Pint-sized pyramids filled with glitter, vividly colored dragons, swords, space helmets, and even a magical mushroom lamp or two — everywhere you look at Tacoma’s Nerd Alley, you’ll find a new treasure, and the people who make them are just as intriguing.

Since July 2023, this charming space on 6th Avenue in Tacoma has offered up a smorgasbord of art and decorative pieces, often with a geeky twist. But what makes this place stand out isn’t just what’s on the shelves but the tools used to make them.

A row of 3D printers of various shapes and sizes sits at the back of the shop, all perpetually churning out new and exciting projects. These are the heart and soul of Nerd Alley, which serves as a workshop and an active classroom all in one.

Tacoma 3D Printing Nerd Alley
One of the many 3D printers used to manufacture products at Tacoma’s Nerd Alley. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

Nerd Alley Comes Full Circle Back to Tacoma

However, the story behind this remarkable spot actually started more than 20 years ago, when Chad and Sky Morgan, the shop’s owners, moved their family out to Florida so that Chad could study modeling and digital media. He had dreamed of working in the entertainment industry, but the major video game and movie studios had high barriers to entry. After completing his degree, the family moved back to their hometown of Tacoma and dove into a whole host of new businesses.

The love of technology remained the driving force throughout these ventures, first with their own computer shop, then with laser-etching and other art commissions. After a family tragedy, Sky recalls, “We took a detour and got out of the industry.” Eventually, the creative and technical worlds drew them back in, and this time, they had some exciting new tools to work with.

Over the years, 3D printers have become more affordable and accessible, offering Chad an opportunity to dive into a developing field. “I could take my education that I got way back when and put it to use,” he recalled. Meanwhile, Sky had started experimenting with resin molds, producing works like the aforementioned pyramids. One resin printer and several 3D machines later, the pair had the makings of a new creative space.

The Morgans struggled to connect with an audience at their original location in Seattle. When a friend in Tacoma had a storefront available to rent, they took the opportunity to change venues and return to their old stomping grounds. Sky recalled, “We had to come full circle and find our roots together.”

Tacoma 3D Printing Nerd Alley
A collection of masks from various fandoms, all printed in-house at Nerd Alley. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

A Spirit of Collaboration at Nerd Alley

As with so many of their endeavors, the shop is a collaboration and a labor of love. Each sale funds the next round of supplies or parts for printers, and the couple is fully invested in building up their business, which encompasses seemingly everything under the sun.

The list of clients they rattled off is dizzying — people searching for Comic-Con costumes, industrial manufacturers, trophies for gaming competitions, businesses seeking advertising opportunities, and individuals searching for something special from their favorite franchises. The machines have been used to make personalized miniature roleplaying figures as a vow renewal gift and a massive Rainier beer bottle cap as a promotional item. They have whipped-up motorcycle club emblems and unique pots for houseplants.

“Every day’s different,” Chad enthuses, and Sky agrees, “We have to let people know that they can come to us and bring their fabulous ideas, and we can create them together.”

That spirit of collaboration extends to the shop’s many classes, which are geared toward getting the community more involved in the creative process. They provide printing workshops for a variety of ages and ability levels, as well as 3D modeling courses. Chad also teaches people how to fix and maintain their own machines so that they can continue producing their own work at home. The Morgans hope to keep expanding the class offerings and continue to nurture a welcoming space where all types of visitors can explore different creative avenues.

Tacoma 3D Printing Nerd Alley
A custom mushroom lamp, flanked by some of the many dragons that Chad Morgan has printed over the years. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

The Future of Tacoma’s Nerd Alley

And that’s just the start for the couple. They also have plans underway for an offsite “3D Printer farm,” which would feature larger machines, allowing them to undertake an even more ambitious slate of projects.

For Chad, the excitement lies both in the production process and the ever-growing capabilities of the devices, which can even print out industrial structures and buildings. While many of the items currently being printed — particularly at Nerd Alley — are still made by and for hobbyists, he sees plenty of potential going forward. “I think it’s the future of manufacturing,” he said.

Tacoma 3D Printing Nerd Alley
The products offered at Nerd Alley range from unique knickknacks and building models to commercial items and works of art. Photo credit: Kiernyn Orne-Adams

It’s all part of what drives the hyper-creative environment of the business, which Sky says is rooted in “our hope, our faith, and our belief in each other.” And there’s something else powering them, too — the community that raised them and hosted so many early projects and has now welcomed them back on this new journey. “Every day, they inspire us to do something more,” she said.

Nerd Alley
MyLife 3D Printing Cafe
2610 6th Avenue, Tacoma