Star Trek tech is here.

It was probably only a matter of time before someone took the parallels between three-dimensional object "printing" by companies such as Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) and 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD), and the "food synthesizer" technology of sci-fi icon Star Trek -- and made the connection overt.

As it happens, 3D was first out of the gate, with today's announcement that it will begin customized 3-D printing of Star Trek products and collectibles via its Projet(R) 660Pro 3-D printers.

In this week's news, 3D announced that it has signed a licensing agreement with CBS's (NYSE:CBS) consumer-products division, which owns the rights to Star Trek. With this agreement in place, 3D can now to allow Cube owners to use an app on the company's Cubify website to design and build a "full-color, personalized 3-D printed figurine of themselves in a Star Trek uniform from the original series by simply uploading two photographs of their face."

Like other products advertised on the company's website, 3D says it can print the figures for customers itself, as "unique 5.5" figurines ... printed in full-color on 3D Systems' Projet(R) 660Pro, with a ceramic-like feel." In this scenario, the company says it will sell customers the figurines for $69.99 each.

Other products shown on Cubify can actually be printed directly by owners of 3D Cube printers. It's not 100% clear whether 3D is making this an option for the Trek figurines ... but it does appear that the company intends to keep this licensed product on a shorter leash -- to print the things itself only, and then mail them out to buyers. Since it's logical to assume that CBS is taking a cut of the proceeds from these figurine sales, it makes sense that the licensor would want to keep a close eye on how many of them sell.

What it means to you
So those are the details, but what's the big picture here? If you ask me, I think the real import of 3D's announcement isn't just the $69.99 figurines, or the size of CBS's cut of that price. I think the real import for investors is that 3D is highlighting a third revenue stream that its business possesses.

Historically, we've thought of 3-D printing companies has having two main revenue drivers: They sell the machines that "print" stuff, and they sell the composite material used to print the stuff. Fin.

The problem with that, of course, is that competition is beginning to emerge in machine selling, as small companies with names such as ExOne (NASDAQ:XONE) and Massive Dynamics (OTC:MSSD) begin to horn in on the printer biz. Competition will probably arise even faster in the selling of printing composites, as Hewlett-Packard discovered to its detriment, when printer ink cartridge "refillers" began stealing away its lucrative ink business.

To help offset these inevitable losses, 3D is showing us that it now has a third revenue stream to draw upon. It can use its expertise in 3-D printing. (After all, who better knows how to do this stuff, professionally and cost-effectively, than the folks who build the machines?) to make stuff, on demand, for people who want to buy 3-D objects, but maybe don't know all that well how to make it themselves.

More poetically, 3D is showing us that it now has a third way to live long, and prosper.