Popls Inc. is a planning and printing company founded in the Itabashi ward, Tokyo.
Popls has participated in "Comic Market (abbreviated as "Comiket")," an event focused on the spot sale of self-published coterie magazines, since the first round, earning high trust and support from the manufacturers of coterie magazines and comic-related goods.
The company has started to introduce the latest equipment from the very beginning, such as DTP using Macintosh in 1991 and on-demand printing in 1993, also having a reputation for supporting users by employing these technologies.
Such company introduced Mimaki Engineering's "3DUJ-553" 3D printer. "The '3DUJ-553' is the 3D printer that leads to the future of our company which makes customers think 'Popls has further evolved,'" says Miki Nakazawa, Executive Vice-president, of the purpose of introduction, and the company actually evolves and can see a new world as she says.
Head office of Popls
The service users of Popls are the people who are hard-core participants in the "Comiket" as exhibitors. They love manga and animation and actually produce the secondary creation related to them as well as goods and figures, meaning that they are the most sensitive group to quality.
The company admits that this 3D printer has the performance that satisfies these hard-core users.
Before introducing the "3DUJ-553" printer, the company has already operated a 3D printer.
It was a plaster-based 4-color printer that enables color printing, and the company used it mainly to create figures, so it was natural for the company to output colored 3D objects.
From left, Hiroyuki Fujie, Deputy Manager; Miki Nakazawa, Executive Vice-president; and Yuichiro Kodama, Manager
Hiroyuki Fujie, Deputy Manager of the Planning and Public Relations Division of the Planning Department, is a 3D printer operator. He is the man who played a key role in introducing this 3D printer, speaking out that he "wants to challenge a full-color 3D print with a higher definition."
Fujie, who is an illustrator himself, is a 3D modeling artist. Each time the company attends the Comiket, he himself works on production of goods for sale, as a man who knows how creators feel.
Hiroyuki Fujie, Deputy Manager
"I liked a sample cube at the first sight," says Fujie. "The development of colors, from dark to bright, was better than that of other object made of resin, not to mention plaster, and I felt it was totally different," he says of his first impression.
Colorful cube created with [3DUJ-553]
Another key person involved in the introduction is Yuichiro Kodama, Manager of the Planning and Public Relations Division of the Planning Department. He is familiar with the latest technology and printing business enough to serve as a seminar lecturer in "IGAS2018" known as one of the world’s four largest shows of printing machinery and materials.
"Because we used a plaster-based four-color machine, I thought the next one we would buy was ‘3DUJ-553’," says Kodama, who guarantees the product.
Yuichiro Kodama, Manager
The weakness of a plaster-based printer was strength.
"A plaster-based printer takes a lot of time and effort during working process," says Fujie. "The most obvious example is that an object must be handled carefully once modeled and taken out, because modeled objects are easily damaged. They are so fragile that we have to apply coating to harden them entirely, otherwise they cannot be products. Before doing this, there is also an operation that blows off the support material and the powder on the surface," he explains.
"There was also a case where a part of a component was missing when we removed the support material, and we had to create it from scratch," Kodama adds.
Flying powdered plaster makes the working environment less favorable, and plaster objects have the problem of poor weather resistance, so there was a concern where they would be faded or chipped over time after they are delivered to buyers.
Also, the quality created a sense of dissatisfaction, due to graininess in details and the color that could not be represented as intended.
Work created with the "3DUJ-553" printer, left, and the one with a plaster-based printer, right. The difference in smoothness is obvious.
When the company had such problem, Nakazawa brought back from an exhibition a sample cube created by using Mimaki's 3D printer.
It was simply a surprise enough to make Kodama say its "color development and strength are both amazing."
To tell the truth, Nakazawa visited the exhibition without paying particular attention to 3D printers, and she happened to stop by the Mimaki booth and spot the "3DUJ-553" that interested her unexpectedly.
The simultaneous occurrence of printing (coloring) and modeling of 3D print was a show that never got people tired of looking at, and her eyes were glued on the see-through wings of a sample dragonfly.
Kodama, considering the introduction of a 3D printer, also saw demonstrations and samples of other 3D printers, but they had problems such as "poor color development" and "too many support materials to use" and were not introduced in the end.
The first reaction made by the company after the "3DUJ-553" is actually introduced is as follows:
As for the speed, "the plaster-based one is faster in reality," says Kodama. However, "When the time needed for the post process is included, the introduced printer is almost the same speed as or a bit faster than the plaster printer. It has totally eliminated the post process that is bothersome due to a concern for possible damage," he says, underlining comprehensive merits.
The post process in the "3DUJ-553" requires no coating agent or polishing work, because the support material is already stripped off when an object is completed. The finish becomes uniform and there is almost no failure if data is created solidly, which is another key feature.
As for maintenance, plaster-based printers need to be oiled on a daily basis, and apart from this, flying plaster powder would make daily cleaning a heavy burden.
