There are many online sources for printable 3D content, but where are they?
One of our all-time most popular posts was made in 2014, entitled “Alternatives to Thingiverse, For Upset Designers”. There’s a bit of a story behind that post.
At that time Thingiverse was by far the biggest public repository of (mostly) 3D printable objects. It was commonly used as the first stop for those exploring the then-new world of desktop 3D printing to find items to print. The problem then, and now, is that the majority of the public simply doesn’t know how to design their own objects due the complexity, learning curve and cost of CAD tools. Thus a repository was a terrific workaround, and Thingiverse ruled.
However, at that same time there were many in the DIY community who were very upset with MakerBot. The company began as a fully open source company in 2009, attracting a large contingent of fans from the open source / DIY world. These folks sometimes participated by providing enhancements to the MakerBot machine designs. Happy times!
But then MakerBot’s new investors and management realized that their open source approach allowed Asian manufacturers to literally clone their designs – as is legally permitted under open source rules – and offer mostly identical equipment at far, far lower prices. These ventures undercut MakerBot’s margins and capitalized on their then-massive PR operation.
MakerBot made a key decision and switched their subsequent products to closed source mode to protect their investment. But in doing so they alienated most of their customer base, particularly those that had provided enhancements. As a result some designers felt that Thingiverse was no longer an appropriate location for their models and sought alternatives. We came up with a list of places one could use instead of Thingiverse.
Since then that post has been incredibly popular.
It was updated in 2018, as sites had changed, and today, another three years later, things have changed yet again. It’s time for an update.
Today we reproduce a new 2021 list of 3D model repositories. Enjoy!
There are several categories of repositories. While some offer 3D models for free download, others charge fees to do so. Some offer a combination of both. Most sites have a theme where they target particular groups, such as industrial parts, hobby applications or perhaps particular types of objects.
Most services offer a way for the public to upload models to contribute to the repository, and some allow sales of uploads, with the service taking a cut of the transaction. Many popular designers simply place their designs on as many services as possible to grow visibility of their works as large as possible.
A few services offer “certified” 3D models where the models have actually been tested on real 3D printers (or simulated through software) to ensure feasiblity, while most sites simply accept “any” upload creating a “downloader beware” scenario.
3D Printable Dedicated Sites
These sites are focused directly on 3D printing and the majority of their content is certainly 3D printable.
YouMagine (Associated with Ultimaker)
Pinshape (Associated with Formlabs)
Libre 3D (Independent)
PrusaPrinters (Associated with Prusa Research)
Mixed 3D Printable and Visual Sites
Use these sites with caution, as only a portion of their content is actually 3D printable. Most of their content is targeted for visual use, for example, a CGI helicopter in a motion picture. However, there are indeed printable items if you look closely in these vast repositories.
GrabCAD Library (Associated with Stratasys)
Repositories Offering 3D Print Services For Designs
This used to be a big thing, but now there seems to be only one major party offering the ability to have a showcase of designs that can be directly 3D printed.
3D Design Tools With Associated 3D Model Libraries
These are 3D design tools that happen to have libraries of parts integrated into the design system. This makes it easy to pull in 3D models to use directly or join into a larger design. If you have the tool, you may have access to these repositories.
These are smaller sites with far fewer 3D models than most of the others listed here. However, they each offer highly specialized printable 3D models. If that’s a niche you’re looking for, then these could be useful to you.
NASA 3D Models (Spacecraft and space objects)
NIH 3D Print Exchange (Biomedical)
Smithsonian 3D (Historical artifacts)
ThisAbles (Furniture, IKEA)
3D Model Search Utilities
These sites don’t host 3D models themselves, but instead offer search services to find models within multiple other repositories. They are an excellent way to search more than one site at a time, and can overcome search problems within a site.
And of course, Thingiverse still stands as one of the largest repositories of printable 3D models.