Sculpteo is a fascinating French company that's working to bring 3D printing to the masses. The company had a booth at CES, and while some of our chat with them had to go through a French/English barrier, they very nicely explained to us how they're doing business and allowing almost anyone to make custom 3D printed objects, even through iOS.
The company can print custom items through its official website. You can upload your own 3D object file, and by following its web interface, you can have Sculpteo print the object out on demand. I chatted with Sculpteo's rep about how easily that worked, who agreed that while the process itself is generally pretty easy, there are usually a few tweaks that have to be made. Obviously a digital 3D object is not subject to the laws of physics, so sometimes things have to change in the object to make sure it stands up under gravity and can exist at the dimensions planned. But generally, Sculpteo can print out almost anything that someone has previously put together into a 3D file, either on a Mac or PC.
However, the most interesting part of the company (and the real showpiece at CES this year) is the iOS app. The app isn't quite as open as the web interface (you can't just upload your own 3D files), but it does allow you to create custom 3D objects like pre-designed mugs, vases, or even iPhone cases, then customize those things directly from your phone. Created items usually cost from $30 to $40; once created, iOS users can order items right from their devices with immediate shipment.
The 3D printing quality is touch and go. Some of the objects Sculpteo showed off had a sort of glaze over the 3D printing powder, but some items, including an iPhone case, were still very dusty to the touch. It's unclear if those objects were just on display or finished products meant for end users. Assuming that the printing process finishes everything correctly, the end result is that almost anyone can create customized 3D objects on an iPhone or iPad, then get those renderings printed out into real objects.
3D printing has been around for a few years already (even for DIY hobbyists), but it hasn't been utilized by most of the public. 3D printers and the various costs associated with them are still a little too pricey for common mass market use, and many items created with 3D printing are still too fragile to be much more than showpieces. But Sculpteo hopes its app can "demonstrate the printing process" to the public and show that things like this are possible, even easy and relatively cheap.
Sculpteo's app is a free download on the App Store. The company says its sales of 3D items have seen "an incredible response so far," and it's adding new patterns, items, and functionality to the app all the time.