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Who would believe some two to three years ago that there will be a consumer market of 3D models suitable for 3D printing? A small company from Sofia, Threeding, has successfully occupied this niche together with the industry giants Shapeways and Thingiverse, and now is sustainably growing the number of its users and database of 3D printable models.
Threeding is considered to be a start-up, but it feels like its history spans a dozen years already. It all started in 2013: Consumer 3D scanning and printing was gaining more and more interest, 3D printing shows had colossal success, and a feeling of a market which was about to boom was in the air.
The founders, a group of students from the Bulgarian National Academy of Art, came up with an idea to create a platform for the commercialization of 3D content suitable for 3D printing. This is how Threeding was started in May 2013, and went live in December 2013. Today the platform is a high-potential marketplace and a file-sharing website, where individuals and businesses can buy, sell or just exchange freely 3D models suitable for 3D printing.
“Not everyone is an artist and designer, and not every object could be designed on a computer, so people have to buy some of the items they would like to print. What we did was we simply created a website for them to find all the different things they would like to 3D-print,” says Cveta Partaleva, co-founder at Threeding.
Threeding.com contains a large number of 3D printing models divided into 13 categories and covers a great range of objects, from 3D models of the human heart or a DNA molecule up to antique art statues and surrealistic modern napkin-holders. Browsing the database and model acquisition are rather intuitive processes: models can be arranged by price, or sorted by date, author, free download, file format, and texture availability.
One of the first tasks that Threeding’s team had to solve in the beginning was to accumulate in a short time a database of 3D models of decent quality suitable for printing and interesting enough to attract users. As it turned out, the most reasonable way to generate quality 3D content is to apply 3D scanning, which gives the highest quality/number/price ratio. Having compared available market options, the company decided to buy Artec’s 3D scanner Eva.
“We have done all of the 3D scanning of artifacts with Artec Eva and we are very thankful to Artec Group for their great device. Price to value, this is the best 3D scanner on the market. Furthermore, it works without markers, which is very important for our work with historical artifacts. Those are really special objects and limited physical contact is crucial,” says Stan Partalev, co-founder at Threeding.
Growing the database of models for Threeding started with scanning random objects. Then the guys from Threeding decided to put in further effort and to find and record in 3D unique objects, which major users could hardly get access to. Thus, in April 2014, Threeding announced a partnership with the Regional Historical Museums of Varna and Pernik in Bulgaria: the company scanned museum exhibits in 3D and sold the digital models on its website.
Among the scanned objects are ancient Thracian, Greek and Roman sculptures and reliefs, ancient architectural details, medieval weapons and icons. All objects are textured. The museums receive a royalty for each sale and also get all 3D models, and have multiple opportunities to utilize them. Modern museum space has generated a number of options to adapt 3D content for its needs: they create virtual museum spaces and exhibitions, develop remote educational and scientific programs with easily accessible content in 3D, conserve and restore heritage objects applying precise metric data acquired with 3D scanning and custom-tailored 3D printing.
“We are the first company to start scanning cultural heritage for commercial purposes and also for the benefit of the host party: the museums collect a royalty from each sale and receive the models. We added some 50 objects from Pernik and 100+ objects from Varna, and in Q4 2014 we will visit them for a new round of scanning. Currently, we are working on a national level with one of the largest national museums in Central and Eastern Europe. The project will be announced soon. For all this we have been using Artec’s 3D scanners,” says Stan Partalev, co-founder at Threeding.
Threeding has a very good visitor flow with U.S. customers leading in the number of visits, and boasts a sustainable 20-25% monthly growth. The co-founders believe that the reason lies mainly in a simple and reasonable pricing policy. As Stan Partalev says: “The company charges designers the lowest commission on the market of 3D printing models.” Sellers set prices at their own discretion. The company’s commission is 8.5 percent of each sale, with a minimum of $0.45 / €0.45 due to transaction costs. There are more than 600 models for $5 and less. The profit is paid on a monthly basis once the seller’s total reaches $15 / €10. Threeding enables a wide field of work with the model for commercial or private purposes: users can 3D print models and post, promote, sell, and publicly display the printed copies.
In the coming months Threeding will introduce 3D printing services on its platform. This will allow users who do not own 3D printers to get any of the models available on the platform 3D printed in a large variety of materials and colors.
“We are developing and expanding, raising more funds. The world of 3D is going mobile, and we are, too: recently Threeding launched Android and FirePhone apps and in the fall of 2014 we will launch an iOS app. Sales are limited, but this is normal given the relatively low penetration of 3D printers globally. That is why we are planning to offer 3D printing through a subcontractor in Q4 2014,” says Cveta Partaleva, co-founder at Threeding.