How to Win 1,000 Best Mom Ever Points in 10 Minutes

You can 3-D print your own custom toys right here in Pittsburgh. Right now. For $10.

Photos courtesy of PieceMaker Technologies


There are certain things that I have long assumed are beyond my realm of understanding and that no matter how much I try, I will never be able to lasso them and drag them kicking and screaming into my realm of understanding.

A sampling:

  • Schrödinger's Cat and how it relates to quantum computing. I mean, just … WHAT?!? I tried via a recent TIME magazine cover story. I really did. But brain cells died in the fight.


  • Black holes. I'm a space geek, but I get lost as soon as I get to the word "spacetime." Nope. Not a real thing. In fact, let's just assume I’ll never "get" physics in general.


  • Fitted sheets. Only sorcerers and warlocks know how to fold them neatly.


  • 3-D printing. Space age stuff. Printing THINGS. With a PRINTER. A printer of THINGS. Actual things. Things you can use. Printed. WITCHCRAFT!

While I've long acknowledged that 3-D printing is a thing, I had totally given up on 3-D printing being a thing I could understand. Until I got a first-hand look at 3-D printing, thanks to the local tech geniuses at PieceMaker Technologies, an Alphalab company that CNBC named as having one of the "Top Trending Toys for 2014."

PieceMaker is the brainchild of Arden Rosenblatt and Alejandro Sklar, Carnegie Mellon University graduate students who wanted to use 3-D printing to bring the complete "Factory-in-a-Store" experience to toy store patrons.

And boy is it fun.

Currently in the pilot phase at both S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes locations, the experience starts with an incredibly easy-to-use kiosk and ends with your very own affordable, personally designed item.


Like an enraptured child, I could not decide what I wanted to design. Even in the pilot phase, PieceMaker has tons of options — jewelry, pendants, LEGOs, Pittsburgh-themed toys and more. The list will only grow as the company continues to develop the program in preparation for an official holiday 2014 launch.

I started with a heart shape but finally settled on a circular pendant featuring my daughter's name and her favorite color, blue. It could easily be turned into a necklace, zipper pull, keychain or lanyard decoration.


With the design done, it was printing time. Here's where I finally lassoed it and understood how 3-D printing works. Driven by a PieceMaker-designed computer program, the machine melts down colored plastic filament. The melted plastic is then used to trace the perimeter of the item.


The printer begins filling in the shape in a back-and-forth fashion within that perimeter — much like how a child colors with crayons. Then the printer adds a honeycomb layer, allowing the piece to be sturdy while reducing the amount of filament needed.


The plastic cools quickly, allowing the shape to hold — even as the name is traced, not imprinted.


This process continues for about 10 minutes. I was transfixed, like watching crayons come out of the crayon factory.

*Robot Voice*
Do not disturb. Quiet please. I'm makin' stuff.

Now just a few layers of filler over the honeycomb, and we’re done!


The best part? It’s not expensive. This piece cost me less than $10, and my daughter loves it so much that she put it on a dog-tag chain and wore it to school the next day to show off something only she possesses. It was a hit. One thousand BEST MOM EVER points for me (minus 600 BEST MOM EVER points on account of all her fitted sheets being rolled in balls and stuffed in her closet).

Here are some of the other things PieceMaker offers for customization in-store (or will be offering once the full version launches):


Grab your kiddos and go check out the kiosks. PieceMaker staff are in the downtown S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes location (630 Smithfield St.) Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Squirrel Hill location (5856 Forbes Ave.) Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

*Robot Voice*
Cannot print pigeon shield. Please revise.

Categories: PittGirl