News: the rise of affordable 3D printers is sparking a boom in demand for personalised sex toys that can be ordered online or printed at home.
A raft of new companies are springing up to cater for the growing market for toys that can be customised according to taste and fabricated on domestic printers, preventing the potential awkwardness of receiving items in the post.
Above: JNaja 3D-printed sex toy by Velv'Or
Top: 3D-printed sex toys by Cunicode
"The world of 3D-printed sex toys is growing rapidly and every day more and more brands pop up," says designer Jelle Plantenga of Dutch "gentlemen's jewellery" brand Velv'Or, which offers printed nylon products for men (top image). "It has the potential to grow very big".
"I think the future holds a lot for this industry," agrees Tom Nardone, founder of New York-based Makerlove, a site that offers vibrator designs that can be downloaded for free. "It's definitely growing; it's sort of a phenomenon. People want to avoid the embarrassment of getting these things in the mail."
Above: Slender Pebble Vibe 3D-printed sex toy by Makerlove
Makerlove offers a range of open-source files that users can manipulate using 3D modelling software before printing them out. "People can do whatever they want with the files," says Nardone. "Different products work for different people. People have different bodies".
Makerlove's products are compatible with Bullet, the most popular type of vibrator motor, which slots inside the printed form. Nardone set up the site after his attempts to upload his designs to popular 3D filesharing site Thingiverse were rebuffed. "I had a conversation with their attorney," Nardone says. "He said 'we want to be open-source but we have to draw the line. You can't post that stuff here'."
Above: The Hello Pussycat 3D-printed sex toy by Makerlove
The mainstream 3D printing industry seems reluctant to talk about this nascent trend. Dezeen spoke to senior executives at two major printer manufacturers, both of whom said they were aware of the phenomenon but neither of whom wanted to speak on the record. One said: "What people do with our printers once they've bought them is up to them".
Dongiverse, a filesharing site dedicated to printable erotic objects, was launched three years as a joke "to parody the awkward amount of suspiciously phallic objects uploaded daily" to Thingiverse.
Above: The Slender G-spot 3D-printed sex toy by Makerlove
Three years on, Dongiverse has just announced plans to relaunch as a commercial venture where designers can sell their products. "We believe that is not so tongue-in-cheek any more, and want to make Dongiverse a real place where artists can upload their designs and put them in the hands of real people," the site announced last week.
Nardone, who also runs online store www.vibrators.com, says the rapidly falling cost of 3D printers is driving fetishists to experiment with the technology. "When printers dropped to $2,000, I bought one," he says, although he adds that "surface finish and materials" are the major drawbacks of current technology. He's also looking for designers to submit better-looking products he can sell.
Above: The Justin Bieber 3D-printed sex toy by Makerlove
"The issue is that consumer grade 3D printers can't print in body-safe materials yet," agrees Chelsea Downs of New York Toy Collective. "People can design their own toys and share the digital files online, but you still need someone to be able to take the printed prototype and turn it into a toy in a body-safe texture and material."
Even Dongiverse warns on its blog that home-printed items are not safe to use in the bedroom. "The prints are not water-tight," it advises, adding: "it’s damn near impossible to clean them." Instead, it recommends that printouts are used as moulds to cast toys in appropriate materials.
Above: Anal Beads 3D-printed sex toy by Makerlove
New York Toy Collective is also developing a site where customers can customise toys and print them at home. The company already offers a 3D scanning service allowing both males and females to scan their genitalia and print them out: the service is proving particularly popular in the run-up to Valentine's day - or "V-day" as they call it.
"We'll be scanning penises and vaginas in the next few weeks as part of a Valentine's day promotion in midtown Manhattan so you are welcome to come by and check it out live to or even get a scan," says Downs.
Above: The Rock and Roll 3D-printed sex toy by Makerlove
Downs predicts that as 3D printing technology improves, it could transform her industry. "Everyone's bodies and preferences are unique. Mainstream products are produced in very large runs because the cost of traditional prototyping is very high," she says. "3D printing allows people to design their very own toy, with their ideal dimensions and specifications and print prototypes relatively cheaply. We can then use those prototypes to make small runs, or even single products for interested individuals. It makes customisable toys possible and affordable."
Another newcomer to the scene is Barcelona designer Bernat Cuni of Cunicode, who plans to market his own range of sex-toys printed in ceramic, which is a "body-safe" material as well as being more luxurious. Cuni is investigating generative design software that allows customers to adjust the parameters of a product on screen before placing their order.
Above: 3D-printed sex toys by Velv'Or
"It's part of the beautification of sex goods," said Cuni, referring to the recent spate of design-led adult toys. Last year erotic design brand Jimmyjane said its sales were booming thanks to the popularity of erotic novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey.
"They've started to be considered design objects rather than purely functional items," says Cuni. "It's more related to the times than to 3D printing."