3D printer square off: Shapeways versus i.materialise

By Jason Li

2013 February 03

Photo of imaterialise versus Shapeways

Last Christmas, I thought about selling “Ex-banker” figurines from my I Heart Recession webcomic as a holiday gift. While I never ended up selling them, I did make a 3D-printed prototype. In this case, I chose to create a multi-color print (I had been looking for an excuse to try it out anyway). Because I had heard mixed reviews about color printing, I decided to play it safe and send the 3D model to two separate printing services. The two services I chose were i.materialise and Shapeways; they happened to be the only ones that supported both Tinkercad (which I’d used to model) and printing in full color sandstone (the only way to print an object with more than two colors).

Below is my comparison of the two services.

Quality of print

From the picture above, i.materialise is on the left and Shapeways is on the right. You can’t see it very clearly from the photo, but the colors in the Shapeways model was significantly brighter. This is in line with the model I made on Tinkercad (screenshot below). Next to the Shapeways model, the i.materialise figure looks grey/dull.

Initial 3d model

Speed of service

From model upload to the box arriving at my doorstep:

Keep in mind though, they were shipping to my home address in Hong Kong. Coincidentally, both packages ended up shipping from Europe (the exact place slips my mind right now) using UPS International.


Both services had well-padded cardboard boxes, though I preferred Shapeway’s more friendlier language and slick design.

Unboxing the Shapeways print

Unboxing the imaterialise print

In short…

Shapeways is the clear winner with both better quality and speed. Keep in mind though, I ran a test for a very specific use case: full color sandstone on a 4-5″ model delivered to Asia. I’d love to hear more about what other people have found in their own experiments – feel free to add in your comments below!

By Jason Li.

See other articles in Other or go home.