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January 2013

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How to Promote Your Business With 3D Printing

by Glen Emerson Morris
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While the Neiman Marcus catalog may have been the preferred Christmas reading for the country's ultra rich the catalog that seemed to be most popular with the ultra geeks this year was Make magazine’s Ultimate Guide to 3-D Printing. The hundred twenty page publication, available in PDF format or in print, is arguably the best publication to date on the state of 3-D printing. It's particularly slanted towards consumer 3-D printers, with the most expensive unit featured runs about $5000 in the least expensive runs $399.

Advertisers really need to take a look at this catalog because it features new technologies that could prove extremely useful to the advertising industry over the next few years, especially in the area of promotional material.

For much of the last 80 years advertisers have frequently given out small metal and plastic items to promote their brand names. Sometimes the item was a toy based on a real object (like a plastic airplane in a cereal box), sometimes it was tied in with a radio or TV show, like a Superman decoder ring. Frequently the items were free, but in the case of larger items, the cost could be up to 25 cents (like the Borox 20 mule team model wagon train from the sponsors of early TV’s Death Valley Days, still available on eBay after fifty years).

Over the last few decades the increasing cost of injection molded plastics left few free plastic items in cereal boxes, but promotional items tied to big budget movies are alive and well at MacDonalds. Anytime there’s a new kid’s film from one of the major film studios, there’s a good chance you’ll see tie-in toys when you buy your next quarter-pounder.

There’s still a healthy market for slightly customized mass-market promotional items, like pens and coffee mugs, but these require minimum purchase quantities, and have the additional burden of requiring the company have an inventory on hand, and the processes and staff to mail the pens and coffee mugs to loyal customers.

The beauty of using 3D printing to make promotional items is that an advertiser only has to make the CAD file available to customers, there’s no inventory to pay to create and store, and you don’t need a shipping department either. The customer can simply download the promotional objects CAD file from the advertiser’s Website. The cost of printing the item is on them.

The attraction of customers to free 3D files would be a strong incentive for them to join or at least register with the company’s Website to get access to the free 3D objects. Companies could easily create CAD files of awards for customers who hit certain levels of business.

Practical Items
Makers of golf related equipment, clubs, carrying bags, golf balls, etc. could provide free CAD files of golf related equipment, like personalized golf tees. The custom golf tree file would engrave, emboss or print the company’s logo on one side of the tee and the customer’s initials on the other side. Other good candidates for 3D printing include pens, coffee mugs, iPhone holders, and other usual giveaways.

There are hundreds of toys available for printing on, you can modify one of these or create your own. Just about any vehicle used in the production of the goods and services your company sells could be used as a prototype for a toy. If your company uses delivery trucks with your company logo on them, make a CAD file model of the truck available on your Website, and on You could also post 3D files of your local city landmarks (like Ghirardelli chocolate sponsoring a CAD file of hometown San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge).

Movie and TV Related
The 3D object Website has dozens of CAD files of 3D objects from TV shows and movies ranging from Geordi’s visor from Star Trek Next Generation to a 3.5 inch square replica of Winterfell, a city from the HBO hit “Game of Thrones.’ Any advertiser sponsoring a cable of broadcast TV show should explore what 3D objects that they could co-sponsor.

Where to go from here
A good place to start is with Make Magazine’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing ( It explores 15 current printers, a variety of popular and readily available 3D printing materials, along reviews a selection of free 3D software you can use. The guide will also give you an idea of the type of 3D objects that can be created these days, and the cost involved. Then take a look at your company’s promotional item catalog and see which items would be good candidates for 3D promotional releases.

Once you know what 3D files you want to release, the next step is to get someone to create the 3D file for distribution (from your local temporary technical help agency or If your object is simple, like a golf tee, you might be able to create the CAD file yourself. If the object is more complicated, you may have to hire a temp designer for the project. Another option is to use a 3D scanner to create a CAD file.

Once you have the 3D CAD file created, post it on your Website,, and every other free 3D object Website you can find that’s appropriate. Also, print out some of your 3D promotional items and keep them on hand to give away to key customers. You might even want to consider buying a 3D printer yourself, but since 3D printing service bureaus will be popping up like weeds over the next few years, it’s going to get progressively easier and cheaper to let someone else do the printing for you, especially if your items are metal, use multiple materials and/or multiple colors..

It wouldn't be surprising if UPS and FedEx began offering 3-D printing services within the next few years, leveraging their delivery service to provide same day or overnight 3D printing services. But you don’t have to wait.

3D printing is a viable tool for your advertising toolkit now. And within the next few years, 3D printing will have a huge impact on the practice and industry of producing and giving away promotional items, The age of 3D printing is still in its infancy, but there’s no denying it’s really here now. It will pay to plan accordingly.

Glen Emerson Morris was a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law. He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.

Copyright 1994 - 2011 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved ' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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