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How 3D Printing Is Changing Etsy

Testing designs in 3D

3D-printing prototypes

Hsu and Richardson aren't the only ones enamored with a 3D printer's ability to churn out highly customized products. Even big names, like eBay, are jumping on the customization bandwagon. The company recently released an app for purchasing customized 3D-printed products (printed by Sculpteo and Hot Pop Factory) directly from its site. 

MORE: eBay's 3D-Printed Products Carry Hefty Price Tag

And although it may not sound as sexy as a customizable iPhone case, 3D printing's application as a prototyping tool is also making it popular with small business owners, including those on Etsy.

Hsu, for example, uses Shapeways to make models of her jewelry in a variety of materials, which she tests for flexibility and strength before deciding on a finished product to sell to customers.

And Pad & Quill — a Minnesota-based business that sells handmade leather cases for iPhones, iPads and other gadgets on Etsy — also uses 3D prototyping to perfect its products.

Given its focus on traditional crafts, such as leatherwork and wood carved items, Pad & Quill might seem like an unlikely proponent of 3D printing. But the company relies on this technology to test the parts used with its wood-frame cases, as well as the hardware— snap hooks and buttons— on its leather and canvas bags.

"For us, 3D-[printing] is a really great tool to see if what we dreamed up in a drawing looks and feels the way we want," said Brian Holmes, co-founder of Pad & Quill. "It helps us not make expensive mistakes."

Holmes also said that if 3D technology becomes more sophisticated, Pad & Quill might one day use 3D-printed hardware and custom parts in its final products.