Business

3-D printing business takes selfies to a new level

Julian Rinaldi, of People Prints 3D, center, is surrounded by 3D models of himself and him with his girlfriend, Adrienne Ockrymiek, at his business in Philadelphia, Pa.
Julian Rinaldi, of People Prints 3D, center, is surrounded by 3D models of himself and him with his girlfriend, Adrienne Ockrymiek, at his business in Philadelphia, Pa. TNS

Julian Rinaldi knew he was onto something with serious entrepreneurial potential when his shop hadn’t even officially opened for business and someone wanted to make a purchase.

The person wanted to buy Rinaldi’s father. Well, a 3-D model of him, anyway.

Dressed in a suit and striking a confident pose — albeit standing just 9 inches tall — was Philip Rinaldi, chief executive of Philadelphia Energy Solutions LLC, in the window of his son’s storefront. It was such a spot-on likeness that the person passing by recognized him immediately and asked whether the figurine was for sale.

It wasn’t. Philip Rinaldi’s role was precisely what played out that day: to catch the eye of passersby and lure them into this odd new entrant on a street of startups, galleries, restaurants and shops.

PeoplePrints 3D is exclusively devoted to 3-D selfies. They come in three forms: head, half-body and full-body.

In this era of self-absorption and promotion enabled by Instagram, Snapchat and other sharing arenas of social commerce, three-dimensional selfies were only a matter of time.

Open since August, PeoplePrints 3D is already profitable, with monthly sales reaching $20,000, exceeding Julian Rinaldi’s expectations.

“I get multiple people in here every day saying it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever seen,” he said on a recent morning, in a shop whose display cases hold several sizes of himself and others.

While he thought 3-D selfies would be a hit with millennials, Rinaldi — who, at 33, is one of them — is thrilled that the idea appears to hold even broader appeal.

Fans have included grandparents, grieving pet owners, even a guy wanting to make his marriage proposal extra-memorable. He gave his beloved a three-quarter-inch miniature bust of himself on a ring with a white-gold band.

The growth potential is essentially limitless, Rinaldi said: “The market is every person on the planet.”

A graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rinaldi majored in information technology and envisioned operating some sort of an online business. Instead, he dabbled in many ventures, including helping to open a restaurant, teaching winemaking, creating winemaking equipment and occasionally arranging charters for his family’s yacht.

Then “I kind of saw how 3-D technology was taking off,” Rinaldi said. “I really liked the technology and was trying to figure out a way you could make money with it.”

Though medicine, architecture and manufacturing were among the more common 3-D printing applications, “I just thought people would love to have models of themselves,” he said. His research uncovered competitors in California and New York and at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., but no one basing an entire business around it in the Philadelphia area.

An area company called BluEdge has offered 3-D selfies at Philly Tech Week the last two years “as kind of a marketing thing ... a way to attract a more consumer-based client” to a 118-year-old printing company that has largely served architects, inventors and law firms, said Simonas Indrele, a 3-D consultant there. The business recently changed its name from NRI, or National Reprographics.

One 3-D customer Indrele served was an insurance salesman who got busts made of himself and used them as business cards, his contact information and title printed on his back. Another sent his busts to business meetings he could not attend “so he could be on the table,” Indrele recalled.

“Knowing the next generation of smartphones are going to have 3-D cameras built into them,” Indrele said, he expects 3-D selfies to proliferate.

Also sensing those prospects, Julian Rinaldi “came up with a business plan and dove right into it” about nine months ago. He found the retail space (a former umbrella shop), bought a full-body scanner consisting of 100 cameras, hired a couple of art-school students with 3-D printing experience, filled the front window with models and opened for business.

Because of the prohibitive cost of an advanced color 3-D printer — about $80,000 — Rinaldi is outsourcing the printing to a company in Long Island City, N.Y., for now. With plans to open another studio store in Philadelphia within six months and one in the suburbs within a year, he said he will likely buy a 3-D printer eventually to create the models in-house. His ultimate goal is to offer franchise opportunities.

Prices, detailed at peopleprints3d.com, range from $35 for a three-quarter-inch bust to a four-person, 9-inch-tall, full-body group for $658. A single 9-inch model goes for $230. Prices include free shipping directly to customers’ homes.

Models cannot be made from pictures. Subjects must be photographed (it takes only a few seconds) at PeoplePrints 3D, where artists touch up portraits before they are sent out for printing.

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