At first glance the tiny figurines lined up at Palo Alto's Artec studio appear like colored toy soldiers. But the subjects they represent might walk right in the door. They are students and firefighters, housewives and techies.
With hands on hips or arms outstretched and sometimes in comical poses, these three-dimensional "mini mes" are creating a revolution in portraiture. Every detail of clothing and jewelry, skin-tone features and hair are captured lifelike in these 2- and 3-inch self portraits.
Welcome to the new world of 3-D printing. No longer the purview of researchers and manufacturers, Artec's technology does a 360-degree scan of any object, person or pet, and creates replicas on an $80,000 3-D printer in about 12 hours.
Fine layers of gypsum powder and glue form the figurine, directed by the company's Shapify.me program. Ink jets spray on the details, which absorb into the porous material. Then the tiny "you" is coated with epoxy and dried in a small oven and coated with wax, said Anna Zevelyov, Artec's director of business development.
Luxembourg-headquartered Artec opened in February at 125 University Ave. in downtown. The company offers the service to walk-in customers, but it also offers the free Shapify.me software download so that users can scan at home.
Zevelyov estimates there are 25 million Microsoft Kinect sensors consumers own, which are motion-sensing input devices for Xbox video-game consoles and Windows PCs. Connected to a computer with Shapify.me software, the sensors can scan a person as they are directed to rotate 360 degrees in 45-degree increments. The integrated scans can be adjusted, then emailed to Artec, which will print out the figure and ship it to the client within a few days for $79, Zevelyov said.
She picked up a couple of firemen posing in firefighting gear. The tiny axes and fire hoses were reproduced in fine detail. Rows of teenagers from a local high school class lay freshly printed and ready for drying. But there are running shoes and a sword, and a host of other miniaturized examples of how objects can be faithfully reproduced.
Artec sells a high-end, hand-held scanner that can circle any object for about $20,000. That's far more than the average home user might spend, but corporate clients, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin use the company's high-end scanners, Zevelyov said.
Artists use the technology to create 3-D images for jewelry. During a recent visit, staff had scanned a female visitor, then digitally applied a pearl headdress and other features to the image. The finished image will be sent to a special 3-D printer that puts down layers of fine gold powder, which are heat-fused to form jewelry, Zevelyov said.
Shapify.me has more applications than just selfies and art, however. It could potentially be used in e-commerce, fitness, for an exact fit when buying clothing online and in science and medicine, she said.
"A doctor can scan a patient before doing surgery and digitally show what they will look like. If it's plastic surgery and the patient wants a nose like Meg Ryan, a surgeon scans the patient's face and can show what that face would look like," she said. The 3-D printing would allow the patient to see their proposed new face in a truer representation.
And there are financial benefits for doctors, she said.
"When a surgeon gets sued because the client doesn't think they were given what they wanted, a 3-D model can be really helpful in court," she said.
Artec isn't just selling selfies in Palo Alto. The miniatures are a service, but also an entrance to attract Palo Alto companies to its high-end 3-D face recognition technology and scanners. Those technologies eliminate the risk of false identification almost entirely, she said.
"The main goal is to be representatives of our industry. There's a lot of potential being here on University Avenue," she said.