Back in July of 2012, Shapeways teased Makers with a new material offering in the form of Black Elasto. Revealed this week, the NEW Elasto Plastic is a refined offering for Shapeways Makers that while still in it’s experimental stage, is readily available and looks extremely promising. Let’s take a look.

The Shapeways Global 3D Printing R&D Team

The new ‘Maker Only’ material offering from Shapeways is part of their new initiative to invite Shapeways Makers (that would be somebody who uploads their own designs to Shapeways versus purchase existing ones) to be a part of their new ‘global 3D printing R&D team’:

“To all our hackers, tinkerers, and dreamers, this is the start of a new series of materials catered just to you. The models that you submit push the limits of our machines and materials, which in turn inspire us to make improvements to meet your needs. The experiments we see posted on the forum (dyeing your own nylon or testing out surface treatments) help us understand your needs, and often get integrated into our standard processes. We want to continue to work together with our community on material innovation.”

Elasto Plastic

This flexible, rubbery, almost silicone-like plastic isn’t quite ready for a mass market due to its final surface that is slightly textured, colorless and arrives with extra powder on the model. However, for those brave enough to embark on this new frontier of 3D printable materials, this could be a chance to get a foot in the door for an entirely new way of approaching 3D Printing design rules. Aside from the experimental pitfalls, it is an incredibly durable material with unique properties for a 3D print including high impact resistance, flexibility and compression, and a high level of static friction. While not watertight, prints are able to hold liquids without a problem. Regardless of it’s shortcomings, this new material has a lot of potential for perhaps not just 3D prints, but also in other production methods…particularly mold-making.

iPhone case application example

small details may not print too well

excess powder
example of excess powder from the print process

example of flex properties

detail of surface texture

possibility of warped surfaces

Elasto Plastic Properties

From Shapeways:

Elasto Plastic is an off-white elastomer that is very flexible. It has a rough, grainy finish, and is quite strong when printed with thick features (greater than 5mm). Elasto Plastic is an experimental material, and although we’re very excited about its capabilities, the quality is not ready for broader use. So for the time being, Elasto Plastic is offered only as a “Maker Material” – meaning, anyone can order models they have uploaded themselves, but it will not be sold in Shapeways Shops. It will be available for a 6 week trial until July 9th, during which we will assess the pricing and design rules. At the end of the trial, we will decide if we can keep Elasto Plastic as a permanent material.

A few things to keep in mind:

The Elasto Plastic models may come out thicker than designed – up to .4mm in the Z direction, and up to .2mm in the X and Y directions. Features on Elasto Plastic models may be offset from their location in the original design file – up to 30% on small models and 10% on big models. The orientation of the model within the printer will also affect the quality of detail. Like Strong & Flexible, Elasto Plastic is laser sintered one layer at a time, so some models may see a staircase effect (see closeup picture above). Our production planners are working hard to reduce this effect as much as possible through careful optimizations at the time of printing.

Since this is a Maker Material, we’ll produce all models that follow the design rules, even if we have quality concerns. As this material is still in its very early stages of development, we rely on your feedback to improve our design guidelines – don’t be shy! Please email Gabe, our Materials Manager, with feedback on your experiences and experiments! Be aware that the current design rules are dynamic and subject to change as we learn more about this amazing material and how to design for it.

This material is not watertight, not dishwasher safe, not recyclable, and not food safe. It is heatproof to 90C/194F. Higher temperatures may significantly change material properties.

We think this new material will redefine people’s perception of what’s possible with 3D Printing and we can’t wait to see what you make!

If you think you can change the world with Elasto Plastic, head over to the Shapeways Elasto Plastic page for more details.


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.