3D printing has grown to disrupt conventional ways of doing things...

The team at Funky3DFaces in Lincoln has tapped into this trend by making minifigure heads that make great gifts for all ages. It was born from parent company ELAT3D Ltd, which makes 3D printed bones for the medical sector and architectural models for architects and surveyors. Although Managing Director of Funky3DFaces Chris Lightfoot has made a success of 3D-printed bones and buildings, he wanted to use the new technology to make something fun and affordable for everyone.

Funky3DFaces uses the only true full-colour printers (six million colours) available on the market and the cost of printing is expensive. Therefore, Chris’ mission was to produce something that was small enough to be inexpensive but completely unique and personal to each individual.

Just two years ago, the idea of Funky3DFaces was merely a twinkle in Chris’ eye. Back then, while working for a medical company, Chris set up an office within Sparkhouse, the University of Lincoln’s award-winning business support centre, with a very different business plan. 

Chris wanted to use his state-of-the-art 3D printer to manufacture lifelike bones for surgeons to practise with. However, lack of funding from the NHS to take it to market meant he very quickly had to change strategy and return to the drawing board.

“During the first 12 months of my tenancy at Sparkhouse, I was still working full time and would spend my evenings there,” said Chris.

“I’d work tirelessly to generate new products and I have to thank my partner Colette for her patience and unwavering support as I tried and tested countless business ideas!

The collaborative nature of Sparkhouse meant that Chris could test these ideas and ask for opinions from other businesses using the facility. However, the idea that was eventually put into practice came to him at home.

“Sometimes innovation can be staring you in the face – literally!” added Chris. “I’d toyed with the idea of incorporating 3D faces on greetings cards but soon realised that wasn’t going to be financially viable. 

“Then, one day while sitting at home I noticed one of my son’s Lego characters on top of the computer doing exactly that – staring me in the face. 

“We started to create something that anyone can relate to – young or old – and you can’t get much more personal than a 3D version of your own face!”

“Once we had our product, we headed to Comic Con in Birmingham and were overwhelmed by the response! The next step was to launch our website, which was also thanks to another business based in Sparkhouse. 

“I had help with everything from social media and marketing to website design on my doorstep, as and when I needed it.”

Thanks to the power of the Internet, Funky3DFaces went viral practically over night; Chris was receiving thousands of orders and quickly needed more space and more staff in order to cope with demand. 

The University of Lincoln helped with finding a second office on Great Northern Terrace, where Chris welcomed ten temporary staff to help clear the backlog of orders. Chris also had help with recruiting an intern, who has since taken up a permanent full-time position within the business.

Funky 3D Faces now occupies a larger space within Sparkhouse and continues to thrive with continued support from the university and its neighbouring businesses.