While consumers use 3D printers for a wide variety of reasons, one thing that many people love to do is to 3D print figurines of characters from their favorite movies, cartoons, video games, etc. Even more serious makers whose main focus is original work tend to have one or two Donald Ducks or droids lying around. Character figurines are fun, and they can be good ways to try out a new 3D printer while at the same time making something to adorn one’s desk or bookshelves. But if Disney receives a new patent they’ve applied for, a lot of favorite characters may become a bit more difficult to 3D print.

The company recently registered a patent application for a reflective substance that would confuse 3D scanners, making it harder to scan and 3D print figurines sold by Disney.

“It can be difficult for a company distributing collectibles and other 3-D objects, such as plastic figurines of movie and animated film characters, to prevent unlicensed copying,” the application states. “This can be an even larger problem for companies that want to protect products that are made through a 3-D printing process.”

According to the patent application, Disney would use an “anti-scanning” material on the face or head of a figurine to prevent it from being clearly picked up by a 3D scanner. The material is described as “retro-reflective,” and could be in the form of glass beads or something similar.

“The scan-protected exterior surfaces are either light absorbing or reflect light in unconventional directions,” the application states.

If the patent is granted and Disney does in fact begin making all of their figurines with the retro-reflective material, it still won’t stop people from 3D printing figurines at home – there are plenty of Disney 3D models out there on the Internet already, and there’s no word of the company planning to go after the thousands of makers sharing their Yoda models on Thingiverse. In addition, a talented designer doesn’t need a figurine to scan in order to make their own 3D model of something.

In that regard, this particular patent application seems a bit odd. Fans replicating their figurines at home aren’t likely to put Disney out of business anytime soon, and while a reflective material on official Disney merchandise will make it a bit harder to 3D scan, there are ways around it. Reflective surfaces are notoriously difficult to scan, but several 3D scanner manufacturers have developed scanners or scanning modes specifically designed to address that issue.

Douglas Brown, founder of the Orlando makerspace Factur, believes Disney is wasting their time.

“I just feel what Disney produces will always be superior to what their fans produce,” he said. “Let their fans make Disney toys at home. Sell better toys and shut down companies that are pirating their stuff.”

[Image via Design Share Make]

I’m inclined to agree with Brown – I’ve seen some amazing 3D printed figurines, Disney or otherwise, but I’ve also seen (and maybe 3D printed) plenty of not-so-amazing ones. 3D printed fan art doesn’t seem to be a major threat. A patent application is one thing, however, and actually implementing the technology is something else; it’s highly possible that nothing will ever come from this particular application. Disney may just be protecting their research at this point.

One thing the patent application does point out is that it’s easier to 3D scan something that’s been 3D printed, which could indicate that Disney is thinking about using 3D printing for at least some of their merchandise. Based on the number of 3D printing-related patent applications that Disney Research has filed over the past few years, they’re definitely very interested in the technology – but which of these patent applications bear fruit still remains to be seen. Discuss in the Disney forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Orlando Sentinel]
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