3D Printing May Change the Collectors Industry Forever

Knowledge is like a flame. It spreads. It can be shared without depriving it’s source. It only requires basic fuel – raw materials.

In the same way we can all stream a copy of a movie or song or run a computer program without denying others the pleasure of the exact same lines of code we can now craft physical objects from designs conceived anywhere in the world.

Just like the fire requires a stable source of fuel for it’s heat and light to be enjoyed, 3D printing requires specialized hardware, energy, and an internet connection…but then so do movies or songs we stream.

We will eventually reach a point where if you can dream it (and you have the resources for it), someone can design it, your machine can “print” it, and you can or your machine can assemble it.

Photo by Subhashish Panigrahi
Photo by Subhashish Panigrahi

What does this new era represent for collectible merchandise?

Entering a new year is a both a time of retrospection and looking into the future. It’s also a time for packing away Christmas decorations including prized, collectors ornaments. Some of the gifts you may have given or received might fall into the “collectibles” category.

Being in a Christmas-y, anti-consumerism spirit I began questioning the value we place in something that is mass-produced and made out of plastic. Why is it something worth collecting when there are millions exactly like it in the world?

Why do we value something that may well just end up being put in a box…especially in the case of Christmas tree ornaments that are only displayed once a year then kept in a box for the other 11 months?

What happens to this entire industry based on mass-production and “limited edition” when it meets a new era of technology that never forgets; permanent, instantly accessible data; creative and productive minds that we can communicate with and trade with directly from anywhere in the world and a new generation that already values authentic

ity, uniqueness, hand-made products more than pop-cultural familiarity?

What happens when a physical design can be copied, customized, and produced on-demand conveniently in your own home?

What does this mean for an industry that molds, assembles and paints plastic into recognizable figures and sells them to us for a limited time?

What does this mean for an industry that offers us fragile, difficult to replace clay or glass nick-nacks in a world when we might “print” ourselves a replacement copy from a digital master and raw material.

The future is here and it is becoming more affordable, more practical, and more skillful.

It’s only a matter of time before we have the ability to mass-produce on an individual scale…or is that individually produce on a massive scale?

It may be possible to preserve some sort of exclusivity, but as we’ve seen with entertainment media, it will be extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible.

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