My Little Pony, popular among young girls and adult “Bronies,” is embracing the 3D printing craze.
Hasbro (HAS), which owns My Little Pony, Transformers and many other popular toy brands, on Monday debuted a new website called SuperFanArt.com that enables fans of the My Little Pony brand to showcase their art and sell 3D printed designs by 3D printing company Shapeways.
“We are opening up our [intellectual property] and giving authors and designers an opportunity to create with us,” Hasbro Chief Marketing Officer John Frascotti told Fortune.
Frascotti said the launch would start with the My Little Pony brand and five individual artists that have almost total control over how they design products with Hasbro’s pony toy line. Over time, more brands and artists will be added to the website, which is online today and launched to coincide with Comic-Con.
In 3D printing, computerized machines successively layer material to create three-dimensional objects. The technology creates some unique advantages and challenges for the toy industry. The manufacturing process can become more nimble for large companies such as Hasbro, especially to create fast prototypes and potentially bring new toy designs to market at a faster pace or in smaller batches.
“With 3D printing, you can make one of something, you don’t need to have 10,000 or 50,000 units to make it or not, you can make one of something and that’s fine,” Frascotti said.
This isn’t the first time the industry has had to play nice with technology. In the 1980s, the sector faced intense pressure from the video game industry, as consoles became a popular new way for kids to play. More recently, mobile apps have created another challenge.
“These companies have to be very fast on their feet and figure out ways to adapt to new technologies like [3D printing],” said Carter Keithley, president of the Toy Industry Association.
Keithley said the main benefit 3D printing provides is it can make toy manufacturing a lot faster. Toy companies such as Hasbro and Mattel (MAT) could make smaller batches of toys, potentially to test new products in the market, and could sell kits to make it easier for customers to print small molded toys in their homes.
“The challenge will be to prevent piracy,” Keithley said, saying 3D printing could lead to increased counterfeit woes if consumers are able to make figurines and other toys in their homes.
Hasbro’s move to partner with a 3D printer touches upon the company’s view that young kids and adults like customization. Hasbro has sought to tap that interest this year by giving kids the ability to customize Marvel superhero characters, My Little Pony figures, and Monopoly boards. Mattel has also dipped its toes into that well, selling sheets of printable fabric to girls that want to develop their own clothing designs for Barbie dolls.
The marketplace Hasbro is hoping to create is similar to Etsy, a website where more than 19,000 My Little Pony and 4,700 Transformers items are currently listed. Many of those items are made by sellers that likely aren’t paying Hasbro a licensing fee, and so by creating its own marketplace, the toy company can compete with those sellers.
On Friday, Hasbro reported an 8% jump in second-quarter sales due to higher demand for Transformers and Marvel toys, although the growth came from overseas markets. Top rival Mattel posted a 9% drop in sales last week, hurt by declines for the Barbie and Fisher-Price brands. Both companies struggled in their home market, where sales dipped although the overall industry’s sales have risen 4% in the U.S. through May, according to NPD Group data.