Today, I received my order from Shapeways. Many mixed feelings, but I knew perfectly in what I was venturing and decided to experiment.
First of all, the material. Since is it a car that will see a lot of operation, I wanted it to be strong enough. The White Strong & Flexible (WSF) material was a good choice in that respect. However, and I knew it, it would be rough to the touch and need a lot of sanding.
Replication of detail is inconsistent. Many small details are well
rendered, but for no reason, big holes are where there should be
material to attach the trucks.
In fact, it needs a lot of sanding. The material is indeed strong and
hard to get smooth. I suspect only surface primer will do a decent job.
I'll take a try at take next time I can.
All in all, I'm happy to have tried this. But let's face the fact, just preping the surface is gonna take a lot of work, maybe more than just building in from scratch in styrene. Also, the cost is still high. Printing this large car in better material (yet more brittle) would cost over 150$, which makes no sense.
For these reasons, I think it is not advisable, with the current technology, cost and market to print large cars. Since the model is "easy" to build from styrene sheets, I think it is the way to go at this moment. Sanding require too much work and details aren't crisp enough.
However, if I build a large fleet of these gondola, I'll probably print the underframe with truck bolsters, brake apparatus and coupler boxes. It is one place were printing would save lots of works and where I don't car if the model is a little bit rough.
That said, the model looks great on the layout! Definitely a nice prototype to replicate.