inside before gluing it shut. All in all, the larger 140mm moon took about 17 or 18 hours to print, and the 60mm took about four hours. I debated a lot regarding which light source to use, but I ended up going with our fairy lights. I used these because of their material nature and because I had a lot of them sitting around in different colors. The wire in the fairy lights makes it so they truly fill up the area inside the moon, allowing for an even inner glow. Plus, some of the LEDs push against the edge, which creates a really lovely visual effect.
Once the fairy lights were threaded through the small hole in the center of the moon's cap, I used a drop of hot glue to secure the lights in place.
Then I started putting them inside the moon's cavity, and simply glued the top to the bottom with E6000 glue.
The two pieces don’t line up exactly, but I did my best to find a good fit. Where there was a light leak, I used a touch of white puff paint to seal it.
The result? JUST AS GOOD AS THE PURCHASED PRODUCT! I didn’t even sand it, guys, and it looks AWESOME. Sanding around the glued seal is definitely recommended if you have the time, but in any case, my printed moon lamp looks dope.
Ok, so this was stupid easy to make. No modeling or electronics skills required. Just hit print, wait awhile, thread some LEDs, stuff them in a cavity, and glue it all together. I checked back on the product page, and while the lamp is currently on sale for $29.99 (which is already pricey for what you get), it usually sells for $49.99! I don’t know if it’s just me, but that feels a little bit outrageous. I could sell these for $10 and make a decent profit off of them. I have to say, from where I was sitting, the for-sale moon started to seem like a real rip-off. A cheaply made product with an insanely high price tag.
The truth is, a lot of people are selling a version of this 3D printed lamp, and in a lot of cases for less than $50, but still for like $20--$30. Based on my experience making this thing, that's too much money.
Listen, I know many individuals do not have access to a 3D printer. I know a lot of folks are interested in purchasing 3D prints. Just because I think i's a rip-off doesn't mean all other consumers feel the same. I'm not a huge fan of the look of 3D printed plastic, but I'm sure some people are really into it. I know I might be jaded because for the past few years I have been able to print whatever the heck I want off Thingiverse for free with printers at school or at work. I know there are specific rules about what is allowed with regard to selling these products under the Creative Commons license. I don’t pretend to know what is legal and what is not, and I’m certainly not proposing that these objects not be for sale.
That being said, I started thinking about seller/buyer responsibility in the 3D printing field, especially when a for-sale product is all over the internet to download for free. I have been asking myself if there are any moral or community responsibilities on the seller to link to the design file. Or is it up to the buyer to find out exactly how this object is made and do a little research to see if it can be made at home? These are not questions of legality but more opinion based.
For a lot of us makers, there are things we purchase that we know we could have made. Sometimes buying things makes more sense than making them because the effort and time outweighs the cost. But in the case of the moon lamp at the price of $20--$50, I believe that the cost of time/effort/materials is decidedly less, and I know that if Pete had found that lamp and then seen a link to the STL, he would have 100 percent made this lamp himself.
To build your own moon lamp, you will need the following items:
You will also need hot glue, E6000 glue and white puff paint.
White ABS filament like the kind I used can be ordered directly from LulzBot. Don't have a 3D printer and not sure how to access one? Check out this very helpful Maker Map to find a makerspace near you!
Let us know your thoughts on the 3D printing marketplace in the comments below!