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What Do You Get The Person Who Has Everything? An Action Figure Of Course.

Bob Sardella creates hilarious and life-like action figures of your friends and family members with help from 3D printing technology.

One of the area's longtime business owners has come up with a fun and unique new gift idea with some help from an increasingly emerging new technology.

Many in Wakefield know Bob Sardella as the owner of Sardella Sign and Graphics at 68 North Ave., which marks its 40th anniversary on Friday with an open house. However, those who pay a visit to Sardella's sign company, which he founded in 1971 soon after his graduation from Wakefield High School, will see that Tribute Action Figures has taken an increasingly prominent role in the business space.

A display at the entrance to the sign shop features boxed action figures featuring friends and family members, including daughters Meghan and Holly and son Mike. The action figure's body is a standard plastic toy body - and the head and face are where it really gets interesting. Using front and sideways-facing photos of the subject, workers can actually print out their three-dimensional features onto the body. The 3D printer does not use ink, explains Sardella. Rather, it creates, or "prints" actual objects, complete with colors, using a plastic-like pigmented resin or other materials. If a subject's hair is short enough, even that can be printed - and if it's longer, doll hair is the likely solution.

Sardella does not own a 3D printer at his sign shop. The cost of the emerging technology means that he needs to have part of that work done elsewhere. Looking ahead, 3D printing technology is likely to become far more commonly known in the foreseeable future as industries from healthcare to manufacturing begin to develop its potential. At present, it can take as long as six hours for a 3D printer to make one action figure's head, although many can also be created at the same time, explained Sardella. The turnaround time for a specific project is about two weeks, he estimated.

The local business owner explained in a recent conversation with Wakefield Patch that he got the idea for the action figures about five years ago - but that the technology for making them right was not in place until within the past year or two. At the outset, Sardella said that he didn't have a new business in mind. "Mainly I was just trying to come up with a unique gift for a particular person," said Sardella, adding that before discovering 3D printing, he had even consulted with puppetmakers and sculptors in trying to get his vision going, usually finding that the idea was too expensive. The first action figures only became available for sale to the general public this spring.

Of course, the likeness on the action figure is just part of the novelty here - the packaging itself is where friends and family members can really have some fun with their loved ones - although one can also make a very serious action figure if so desired. Along with the previously mentioned photos, Sardella asks people to provide details like a favorite phrase, their activities, an occupation, or other details, as well as some additional photos, to add some additional humor and to make the end result that much more unique. Of course, he also noted that an action figure doesn't actually have to be based on a real person. The boxes and graphics are done at Sardella's shop.

For now, Sardella has been working to get the word out about his new product by attending some trade shows and with some targeted advertising campaigns on Facebook.

To learn more about Tribute Action Figures or to order one, visit the company's website here.

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