In the showroom at the Object Shop, a beast stands on a platform in the corner, its intricate armor covering red flesh and its sharp horns threatening all who stare. But don't let that scare you. The beast is only 4 inches tall.
Grant Posner, who owns the Object Shop with Brian Zuckerman, created it there, using a 3-D image of the beast — which is a video game character — and a state-of-the-art 3-D printer.
"There are few if any limits on what we're able to produce," said Posner, 24.
Posner met Zuckerman through a mutual friend, who Posner met at Saint Leo University, where he will finish his master's degree in business administration in August.
"It was Grant's idea to get into the 3-D printing industry," said Zuckerman, a longtime entrepreneur.
Zuckerman, Posner said, "has a wealth of knowledge that no book or professor can teach you."
The pair spent a couple of months researching 3-D printing, then partnered in February to start the Object Shop. Services include 3-D printing and scanning, which is how you create a 3-D image file of an object that already exists.
It also handles rapid prototyping, a quick way to create a product's prototype so its manufacturers can check it for defects before making the product.
The technology to print three-dimensional objects has "been around since 1984 but only commercially available for seven or eight years," Posner said.
Zuckerman added: "We thought we could create a market niche for ourselves, and we're developing that niche."
Consumers can buy desktop 3-D printers, but they don't do what the Object Shop's printer does, Posner said.
"There are desktop printers that are capable of (printing in) multiple colors. However, they are unable to mix those colors, so you're limited," Posner said. "Since our machine operates like standard ink jet printers, we're able to mix the colors together to create quite literally millions of colors."
Desktop printers print objects that require a lot of post-print processing to make the objects smooth and beautiful, Posner said. "With our machine, you get a beautiful product the minute it comes out."
At Object Shop a customer can upload an image file of any object on the business' website. If necessary, the Object Shop hires freelance designers who adjust the images for printability.
The Object Shop then uploads the file to the software that sends it to the printer. The printer, which weighs about 800 pounds, uses a gypsum composite to turn the image on screen into an object you can hold in your hand.
The printer "spreads one layer at a time, (each) about the thickness of a human hair," Posner said — a process you can watch live-streamed on the website. "The machine can print at a top speed of just over 1 inch per hour."
Clients, who have called from as far away as Australia, range from gamers who want to turn video game characters into figurines to defense contractors who need prototypes of products like a fuel bladder to attach to the side of an aircraft.
The largest object the Object Shop has printed is a model of Saint Leo University's new academic building, which is under construction.
The university provided an image file of the building plan, and the shop printed it into a 3-D model the university presented to its board of trustees.
"That was a lot of fun," said Denny Moller, Saint Leo's vice president for advancement.
"If you do a fairly large-scale model, it's hard to take it places," Moller said. "This we can pass around the table, take to an alumni reception, visit a potential donor (and say) 'Here's what it looks like. Would you like to be part of the philanthropic process to bring this building to life?' "
The technology has other uses, too. A regular Object Shop client is a Chicago photographer who has a 24-camera photo booth he uses to take photos of engaged couples who want to put their likenesses atop their wedding cakes.
The photographer stitches the 24 photos together into a 3-D image, which he sends to the Object Shop. Posner and Zuckerman turn the images into the wedding cake toppers.
The technology can be used in the medical field, too, which is a service Zuckerman hopes the Object Shop eventually will offer. He and Posner are researching the software options for turning medical scans into 3-D objects.
"Performing heart surgery on a 6-month-old is pretty tricky stuff," Zuckerman said. The 3-D models of a patient's organs can allow a surgeon to have "a better game plan when he opens the patient up."
Already, Posner said, "we've met people from all walks of life, from people who have money beyond reason to people who are just looking to preserve family members (as figurines).
"That, to me, is worth so much."
Contact Arleen Spenceley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6235. Follow @ArleenSpenceley.