For those who grew up in the 1960s, making toys took on a quite literal sense, thanks in no small part to toy manufacturer Mattel. The company, which had only just introduced Barbie and would later introduce Hot Wheels, managed to bring the same manufacturing methods used for mass manufactured toys into living rooms around the world.

Starting with the “Vac-U-Maker” set in 1960, Mattel took the vacuum forming industrial process and turned it into a – quite dangerous – living room toy that let children form hot plastic sheets over various household objects to manufacture ‘new’ toys from the impressions. Soon after, the company added an open-face electric hot plate oven to their lineup – the Thingmaker – and in doing so added die-cast metal molding to the young living room toy manufacturer’s lineup.

While the “Vac-U-Maker” soon fizzled out due to safety concerns, the Thingmaker went on to bring decades of “Creepy People” and “Creepy Crawler” bugs of all colors made from the company’s Plastigoop liquid plastic formula. When poured into one of the die-cast metal molds in any variety of colors, the freshly-poured liquid turned into a rubbery toy once heated to nearly 400 degrees F. Although countless variations of the “Thingmaker” have come and gone over the years, the essence of the toy has largely remained the same as it has since the 1960s.

Aiming to inject some new life into their DIY toy manufacturing DNA, Mattel has just announced an update in the form of – what else – a 3D printer: The ThingMaker 3D.

Priced at just $300 – that’s less than the cost of a modern video game console – Mattel teamed up with Autodesk to develop an ecosystem that made complex modeling easy for both kids and parents alike. This being 2016, the printer connects directly to smartphones and tablets via an app.


With the option to create everything from dolls and robots to wearables and jewelry, the ThingMaker 3D is perhaps the first 3D printer aimed at children and their families that can push on-demand additive manufacturing into mainstream living room territory.

“In today’s digital age, it’s more important than ever for families to transcend the digital world and make their ideas real,” said Aslan Appleman, senior director, at Mattel. “ThingMaker pushes the boundaries of imaginative play, giving families countless ways to customize their toys and let their creativity run wild. We’re thrilled to work with the 3D design experts at Autodesk to bring this one-of-a-kind experience to life.”


Among other features included in the Autodesk-designed software are the option to customize toy designs with ball-and-socket joints to create posable figures and multi-piece assemblies – a significant step for making home-based toy manufacturing appealing.

As for safety, Mattel has developed a print head that retracts when not in use – which effectively prevents children from touching it and burning themselves.


“We’re excited to work with a storied company like Mattel to develop an app that bridges the digital and physical worlds and brings new forms of making to the next generation of designers and engineers,” explains Samir Hanna, vice president and general manager, Digital Manufacturing Group, Autodesk. “Creativity begins with inspiring the individual. The ThingMaker eco-system makes building your own creations not only possible, but more intuitive for young creators than ever before.”


The ThingMaker 3D will be released this fall just in time for the holiday season. Find out more over at ThingMaker3D Studios.


Simon is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer and Managing Editor of EVD Media. When he finds the time to design, his focus is on helping startups develop branding and design solutions to realize their product design vision. In addition to his work at Nike and various other clients, he is the main reason anything gets done at EvD Media. He once wrestled an Alaskan alligator buzzard to the ground with his bare hands… to rescue Josh.