3D printing firm MakerBot teams up with Sesame Street

3D model Image copyright Disney
Image caption The Mr Snuffleupagus figurine currently available from MakerBot

3D printing firm MakerBot is bringing a downloadable Sesame Street figurine to its digital store, the first such file for its newly licensed brand.

Mr Snuffleupagus is currently the only Sesame Street character on offer, although the company intends to release more in the future.

Some toy industry insiders fear 3D printing may have a negative effect on the market.

However, figures suggest the industry has yet to make a large impact.

At the modest size of 97mm x 92mm x 87mm (3.8in x 3.6in x 3.4in), the mini Mr Snuffleupagus will fit in the palm of your hand. It's available in a number of different colours, takes three hours to print and costs $1.29 (77p).

The files required to print the monster work on only two of MakerBot's 3D printers: the Replicator 2 and the fifth generation model of the original Replicator.

"Sesame Street has always been near and dear to my heart," said MakerBot chief executive Bre Pettis, a former employee at Jim Henson's Creature Shop.

3D teddy

Elsewhere, the Walt Disney Company has shown signs of interest in downloadable toys with its 3D-printed teddy.

A specially designed printer has been developed that can create three-dimensional objects out of wool and wool-blend yarn, which are "soft and flexible - somewhat reminiscent in character to hand-knitted materials".

"This extends 3D printing from typically hard and precise forms into a new set of forms which embody a different aesthetic of soft and imprecise objects," explains Disney's website.

Additionally, the material can be printed around embedded hardware, such as sensors or feedback controls.

The project is still in its early development stages.

Image copyright Disney

No threat (yet)

According to Samantha Loveday, editor of ToyNews, some industry insiders fear that 3D printing could "do to the toy industry what illegal downloading did to the music industry".

"The big toy companies are currently keeping their eye on [3D printing], but it's not something they're particularly worried about," she said.

"The majority of 3D printers are currently too expensive and take too long for them to pose a significant threat to the toy market. Some of them can offer great extensions to creative play but I don't think they can really replace a physically and professionally made toy."

However, although compatibility issues and slow printing speeds continue to limit 3D printing for the average consumer, the industry has been making big strides in terms of affordability.

Affordable printing

The recent announcement of the ultra-cheap Micro, which reached its Kickstarter goal in just 11 minutes, suggests there might be a growing interest in affordable and simple 3D printers.

"New price points and lower pricing will be key in getting people to buy a 3D printer," explains the project's Kickstarter page. "Not many people can afford to pay $2,000 for a printer but many more can try one for $500 or $300."

Furthermore, according to Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner, "the 3D printer market has reached its inflection point".

With a predicted global spending increase of 62% this year, reaching $669 million, Gartner believes that 3D printing will eventually have a high impact on consumer products.

A compelling consumer 3D printer is not expected to be commonplace until 2016 and the industry is only expected to have a medium impact on construction, education, energy, government, medical products, military, retail, telecommunications, transportation and utilities.

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