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Amazon Opens 3D Printing Storefront

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This week Amazon jumped even further into the 3D printing space, launching an online storefront for 3D printed objects and downloadable design files that can be printed on home machines. 

The storefront is a pilot program in partnership with with four companies that offer 3D printing as a service, most notably Cincinnati-based 3D printing store 3DLT, a storefront that partners with designers to sell 3D-printable files. The company also sells finished 3D-printed works, but customers have to buy the file first.

MORE: Best 3D Printers 2014

In an interview with Upstart Business Journal, 3DLT CEO John Hauer said that Amazon approached the company when 3DLT started selling its products through Amazon's site. "They said, 'That’s all well and good, but we don’t have a category called 3D printed products.' We said, 'We’d like to help you create one,'" said Hauer.

Amazon's new storefront puts it in competition with several other already-established 3D printing online stores, most notably Shapeways, 3DSystems' Cubify and the Makerbot Digital Store. These stores are ideal for people who have a 3D printer but don't want to create their own design files. After all, it's much easier to purchase an .STL (the most-common file for 3D printers) for a necklace than to spend hours in a program like Cubify Sculpt designing it yourself. People who don't own a 3D printer, or don't own one that can print in the material they desire, can also order customized prints from these websites.

Amazon does have a ways to go before it catches up with the others: the 3D printed products storefront is difficult to find unless you're searching for it specifically. And 3DLT has only 43 products on the Amazon storefront, mostly jewelry, smartphone cases and small decorations. They all come printed in Nylon Polymide, and only the color is customizable.

Last summer eBay also opened an online store for 3D printed products, in partnership with Sculpteo and Hot Pop Factory. Around the same time, Amazon began selling 3D printers and printing equipment.

Shapeways and its peers have much larger design selections and printing options, but Amazon has shown it's capable of playing catch-up in crowded tech fields: the Amazon Kindle, though far from the first of its kind, has now become nearly synonymous with "ereader." 

Email jscharr@techmedianetwork.com or follow her @JillScharr and Google+.  Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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