A little over a year ago, a German company called Twinkind opened its doors with a novel proposition: For $300 it would 3D-print you a full-color, lifelike replica of yourself. The detail the figurines could capture was uncanny—the bristles of a moustache, the wisps of thread on a faded pair of jeans. The company is part of a wave of 3D-printed-portrait businesses opening around the world, some roving and some, like Twinkind and London’s My3Dtwin, based in storefronts, but all trying to capture the public’s growing interest in a hugely hyped emerging technology.
As it happens, souvenirs manufactured on demand are not a recent invention. At the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, you can buy an injection-molded plastic replica of the bus Rosa Parks rode or the Lincoln limousine in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Insert $2 and wait 30 seconds, and the 1960s-era Mold-A-Rama machine will heat polyethylene pellets into a plastic keepsake.
You can find Mold-A-Ramas at a handful of other places—a few US museums and fairs have kept them for nostalgia’s sake. But the company that manufactured them only services the machines now; it hasn’t produced any new ones in more than 40 years. Will 3D-printed figurines end up the same—a largely forgotten novelty? Or will they become a fixture of tourist traps the world over?
Dominique Marr, Twinkind’s project manager, declines to give sales figures but points to the company’s long waiting list as proof that there’s enough demand to keep it growing. In the last year, it moved from Hamburg to a storefront in Berlin’s upscale Mitte district, expanded its selection, and raised prices on its most popular sizes by about 10%. (You can select from nine different height scales, with prices ranging from 190 euros, or about $250, for a figuring roughly 10 cm tall, to 990 euros for the largest model, about 35 cm tall.)
The shop also offers “reprints,” extra copies of figurines already produced, starting at 49 euros, and you can even arrange to have “digital plastic surgery” on your likeness, at a cost of 70 euros to 195 euros, depending on the specific request.
Marr expects that as the technology grows more popular and more efficient, prices on the figurines will come down. “It is certainly on our task list to make the product available to a large audience,” she says.
Meanwhile, Twinkind has already attracted some strange requests. One man asked for 3D-printed figures of his entire bird collection. The company also was hired to scan “a naked sword warrior for an art project,” Marr says. (Right. An art project.) But Twinkind obliged, she says. “We are open to pretty much everything, as long as it is a person or a pet.”
These photos show more typical examples of Twinkind’s handiwork: