As a follow on to my post on “10 things 3D printers can do NOW” this list highlights a number of neat applications utilizing Print On Demand (POD) technology. If you are unfamiliar with the term it is basically souped up desktop printing. This post lists novel applications of POD technology, all available now. While not as technically complex as 3D printing, POD is shaking up a number of staid industries. POD is starting to enable the diversity of thought and ideas we see in social media in tangible form
1. Books, Business Cards, Calendars, Stamps, Assorted Paper Products
Print On Demand is the most widely used mass customization technology. Turning your photos into a book is now a commodity offering with several companies providing solutions: Apple, Blurb, Lulu, Shutterfly, Scrapblog, Tastebook, and many more will turn your work into a keepsake book.
Leaders in the field like Cafepress, Zazzle, Vistaprint, MOO can print just about anything else from business cards, to calendars to mugs and a thousand other formats. This technology was made possible with advances in Variable Data Printing by companies like Xerox.
The following applications use printing technology similar to what you have on your desk in novel ways to create a wide variety of products:
Xoddo is like a combination of Build-a-Bear meets Webkinz with a dash of Mr. Potato Head for good measure. The service features a highly intuitive design tool, with a great stock of building blocks that let a kid, or monster enthusiast, create a creature, share it with friends, then have the character printed out and stuffed giving them a plush monster buddy.
3. Poker Chips
The Poker boom of the earlier part of this decade is largely over but a few companies will allow you to have your own personal casino quality chips produced. Some services just add stickers, but other higher quality, services like, The Chip Lab, print directly onto the ceramic chip providing a longer lasting and bolder finish.
This service allows you to place a short message on M&M’s: you can announce the birth of a child or other good news in sugar. I’d love to see the factory where this happens. Playing with the design tools is an interesting way to see how industry idiosyncrasies impact customer “co-creation”. In the case of M&M’s they will not allow you to make references to “pills” and medicine and also will not allow single letters, so no X or O M&M’s.
Zazzle offers customized skateboard decks that you can personalize using your own images or existing design elements. PopDeck does something similar, copying the Threadless model making a competition out of it rather than enabling true, on-demand production.
6. Credit/Gift Cards
Zazzle, in partnership with Keds, allows you to choose graphics for your shoes, panel by panel, allowing you to create unique combinations. This is fundamentally different than service like those provided by NIKEiD and Puma, that allow you to choose colors of materials, but not add images, patterns or other elements like these do.
9. Consumer Electronics
The Flip allows you to add an image to your digital camera via CafePress. It may ding resale value, but it is a natural out growth of the phone faceplate and customization market. This example is built-in at manufacture, but aftermarket alternatives exist. Infectious sells vinyl art for laptops and Skinit provides adhesive graphics for phones, iPods, laptops, and more.
10. Wine Labels
With the excitement around wine and microvinters, customized wine labels are a great way to express your inner oenophile. You can customize a bottle of red, a bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite.