3d print software

7 Website for STL Files & 3D Print Models for Beginner

3D printing is an exciting process: being able to create something from the comfort of your home that normally you’d have to buy elsewhere. Or maybe you want to create something that you couldn’t buy elsewhere: something unique and interesting not found in stores. 

The first steps of this process all have to do with hardware and materials: what printer to choose and what material to use. But it’s not all hardware; you’re going to spend some time on your computer as well, working with 3D printing software. How deep you go down the software rabbit hole will vary, depending on your needs and interests. But at least some computer work is an integral part of every print. 

So, to start with, let’s look at a basic overview of what you’ll need to do software-wise as part of 3D printing.

1. Get your hands on a 3D model to print.

2. Prepare the model for printing.

3. Send the model to the 3D printer. This is one of the exciting parts, right?

You’ve chosen the printer and the material, you’ve done all the technical work of setting it up, and now you get to decide what you’re going to print and how you’re going to print it.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the first item on that list: getting your hands on a 3D model to print.

Get a 3D model

I deliberately chose the word “get” here because that’s what we’re going to cover: getting your hands on a 3D model in order to print it. 3D modeling is outside the scope of this article, so we’re not going to cover it. There are other terrific sources out there to learn more about 3D modeling if that’s something you’d like to get into.

Instead, we’re going to talk about places online that you can get 3D models other people have made; some of these have to be paid for, but often you can get them for free! 3D printing enthusiasts tend to be a pretty generous bunch, I’ve found, and many people put their hard work up for others to use without charge.

A word about file formats 

Nearly every piece of 3D modeling software out there is going to have some special proprietary format they save in, which is no good for sharing files or for printing; there’s a good chance that your printer won’t read whatever obscure format the software uses. It’s important to have a common file format that just about every piece of software can export to, and every printer can accept. And that’s where STL comes in.

Definition: STL is a file format for representing 3D objects. The STL stands for stereolithography, which is one type of 3D printing (one that isn’t as common or popular as FDM, or fused deposition modeling, which is what many of the hobby 3D printers you’ll find on the market do). The format was originally invented by the company 3D Systems, but it’s become very widespread throughout the world of 3D printing.

Now, there are other formats out there that you may use from time to time. But STL is a great place for us to start the discussion because it’s a widely used, widely compatible file format. Think of it as the lingua franca of 3D printing.

So as we talk in this section about finding 3D models, you’ll want to make sure the models you find end in .stl. Of course, if you find other formats, you may be able to open them and export them as an STL, but that requires that you have the right software to open the file. It’s much easier to find a .stl file, to begin with.

Finding models

So, where do you get a 3D model if you’re not going to make it? You have a number of options here. To begin with, some printers will include basic models to use as a test print on your new printer; if all you want to do is print something to get a feel for the process or to test out your newly purchased printer, start there!

Next, go online to check out the millions of models that can be found on the Internet. Here are some great sources to check out.

Thingiverse is probably the best place to start, both for our discussion and your search for files. This is the largest collection of 3D models on the Internet—more than 2 million, last I heard—and it is all 100% free.

It’s run by Makerbot, which is a name you should recognize from our discussion on the history of 3D printing; they showed the first consumer 3D printer at a tradeshow back in 2010. I quite like Thingiverse for a number of reasons, but one of them is the commitment to an open platform. Check out the About page on the website, and you’ll see the following: “In the spirit of maintaining an open platform, all designs are encouraged to be licensed under a Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone can use or alter any design.” So, in addition to the models being free, many of them are freely available to alter at will.

Thingiverse encourages anyone who wants to contribute to do so, whether they’re a professional, an amateur, or a newbie, and there are good and bad things about this: on the one hand, this means that there are loads of models that people have contributed, so you’re more likely to find what you’re after.

On the other hand, you’re going to find a wide range in terms of the quality of models; some will definitely be better than others. Luckily, the platform facilitates and encourages interaction: open up a model, and you’ll be able to see the number of people who’ve liked it, comments from other users, remixes (models that people have made by modifying or borrowing from this model), and makes, which are pictures that people upload of prints that they’ve made using this model. So from looking at these likes, comments, and makes, you can usually get a pretty good sense of whether this is a good-quality model.

Basically, if I am looking for an STL file for 3D printing, this is the website that I check first.

Check it out at www.thingiverse.com.

CGTrader is the opposite end of the spectrum from Thingiverse. While Thingiverse is an open platform to freely trade models for 3D printing, CGTrader is a marketplace for buying and selling many types of 3D models, not only those that are suitable for 3D printing. It’s still a great place to look for models for a couple of reasons. First, the models they offer are of very high quality as professional designers make them. Second, though it is mainly for buying and selling models, it does have a sizable collection of free models.

CGTrader has been around since 2011; it was founded by a 3D designer and was conceived as a designer-friendly marketplace. Apparently, that was an idea that there was a big market because the site has grown by leaps and bounds since then; it now has 1 million models available and nearly 4 million registered users and includes quite a few Fortune 500 companies among its clients.

As I said, this means that these are high-quality models. Just make sure, when you’re browsing what’s on sale there, that you’ve selected “3D Print Models” when you go to search for 3D models. You can also tell from the model’s page whether it’s appropriate for 3D printing; it’ll generally say so in the description or the details.

To find free models, select “Free 3D Models” when searching for 3D models. However, you may find it worth it to purchase a model if you find one that you like. They tend not to be terribly expensive—generally from $5 to $50—and you can find some fantastic work there. And if there’s a design you love, but it’s in the wrong format, some designers make available the option for you to reach out and request a format conversion.

