When picking materials for your model, think about how the material will help to position it as a product. Is it an exclusive piece that you want to only offer in Fine Detail Polished Silver? Or a versatile design that looks great in a range of materials and price points? Using different materials, a single design can become a variety of different products. For example, a model of a ring could become a fun, inexpensive piece of costume jewelry in Versatile Plastic, or a precious keepsake in Polished Brass. Each deserve unique photos, descriptions, and price points.
Choosing the right materials for your products isn’t always easy, and has a huge impact on the value and success of your product. Here are some tips from the materials team to help you make the best choices.
Brass, Bronze, or Steel?
There are a wide range of steel finishes, and high-detail cast metals available. Both make for great products, but at different price points and levels of finish. Steel tends to be a bit rough and pitted, almost vintage looking, and lower resolution, with a lower price point to match. Our various steel finishes, including Gold and Nickel and Bronze offer the highest surface quality and consistency, while Patinas such as Matte black, and the basic steel is better for more rustic or steampunk pieces. To achieve much higher resolution and surface finish, our Brass and Bronze use the same casting process as Silver, and reproduce the finest details at high-end final product quality. Please note that both brass and bronze materials will tarnish over time.
Polished vs. Natural
Brass, Bronze, and Silver use such high resolution production process that enables us to offer both Natural and Polished version of these materials. The choice here is mostly an aesthetic one: Natural is rugged and rustic, while Polished is elegant and refined.
While we offer Natural Versatile Plastic, you should think of these as low-end materials for prototyping and functional parts. The Natural finish is quite rough with a powder residue on the surface. Aside from special cases such as large or delicate designs and functional parts, we’d recommend directing shoppers to Premium Versatile Plastic that has smooth, suede-like surface, or MJF PA12 Plastic which is sturdy and durable.
Polished vs. Fine Detail Polished Silver
The difference between Polished and Fine Detail Polished Silver often causes confusion. Both are polished, but the key distinction is the amount of polishing time invested in polishing internal details and hard to reach spaces. A simple ring may look very similar in both finishes, while something like Bathsheba’s Ora pendant will look very different;
Miniatures as Products
Many successful designers already have amazing miniatures that they print in Fine Detail Plastic. With cast brass and bronze, you can now obtain these models in all their glorious detail in a wider selection of materials.
Choosing Materials that Wear Well
While great for visual models and items that don’t see extensive wear, our Black Versatile Plastic is not recommended for things like phone cases which see constant surface wear (although you can treat your model with a few layers of transparent varnish to protect the color a bit more). They look great at first, but eventually the dye can fade, creating lighter spots in the finish. Since White Versatile isn't dyed, there's no risk of the color fading. For functional parts, or things where you don’t mind a bit of a worn-in look, this can be just fine. If that’s not what you’re looking for, Premium Versatile Plastic or MJF PA12 Plastic are great alternatives.
For smaller and more precious items, Brass and Bronze, in both Raw and Polished finishes, are durable solid metals that will wear beautifully, adding to their character. Steel is similarly long-lasting, but offers lower resolution, and a lower cost. Gold Plated Brass is durable, but can eventually wear through if exposed to constant rubbing on clothing, skin, or when used as functional parts.
Shapeways offers wide selection of materials for different purposes and applications. You can see our full material portfolio here.