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Tue May 22 2012 20:43:13

Science Fiction Meet Ecommerce - Print-at-Home Clothing

By: Brian Cohen

Sponsored Link

CafePress, which recently did an Initial Public Offering, allows anyone to create a virtual inventory of merchandise with no upfront costs. Simply upload an image such as a logo onto a virtual T-shirt and other merchandise. Actual inventory is printed on, shipped and delivered at the point of sale. CafePress keeps a base dollar amount of the purchase price while you decide how much more over the base to charge (i.e., your profit).

In 1999 when I stumbled across CafePress, I ordered the first T-shirt ever sold from the company. It was a revolutionary concept at the time and the experience (creating & purchasing the t-shirt over the web) in part shaped the way I viewed the world.

Soon thereafter, the "ismell" by DigiScents was introduced. The claim: DigiScents technology would emit smells through "snortal.com" by "printing" smells. The device would be hooked up to your PC and contain a cartridge with "primary odors" which would be mixed to print smells. It sounded preposterous and proved to be vaporware. The Way Back Machine captured a website snapshot for your viewing pleasure.

But CafePress' core technology concept is now nearly 14 years old…and I can't help but wonder, was DigiScents idea/technology really as crazy as it smelled…err… sounded?

Eighty-seven years transpired between the start of the industrial revolution / The English silk-thread mill (1719) and automated weaving/Jaquard's Loom (1805). Another eighty-six years would pass until the introduction of Hollerith's automated Census machine (1890), which used concepts based on Jacquard's Loom. It would then take another ninety-two years between Samuel Simon's silk screen printing process (1907) and the beginning of CafePress (1999).  See futurist Ray Kurzweil's "Age of Spiritual Machines" (published the same year CafePress was born) for an interesting timeline.

Instead of printing on shirts, shouldn't we just be printing the shirt by now?...Or do we have to wait seventy-three years until 2085?

The future is not what it used to be. Ray Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns indicates we should be making exponential advances in "Just In Time T-shirt technology."

There is now a way to spray paint fabric into a T-shirt by Fabricon Ltd (also founded around the same time as Cafepress),... but the process seems a bit "analog." More videos at Fabricanltd.com (warning: some may be NSFW - Not Safe For Work).

Is it within the realm of possibility that we could simply walk into a machine, get our body scanned (we are already accustomed to this thanks to the TSA) and instantaneously create and custom tailor a T-shirt to fit our own unique physique? Or is this just science fiction?

Science Fiction: Star Trek Replicator
"A replicator can create any inanimate matter, as long as the desired molecular structure is on file, but it cannot create antimatter…or a living organism of any kind…" (Wikipedia)

Science Fact: MakerBot Replicator
"The MakerBot Replicator(TM) is the ultimate personal 3D printer, with single or dual extrusion (2-color printing) - and a bigger printing footprint, giving you the superpower to print things BIG!" (Makerbot Store)

There is also 3D Systems Corp "cloud 3D printing" as well as a 3D Printer for the home called - what else - the "cube." Launch date for the Cube is May 25th and will be priced at $450 less than the MakerBot Replicator. But referring to any printer that costs more than an iPad as "for the home" seems dubious at best.

The concept of 3D Printing should be familiar to those of you who read Julia's article on Shapeways. 3D Printing isn't "Star Trek Instantaneous," but this is the technology leap that will eventually get us there. It is possible to print "digi-fabrics" with ShapeWays,...but T-shirts are not ready for primetime.

CafePress, which has expanded beyond T-shirts through a series of acquisitions in the past couple of years (Logo'd Software, Canvas On Demand and L&S Retail Ventures' InvitationBox), is "actively seeking mergers and acquisitions."

Will CafePress "The World's Customization Engine(TM)," buy its way into the future to stay relevant in a world of 3D printing? I don't really know the answer to that question, but I do foresee (foresmell?) a future where "ismell" technology and t-shirt technology will merge. Scent Infused Textiles using nano and microencapsulation technology will embed perfumes into our clothes.

Here's to the Future!

Additional reading:

Printing off the paper: MIT research continues to push the boundaries of the burgeoning technology of 3-D printing (link).

Three-dimensional printing from digital designs will transform manufacturing and allow more people to start making things (link).

Are 3D-Printed Fabrics the Future of Sustainable Textiles? (link).

3D printing gets social: New Cubify printer allows you to create, upload and SELL your own inventions (link).

MakerBot's online community ThingiVerse (link).

A Brief History of T-Shirt Printing (link).

About the Author
Brian Cohen has been an active member of the eBay community since May 1998. He currently trades under the member name Bidofthis.com. His first AuctionBytes article was published in May 2002. Brian can be contacted through his website at BidofThis.com where he always has a "little Bid of This and little Bid of That."




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