Trending: More people flock to have their 'mini-me' printed

Updated: 2013-06-18 07:24

By Xu Junqian and Jiang Yinan in Shanghai (China Daily)

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 Trending: More people flock to have their 'mini-me' printed

3-D images produced by Epoch Time Machine, a photography studio dedicated to 3-D printing. It is the first studio of its kind in Shanghai. Gao Erqiang / China Daily

Having a profile sketched, a sculpture done, or a studio photograph taken is not in vogue anymore. The latest trend is having a 3-D image of oneself printed.

With the widespread and increasing affordability of 3-D printing technology, young and old people in China are showing a spike in interest to have a 3-D picture taken for the price of an iPad Mini.

"People are curious and the response has been overwhelming," says Le Meihao, the co-founder of Epoch Time Machine, a photography studio dedicated to 3-D printing. It is the first studio of its kind in Shanghai.

Opened in early May, the less than 40-square-meter shop sits on the second floor of a rather lonely shopping mall in the city's People's Square. It has printed at least 40 3-D photographs or "mini people" in the past month. Every day, scores of curious people visit the cramped room, to have a closer look at the end product, to ask about the cost and have their "mini-me" printed.

"We only have the capacity to print two or three models every day. That's the main problem we face in growing our business," says the 27-year-old Le, a Shanghai native and a finance graduate.

Inspired by a Japanese 3-D printing shop, Le, together with three friends, invested 1.2 million yuan ($194,000), mostly sponsored by their parents. They call their investment "the future of industrial manufacturing".

One of the partners, 26-year-old Shao Qizhe, has also been a student of Behrokh Khoshnevis, an engineering professor from the University of Southern California, who has figured out a way to print a house.

The process to "print a person" is simple, or so it seems.

The person stands on a special plate which looks like a Lazy Susan, against a green background. As the plate rotates, two scanners take a full-length scan of the subject, one catching details and the other the general picture. The images are immediately sent to a computer and processed before being printed out using the imported ZPrinter 650, the biggest investment of the shop, according to Le.

It takes about 10 minutes for the scanning process to be completed, and two to three days for the print version, depending on the waiting line. The cost is between 1,200 and 3,000 yuan, based on the size of the copy, usually ranging from 15 to 30 cm.

Le admitts the high cost is the main concern that discourages people from printing a model. But the interest from customers still surprises him. They include young couples who want to put the miniature on their wedding cakes, loving parents who want to keep the 3-D look of their newborn babies, students who simply want to show off, and an 80-year-old couple who wants to "try something new".

But Le and his friends are not the only one eyeing the "bright future".

In Chongqing municipality, a similar 3-D printing shop is also experiencing overwhelming popularity.

The small workshop, which opened on June 4 and sits on the outskirts of the city, has become one of the hottest topics of conversations within a few days of its opening.

Fu Xiaolong, the shop manager, declined to tell China Daily how many customers they receive every day. But he claimed to be one of the few in the country who can provide the best quality 3-D printing services, printing 390,000 color tones using a variety of printing materials.

One of the country's largest online retailers,, has also started selling 3-D printers since the end of May. Priced at 14,999 yuan, the site has been selling 10 machines every week, as reported by Beijing Youth Daily.

"Having a 3-D photography studio is our first step," says Le. "We plan to use the technology for more practical business, like printing jewelry or accessories."

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(China Daily USA 06/18/2013 page10)