At first, Christopher Sweeney just wanted to make his own action figures.
Then a Kohala High School student, Sweeney researched three-dimensional design software, as well as the cost to create the actual figure.
He did eventually get one of his designs, a scorpion, printed by a mainland company. It cost him about $220 for 9 cubic inches of plastic.
“That was awesome,” he said, to be able to hold in his hand his design. “That was probably the coolest thing I had ever seen.”
Today, Sweeney, with his own 3-D printer at his Hawi home, could print the same figure for a fraction of the price, just $2 to $3 for materials, plus electricity costs. Sweeney, who owns CSart Solutions, purchased the printer for about $2,200 and advertises online, attracting clients from all over the mainland who are looking for an inexpensive option to create prototypes or figurines.
He has also printed items for his brother’s vehicle repair shop in New York state. His brother uses the plastic printed piece and casts it to create custom items, such as a clutch for a motorcycle, Sweeney said.
He also printed some cartoon pufferfish for Intel, and has worked with clients in Seattle.
A 3-D printer takes a solid material — in Sweeney’s case plastic filament — and uses that as ink to create objects. The printing process happens in layers. Sweeney said he could print something as thin as a piece of paper or have dimensions up to 12-by-6-by-6 inches. An item the size of a smartphone case would take about 45 minutes to print, he said.
Sweeney taught himself 3-D design in high school, then enrolled in a college in California that said it offered a course based on the program he used. When he got there, he learned the professor had just started using the program, too. The teacher offered to give Sweeney access to an entire library of tutorials, available on the school’s servers, in exchange for Sweeney’s help teaching the class.
“I actually did learn a lot,” he said.
At the end of the semester, Sweeney left the school. He’s been working for himself selling paintings and sculptures, and waiting for 3-D technology to become affordable, ever since.
Owning his own business is liberating, he said.
“I have a hard time focusing on anything that’s not creative or art related,” Sweeney said. “It allows me to challenge myself and gives me something to build.”
Sweeney doesn’t just print plastic items for customers. If someone has a concept but not the skills to design it in 3-D space, he can do that, too. That is more expensive, he said.
For more information, contact Sweeney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 339-8110.
Email Erin Miller at email@example.com.