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The future is now at Annalee Dolls.
You may not have noticed it, but an exciting change has been slowly taking place at Annalee HQ. Over the past year, more and more of the accessories used in the production of Annalee dolls have been designed and manufactured using 3D printing technology — right in our Meredith, New Hampshire location. You’ve heard of 3D movies, well, now you’ve heard of 3D Annalee dolls.
Actually, none of the dolls are made using 3D printing. The elves still use felt and our special furrier stitch in the production of each design. But some of the special adornments and touches that accompany a design are now being manufactured with the 3D process. It’s a fascinating and creative new process that we’re very excited about.
3D printing (or three-dimensional printing) is the manufacturing of solid objects, where material, such as plastic, is deposited (or joined) layer by layer to produce an item designed through a computer program. A designer creates a three-dimensional drawing or model of an item using special computer software, such as the binoculars on our Retro Beach Hunk. The computer model is then sent to the 3D printer where the item is duplicated multiple times and “printed” into reality. It’s magical, but oh so real.
“3D printing is allowing us to manufacture our own doll pieces in a more timely and cost-effective manner,” says Derek Beaudoin, chief operating officer at Annalee Dolls. “The technology is also allowing us to bring a large part of manufacturing back to our Meredith, New Hampshire location. It’s also giving us the opportunity to build custom accessories for our exclusive designs, making them more unique and specialized.”
In 2023, there will be 16 exclusives featuring 3D printing designs. Some of the 3D printed accessories include the red solo cup of the Pool Party Mouse, the barrel and hat of the Rodeo Clown, the bottle in the Poison Dart Frog, the pumpkin with the Longhorn Harvest, and the crows with the Scarecrow Gnome. And this is just the beginning. The elves are using all their creative mojo to design exciting new components for future releases.
Planning new doll designs with 3D technology has brought a burst of creativity to the Annalee design studio. The elves are thinking big and bold in the planning of new designs.
“We can now plan more detailed designs and incorporate accessories that were once impossible to include or were just too costly previously,” Beaudoin says. “By making things ourselves, right here in our design studio, we can now have control over every aspect of the design. We also don’t have to spend time looking for bulk accessories to enhance a design. Or worry that we won’t be able to purchase significant quantities of an accessory to build a design. We can make them ourselves, and make them more creative and unique. These 3D printed accessories will be only available from Annalee, thus making our exclusives even more exclusive. We can turn ideas that were once impossible into reality.”
The process of creating 3D designs starts at a team meeting with the elves. Each component of a design is discussed. Once we have a design we look at every aspect of the doll to decide what accessories we can manufacture in house. We then model those accessories in a computer design program. We then do test prints to make sure the design comes out exactly how we want it to look. We make adjustments as needed. Once we get an accessory looking just right, we then design a grid, where the accessory is duplicated multiple times so they can be printed at the same time.
“One of the exciting aspects about 3D printing is its design flexibility,” Beaudoin says. “We can create more intricate and complex designs that would be challenging or impossible to achieve with traditional manufacturing methods. This opens up new design possibilities. It also allows for rapid prototyping. It allows us to more quickly test and see if a design is viable. 3D printing also saves us time in production and getting designs faster to collectors. It’s also better for the environment. With more local production, this dramatically reduces transportation and fuel usage and costs. 3D printing also produces less waste than conventional manufacturing.”
Annalee Thorndike was an innovator, a woman ahead of her time, when she began producing her dolls from her kitchen table. Through the years, she regularly sought out new methods and materials to create her designs. And that innovation continues today with the introduction of 3D printing. We know Annalee would be buzzing with excitement about this technology and the possibilities it holds for more fun, innovative, and collectible designs.