Where to Find Models for 3D Printing
One of the most intimidating questions for those new to the concept of 3D printing is, "Where do I find 3D model files to print?". This leads to a very common misconception that in order to effectively use a 3D printer, the user must be able to design and create 3D models themselves. Fortunately, that's not true! Even those with absolutely no knowledge of 3D design can get great use out of a 3D printer. All it takes is to know where to look online for 3D designs.
There are thousands of excellent 3D models available out on the internet and it's as simple as a quick Google search to find many of them. In this post, I'm going to cover the resources I mainly use, Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory, and some features and advantages of each one. I'll also include a few extra sites that I know of but haven't personally used much. The best part of all of this is that the majority of the content is completely free for hobbyists to download and use!
An extremely popular site for finding 3D printable files, Thingiverse contains thousands of models of all kinds. The site search is simple, with decent filters to help narrow-down results, and the community is pretty active, with dozens of new designs being added every day. I sometimes find myself coming back a few times a day just to see what's new!
Thingiverse is worth signing up for using their free accounts, all you need is an email address. This site contains some great features that are accessible only if you have an account. Some of these features are:
Groups are basically a message board system on Thingiverse. There are tons of topics ranging from general engineering, to electronics, to even board game creation enthusiasts. I'm personally a member of the Wanhao Duplicator i3 group which is a great resource for helping to troubleshoot or get tips for my specific printer. Most printer models have their own group, so it's worth joining the group for the printer you have to connect with other users.
This is the feature I use most on Thingiverse. Collections are exactly what they sound like. Essentially, they are virtual collections of 3D models that you find so you can save them for later in an organized way. All you do is create a category, for example "Video Game Accessories", and then as you find models you like that fit the theme, you can add them to your collection. You can have a large number of collection categories and call them whatever you'd like, so there's no fear of running out of space. Also, you are able to share your own collections or browse other users' collections to find some great curated models for whatever it is you're looking for.
Upload & Stats
If you do create your own models, it's extremely easy to upload them using the simple drag & drop file interface. You not only can add the model files, but also photos if you would like to show off the final product. Not to mention, once you do upload a 3D file, Thingiverse converts it in to a 3D format that users can view right in their browser window. Once you upload, other users can download your files, leave feedback, ask questions, and even post photos of how their print turned out using your model. Thingiverse also provides some good simple analytics for your models and provides stats like views, downloads, and more to give you an idea of how popular your designs are.
Thingiverse is owned by Makerbot, a maker of 3D printers. While they have their own line of products, these models are standard 3D files and work on any home 3D printer, so no need to worry about compatibility or anything.
Overall, Thingiverse is a fantastic resource to find nearly anything you may want to print. There's some decent community features, and tools for collecting and sharing the models you find are simple to use.
MyMiniFactory is a personal favorite of mine and another very popular site. While Thingiverse is fairly utilitarian and is a simple way to share & find files, MyMiniFactory feels very design-focused.
The thing to be aware of on MyMiniFactory is that you will find extremely high-quality models, but you will have to pay for the best designs.
It offers many of the same features as Thingiverse, but also seems to connect a great community of creative people delivering designs for things like cosplay and art. I really enjoy browsing MyMiniFactory and think you will too, especially if you're a fan of geeky pop culture or really design-forward items.
MyMiniFactory has many similar features to Thingiverse, but there are a few things that really stand out to me that differentiates it. I will start with the differences and get in to the more standard features as we go along:
One of my favorite features of the site is the Design Challenges. These are small themed competitions where anyone can enter their 3D printable design to be judged. Competitions open fairly often, and usually provide some kind of a creative twist to really get you thinking. Even if you're not in to designing models yourself, it's really cool to look at the themes and see all of the models that get submitted to see the creative approach everyone takes. This section of the site really encouraged me to learn 3D design for myself and I'm very grateful for that. Because of the work I did attempting these competitions (even though I only officially entered one), I'm now much more comfortable designing my own parts for use around the house. My most impressive model is a small wind turbine I created that uses Red Bull cans as sails, completely inspired by one of these challenges. You can see my entry below, and download it on MyMiniFactory. My entry can be found here if you're curious.
Another unique feature of MyMiniFactory is the Store. While it's nice to get free 3D models, it's also very nice to be able to support independent designers if you are able. The Store allows creative designers to release their models for a small fee. MyMiniFactory helps put the tools in the hands of the people who design models to be rewarded for their hard work. There is a huge variety of models available, and they're very reasonably priced for the amount of work that goes in to creating them. I'd suggest taking a look sometime, it's a great way to support those who are passionate about design.
Front-and-center on MyMiniFactory is the ability to browse files by category. These are pre-determined collections of product fitting an overall theme like "Props & Cosplay", "Toys & Games", and "Home & Garden". A nice way to browse for those nights when you're just looking for something to print but aren't sure what to do.
Just like Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory supports virtual collections of 3D model files. Again, it's an easy to use system that allows you to organize a long list of models so you can save and print them as you get the time.
This site also provides some great, simple tools for uploading and getting feedback on your original designs. There are also stats to see how popular your designs are, as well as how any of your shop items are performing.
Printables is one of the newest players in the game when it comes to 3D models for printing. Although new, it comes with a VERY strong name behind it, Prusa. Prusa 3D printers are an excellent brand in the world of 3D printing (and the machine I personally use) and they have come out with their own repository for uploading and downloading designs.
Although new, it's gained steam very quickly and has become a go-to when I'm searching for something. Like the other sites it offers many similar features, plus a rewards system! Sign up for an account and check it out!
One of the unique features of PRintables is the ability to earn "prusameters". This is a rewards system where you can earn points for certain tasks. These tasks include building a profile on the site, publishing 3D models, and occasional random things like answering surveys. It takes some work, but over time you can earn a free roll of filament for your effort!
A regular feature on the best 3D printing sites, the contest! There is usually something going on and winners can earn more points to redeem on their account (plus special account badges and other random prizes).
Bookmarks and collections
Save your favorite files to your account to view later.
Printables incentivizes people to not just download and print, but also leave reviews behind for the 3D models on their site. This means that many of the models out there will have reviews that go along with them so you can better decide what to download.
A unique feature Printables has is the "badge" system. It's a fun way to earn achievements on your profile and ensure you're remaining active in the community.
In addition to these two main resources, I've also found the following sites but do not personally use them quite as much as Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory, if at all. After looking them over, they seem like good resources, so I decided to include them in case you'd like to check them out for yourself:
*Note: All3DP is more of a news site showcasing various 3D prints. It's a fun resource to browse, and they put together fun collections of various models to view with links to download them from other sites.
Hopefully this helped reduce concerns over where to find 3D printable models. More designs are being added to all of these sites every single day and they are tons of fun to just browse through and get inspiration for your next home 3D printing project!