There's a lot of conversation on this in the customs forums.
Shapeways does made-to-order 3D printing. Some person (like me) renders a 3D object, sends it to Shapeways, and they print it and ship it. It's like Cafepress or one of those sites that makes custom T-shirts and mugs with your own graphics on them.
Some designers will also add a mark-up fee to make a little profit if someone else orders their products.
Two things to keep in mind:
1) Some items on Shapeways might be untested or unfinished. That is, the design worked in the 3D rendering program, but might have some difficulty or problem once printed (e.g. it might be fragile, not quite fit how you expected, have an impossible interior shape, etc.).
2) Because it is printed, most objects come out with rough, grainy plastic (because it is, essentially, pixellated). You can order products in finer plastics, but that gets expensive fast. The less expensive plastics also yield less detail, so really tiny or thin features that look good in a 3D image might get lost when printed.
You can paint them with acrylics, and they come out pretty well...but they will still usually be grainy.
I've really been happy with what I've had printed there, and the staff have been super nice and polite. When one of my items arrived missing a piece, they were especially accommodating.
Last edited by Tresob
on Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.