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3-D Printing Sites Overview

3-D Printing Sites Overview

You might have noticed the success of the Do-It-Yourself movement, which is being headlined by the runaway popularity of desktop 3-D printers. Even our library is getting its feet wet with the Mobile Maker Lab, (click here and select your nearest branch for times and dates). 3-D printing’s popularity is defined by the virtually unprecedented open community that has grown up around it. Unlike mobile tech, I can’t claim to be any kind of authority on the subject, so here are some of the top sites for sharing and discovering 3-D-printed projects!  


Thingiverse is the community-driven site belonging to Makerbot, the folks who are almost synonymous with desktop 3-D printing. It is probably the largest and most popular site for sharing and downloading 3-D designs. Users can browse by category and user-curated collections of related projects and take part in design challenges. They can even create and use custom apps built on top of Thingiverse APIs, such as Printcraft which allows you to download 3-D-printable models of Minecraft objects and players. 


Bld3r is all about the sharing, not the selling. It looks something like Pinterest for 3-D printing projects. Though they do have a section for uploading your own projects, most of what I’ve seen on their homepage are links to projects on other sites. There is also a section for user-submitted tutorials which are organized with a reddit-type up-voting system that is little used, but it does identify some of the more popular posts. Newbies like myself can also ask questions of the bld3r community. Other sections include 3-D printing news, as well as the barebones of knowledge wiki that has yet to be fully fleshed-out—certainly a good place for 3-D printing enthusiasts and experts to make their marks! 


Cubehero is a very minimalist site—no designs or items for sale, links to hardware or software, no competitions. Instead, it makes a very big deal about the open nature of the site, their use of the Creative Commons licensing system, and the site’s potential for collaboration. In fact, when you create a user profile, the terms of service, or rather, “The Oath” you must accept in order to join reads: 
“I promise to embody the spirit of creating and sharing
To respect this place and its services,
To be helpful and understanding toward all cubeheroes,
And always keep curiosity and wonder in my heart.”
That’s maybe a little ambiguous as far as legalese goes, but the CC license isn’t, and it’s nice to find a 3-D printing site that makes such transparent use of it. 


Fabster has sections for both free downloadable objects (physibles) that are hosted on their site and projects that link to external online galleries and shops (products). There are also sections linking to sites for the various desktop 3-D printers and software currently on the market. They also link to a maker directory and leaderboards, though neither is terribly robust—yet.      


Taking collaboration to a new level, ShapeDo’s selling feature is the ability to “fork” designs directly from a project's page. Doing this places the object in your library and allows you to make edits, write comments, and upload modified versions of the shape, all of which can be easily tracked by other community members. Other sites boast community interaction, but ShapeDo has taken a few extra steps to make it far easier.