Compared with this, the "3DUJ-553" printer only requires daily head cleaning, and Fujie says he "was in charge of UV-curable inkjet printers, so I know the maintenance is basically the same." He likes the design and operation familiar to him.
Introduced [3DUJ-553] whose ease of use is also highly evaluated
The time needed for modeling a 10cm-size object when it is output in a lay-down position is about 12 to 18 hours in the high-definition mode. The company starts output in the evening and takes out around tomorrow noon. As for removal of a support material, there is no need to scratch it off, and all you have to do is to soak the completed object in water for a day or two.
In the initial introduction period, output was stopped due to a mechanical error, but a service rep came to the site promptly and the problem was solved.
The company has already discarded the plater-based printer. "I feel we cannot back to the plaster printer once started to use this printer. Mimaki has been our business partner, so there was no concern about support," says Kodama.
The company uses the 3D printer at 100% for 3D modeling artworks such as figures.
"The only data we will receive from customers is illustrations drawn from the front and back, if the object is a character," says Fujie. Since he himself can draw illustrations, he not only creates data-based 3D objects but also can produce them as a creator. He says he has learned data creation from scratch. His production capability is really high, because it has been acquired through his actual work.
The company, who has shown exhibits in the "Comiket" event since the first round, is also a regular attender of "Wonder Festival (abbreviated as "WonFes")."
While the "Comiket" mainly offers two-dimensional products at the coterie magazine spot sale, the "WonFes" is an event that exhibits and sells original models and created objects called garage kits.
Naturally, 3D prints are harshly evaluated.
A figure inspired by Halloween
Fujie, a 3D modeling artist himself, proudly says "We are received very favorably by WonFes customers as well."
When the company showcased its created items in the "WonFes" held in February 2018 for the first time, they were much talked about. The company also presented new 3D artworks modeled by Fujie in "Comiket 94" held in August, and these were also very well received.
There is also a solid fan base who would buy new products released by Popls, and in most cases, they are sold out during the period.
A 3D figure designed by a famous illustrator for sale in "Comiket 94"
3D modeling data
A 3D printed product costs from 25,000 to 30,000 yen, and even smaller one costs around 8,000 yen, which seems to be expensive for outsiders. However, in a world where a one-off garage kit commonly costs from tens of thousands of yen to one hundred and several tens of thousands of yen, some people says the item "with this quality and size seems rather inexpensive."
The company also tells us that a discerning customer base such as modelers showing their exhibits got shocked by the fact that objects "can be created so cheaply and nicely."
"Those who have engaged in 3D-centered work often say to us that they are too inexpensive. 3D object creation, including modeling and molding charges, costs at least hundreds of thousands of yen, even more than a million of yen in some cases, so I think there is a big difference in affordability from 2D creation like print," explains Kodama.
In regard to exhibits, Nakazawa talks about the result achieved with the introduction of the printer. "Using Mimaki's "3DUJ-553" printer, we were able to show our customers that 3D print has evolved," she says. "Compared with this, our past work seems to be faded. I think the situation like this is very favorable."
When you ask Popls, it seems to be possible to "create more than one product that can only ever be created once, inexpensively, without a mold."
In the future, Popls hopes to receive orders of about 30 figures and produce them on a yearly basis, but the company also has things it wants to do using the 3D printer.
The price the company sets for a figure it produced, ranging from 25,000 to 30,000 yen, is very cheap, almost below cost when considering 3D print materials, etc.
As a company that is ahead of its time, it is easily suspected that the company would not want competitors to enter the market, but Nakazawa encourages many companies to join it: "If the number of companies who use 3D printers like us increases to 30 or so, materials will get cheaper and the market will change."
Her underlying hope is that "Buyers belong to a younger generation, so I would like many people to buy at a low price," and that "I wish as many people as possible to realize the fun of 3D."
In a meeting room, the three chat about the future of 3D print cheerfully.
Fujie says "3D modeling software now costs more than 2 million yen, but it will cost less in the future. Twenty years ago, illustration software was too expensive for me to buy, but now many young people choose their favorite cheap software to enjoy drawing digital illustrations. I think this will happen again in the 3D print world."
Kodama strongly says: "As Virtual YouTubers have spread instantly, user base for 3D modeling will be broadened. We expect that it will spread before you know it, faster than illustration software did."
"There is a dream in 3D print," says Nakazawa. "When the 3D printer was introduced, all staff members were more able to see the future, have a dream, and get motivated by just looking at the created figure, instead of attending any kind of meeting. And it is also important for us that we have received attention from the 3D art community and were much talked about. I think that the money we spent buying the printer is well rewarded by the fact that we can show Popls that has further evolved," she says, assuring that introduction has had a positive impact across the company.
Nakazawa says [There is a dream in 3D print.]
Self-published coterie magazines or garage kits are the products that creators are emotionally involved with. The way the company responds to customers' expectations through development using digital print is becoming increasingly apparent.
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*1: Survey as of August, 2017 by Mimaki Engineering