Amazon's Giant Leap Into 3-D Printing Services This Week Pits It Against Shapeways

As of this week, Amazon customers can design and customize 3-D printed toys, jewelry, home decor items, and more.

Aug 2, 2014 at 11:11AM significantly stepped up its 3-D printing game this week when it announced a new feature in its 3D Printed Products store that enables customers to customize and personalize jewelry, toys, bobble-head dolls, home decor items, and more.

The online retailing behemoth is continually expanding its product category offerings, so providing customers an opportunity to customize their own items using 3-D printing shouldn't come as much of a surprise. After all, 3-D printing -- which involves building a product layer by layer -- has increasingly been making inroads into the consumer market. This is a "hot" technology that is expected to grow rapidly, and it was only a matter of time before the operator of the world's largest online marketplace threw its hat -- or an additional hat -- into the 3-D printing ring.

How does the site work and what can you customize?
Amazon's 3D Printed Products store has more than 200 print-on-demand products. Many of these can be customized by material, size, color, and style, and personalized with text and image imprints.


Customizable bobble-head doll. Source: Amazon. 

The site appears to be quite user-friendly, which we'd expect, as it's geared toward the average Joe and Jane. There's no need to be experienced with design software. It features design templates, interactive 360-degree preview functions so you can take a good look at your creation from all angles, and a product personalization widget. The store offers some relatively inexpensive customizable items priced less than $40, including cuff links, bobble-head dolls, and wine glass holders. The $100 price range includes accessories such as pendants, earrings, and rings.

Amazon apparently plans to rule the 3-D printing as a service space
In June, I wrote that it appeared that Amazon intended to rule the 3-D printing as a service space. At that time, the company had taken two steps into the 3-D printing realm. Its first step simply involved opening an online store to sell 3-D printers and 3-D printing accessories. Its second step earlier this year involved launching a pilot program in which several partners set up Amazon marketplaces for 3-D printed goods. The pilot involved four product categories: jewelry, home and kitchen, electronics, and toys and games.

Amazon's move this week is a giant leap, rather than just a step, and puts it in direct competition with Shapeways. In my June article, I predicted this would happen:

It seems, however, that the e-commerce giant is heading toward a battle with Shapeways, a privately held company that I recently wrote about. Shapeways, which has locations in New York City and The Netherlands, operates the world's largest marketplace for 3-D-printed products. Designers, hobbyists, and others enter their designs into Shapeways' system, and the items are printed by the company's in-house printers, and those of its independent partners. Then, if the customer wishes, Shapeways includes his or her product(s) in its marketplace, where people can buy and sell 3-D printed goods. It handles everything for the sellers, including payment processing and shipping.

Shapeways is known to have a very loyal user base; however, given Amazon's massive reach and financial resources, it's likely going to be difficult for Shapeways to fend off this particular attack over the long term.

Amazon's entrance into this aspect of the business was only a matter of time, given that the business model is not only attractive, but also a perfect fit with the e-commerce king's current model. In addition to helping customers express their individuality, the business model offers an appealing way for designers and hobbyists to design and sell their products. It removes the sizable up-front cost of buying one or more 3-D printers, eliminates the hassles of dealing with the post-production processes, and offers a much wider potential customer base than most companies likely could drum up on their own.

Potential winners and losers
Amazon's move should be a boon to the 3-D printing industry -- and investors in this space -- by exposing many more people to this technology. Surely, some of them will eventually want to buy their own 3-D printer. Additionally, the busier Amazon's 3-D printed marketplace becomes, the more commercial- and industrial-grade 3-D printers that its partners will have to buy to manufacture the customized products that shoppers order. 

Shapeways, however, might want to 3-D print some gigantic boxing gloves, as the battle to rule the 3-D printing as a service space in the consumer market has officially now begun!

Beth McKenna has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends The Motley Fool owns shares of Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers