Best 3D printing Web sites

Jan. 10, 2013
3D printing is a hot topic. These Web sites handle everything from online 3D printing services to consumer and professional printers.

3D printing is a hot topic. These Web sites handle everything from online 3D printing services to consumer and professional printers.


You can upload designs in formats such as STL, X3D, and OBJ, and the company prints and ships you the objects. Users can even upload black and white JPEGs and turn them into 3D models for printing. The site has plenty of tutorials, including “Creating designs with moving parts,” “How to use MeshLab & Netfabb for fixing your model,” “Fixing nonmanifold models,” and “How to use Sketch Up with STL files for Shapeways.” Users can print items such as jewelry, figurines of themselves, and 3D objects out of photos. Materials include sterling silver, ceramics, alumide, and acrylic-based polymer.

The site contains many useful links related to 3D printing, hobby printers, 3D print services, crowdsourcing, and Web-based tools. It also includes a blog that covers personal manufacturing and 3D printing. The site showcases some of the latest and greatest in consumer and commercial 3D printers. For example, the consumer printer Cube from builds objects from colorful ABS-like filaments. The site also features a “Design of the Week,” such as Accommo, a recent top-ten finisher in the 2012 Extreme Redesign 3D Printing Challenge by Dimension/Stratasys.

This site sells out-of-the-box 3D printers that start at about $500. According to the site, the new, larger Solidoodle 3 features an 8 × 8 × 8-in. build area. The printer was designed by aerospace engineers to be strong and precise. The all-steel frame is said to be so strong that a 200-lb person can stand on top of the machine while it’s printing and not disrupt its operation. The moving parts were designed so they will move smoothly and not bind. The ABS materials come in rolls of natural, black, red, and blue filament.

Fab@Home means “Fabber at Home.” “Fabber” is short for a fabrication device. Fabber printers are thought of as miniature factories that create custom objects. The machines can print such things as miniature models of space shuttles as well as functional flashlights and batteries. The goal of the Fab@Home project is to democratize innovation by giving almost anyone the capability to physically create their ideas. The site includes a community blog, technical documentation, and a listing of live events.  

Watch a video on 3D printing icing and cookie dough

This MakerBot Web site lets users get and share what it calls downloadable “3D Things.” MakerBot ( sells consumer desktop 3D printers called Replicators. Most Things can be made using a Replicator. Available designs include math art in the form of a twisty vase, a fan duct, a parametric coat hanger, and a glass plate bracket. Handy tutorials inform readers how to create 3D text in Blender software, use CSG toolsets, and build basic shapes using Boolean operations and translations.

3D Systems
This company offers a broad range of 3D printers for consumers and businesses, so the site’s Select Options tool comes in handy. Users can select a product by application (prototyping, casting, dental) or price. Clicking “prototyping,” for example, brings up a choice among “personal 3D printer,” “professional 3D printer,” or “production 3D printer.” Clicking “professional” brings up the available build sizes. A Picture and Video section on the site showcases printed parts from each machine. A free seminar section hosts discussions on how to be smart with 3D printing. The site also provides 3D printing services.

The site is all about a project to create an open-source self-copying 3D printer. RepRap is a desktop 3D printer that can print plastic objects. The twist is because many parts of RepRap are made from plastic and RepRap prints those parts, RepRap essentially self-replicates by making a kit of itself that almost anyone can assemble. A useful page explains how to assemble the various kits and another helpful page defines basic 3D printing terms. A “blogs of blogs” section brings all the RepRap-related RSS feeds into one place.

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