JAPAN - Expectant parents in Japan, who can't wait to show the world what their baby will look like, can now buy a three-dimensional model of the foetus.
The 9cm-long resin model of the foetus, encased in a transparent block in the shape of the mother's body, is created by a 3D printer after an MRI scan.
"As it is only once in a lifetime that you are pregnant with that child, we have received requests for such models from pregnant women who... do not want to forget the feelings and experience of that pregnancy," said Mr Tomohiro Kinoshita of Fasotec, the Japanese company offering the service.
The Shape of an Angel, which costs 100,000 yen (S$1,500), also has a miniature version that could be a nice adornment to a mobile phone, he added.
Many young women in Japan have decorations attached to their mobile phone straps.
The company said the ideal time for a scan is around eight or nine months into the pregnancy.
For those who would like a cheaper version of the model, Fasotec will start offering a 3D version of the face of the foetus at 50,000 yen next month.
It will use ultrasound images taken at a medical clinic in Tokyo that has forged a tie-up with Fasotec.
Fasotec, originally a supplier of devices, including 3D printers, uses a layering technique to create 3-D structures.
The company also produces 3D models of internal organs that can be used by doctors to plan surgery or by medical students for training, a company spokesman said.
It is also possible that models can be used in hospitals to better inform patients of their problems, instead of relying on difficult-to-understand diagrams.
The technology "realises not only the form but also the texture of the model - for example making it hard or soft", Fasotec said in a statement.
"By making a model that is similar to a real organ or bone, one can simulate operations and practise different surgical techniques."
Mr Kinoshita said his company hit upon the idea of making 3D models of unborn babies hoping that people would become more aware of 3D technology.
Fasotec said some experts could also foresee diagnostic possibilities with the models that may help predict difficulties in the birthing process.
Three-dimensional printers have been around for several decades, but advances in the technology mean it is gaining in popularity in several fields only now.
These machines work in a similar way to an inkjet printer, but instead of ink, they deposit layers of material on top of each other, gradually building up the product they are making.
While traditional manufacturing only becomes efficient with economies of scale because of the need to produce moulds, 3D printing is capable of producing single copies of relatively complicated objects.
The technology is already used to make electronic components.