This is also a great platform to find designers for custom work. If you find a model you like and you like the designer’s work, you can use the Hire Me button to reach out to that person about hiring them for a custom job, or you can use the Freelance 3D Designers platform to post jobs and hire freelancers. If you just want to print a toothbrush cup for a bit of fun, you probably don’t need to take this step. But under certain circumstances—maybe you intend to sell your prints, so any upfront costs would be made up by your sales—this might be the perfect way to get a model that’s exactly what you want.

Check out all of this at www.cgtrader.com.

Cults is honestly not one of my favorites. It basically does what CGTrader does: it offers a mix of free and not-free models, mostly of high quality and not overly expensive. However, the collection is not as large as the one on CGTrader, and I find the website cluttered with ads and hard to use.

Okay, you’re asking, then why even bring it up? There are a couple of reasons here: first is the fact that the website supports English, French and Spanish, so if you’re more comfortable in French or Spanish than English, you’re in luck!

Second is that Cult is trying really hard to be a more social experience for 3D printers; you can follow designers you like, which is fun if you want to see what new models they come up with. They also post a lot of contests.

So if you see yourself being interested in either of those two things, you might want to give Cults a try!

Check it out at www.cults3d.com

MyMiniFactory is an interesting website. At its most basic, it’s a marketplace for buying and selling 3D models; they may not be as professional as those at CGTrader, but they are often cheaper, so it’s a trade-off. It also offers quite a few free models; unfortunately, I’ve never found a way to filter the models to show only the free ones. Fortunately, once you’re looking through the available models, the ones you have to pay for are pretty clearly marked.

Now, it’s not as slick as CGTrader, and the website is a little cluttered and not my absolute favorite to use; it also has a smaller collection. So why bring it up? Well, there are a few things that make MyMiniFactory stand out.

Now, it’s not as slick as CGTrader, and the website is a little cluttered and not my absolute favorite to use; it also has a smaller collection. So why bring it up? Well, there are a few things that make MyMiniFactory stand out.

The first is that the website definitely leans toward gaming; there’s a truly astonishing amount of models related to tabletop gaming on there. Don’t get me wrong—there’s loads of other stuff too, though even browsing a category like light fixtures brings up quite a few fantasy- and gamingthemed models. MyMiniFactory hosts information about crowdfunding campaigns related to gaming as well. So, if that’s something you’re looking for, you’ll definitely want to check this website out first.

Another thing that’s nice about MyMiniFactory is that they claim that all models are run through a software check and then are test printed before being published, so you can rely on those files to be pretty reliable and useful.

If you’re interested in the creation of 3D models, MyMiniFactory has a lot going on that you might like; in addition to letting you sign up to sell your models, the site hosts design competitions, often partnering with other companies in order to provide money prizes. And designers who want to get their name out there more—or who just love sharing what they know about 3D printing—can submit articles to the community blog.

To me, one of the most interesting features of MyMiniFactory is Scan the World, which describes itself as an “ambitious community-built initiative whose mission is to share 3D printable sculpture and cultural artifacts using democratized 3D scanning technologies.” The project has partnered with museums and organizations around the world to make models of some of the most famous pieces in their collections and some of the world’s most famous landmarks available for download and print. Fancy a replica of Michaelangelo’s David to decorate your house?

What about a miniature version of Florence’s famed Duomo or the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali to add a bit of pizzazz to a school report? How about playing chess with your very own set of the famed Lewis Chessmen? Scan the World states that its goal is “to bring tangible heritage to the masses,” and I personally love the project. Check it out if you want to see some of the amazing things available for you to 3D print.

See all of this at www.myminifactory.com

DriveThruRPG is, as you might guess from the name, a website dedicated entirely to role-playing games, with a truly impressive collection of games in their store. Part of that store is dedicated to printable 3D models for use in RPGs; you’ll need to filter the results to show only STLs.

All of the models in the store have a cost, as they’re associated with games that are for sale. If you play one of the games that they have on the website, this is a great place to get STL files to enhance your gaming experience!

This website won’t be of much use for you if you’re not into RPGs, but if you are, you should definitely check it out!

Etsy is one that might not have occurred to you, but you can find quite a few listings advertising STL files, along with designers offering their services for creating custom models. If you’re looking for something specific and can’t find it anywhere else, that’s one place that might be worth checking out!

There are loads of other places you can check out; as you can see, the possibilities are nearly endless, and you may not find yourself ever needing to create your own 3D model! Get online and take a look at all the incredible models available to you.

Yeggi bills itself as a search engine for 3D printable models. I’ve put it last because it’s not a collection of available 3D models, the way the other ones we’ve looked at are; rather, it’s a way to search the collections of several other websites at once. Looking for a model of the Death Star? Search it on Yeggi, and it’ll show you all the Death Star models on a number of different websites. The downside to this is occasionally you’ll find something that appears in a Yeggi search, but when you go to the original website, the model is no longer available.

Yeggi searches sites that offer both free and paid-for models, so the results you get will be a mix. This can be a fast and convenient way to search many websites at once, so check it out!

What now?

Once you’ve downloaded an STL file of something that you’d like to print, it’s time to prepare it to be printed! I go into this process in my book, 3D Printing Made Easy for Newbies and Hobbyists: A Quick-start Guide to Learn How to 3D Print.

Check it out on this Amazon  store to get all my tips and tricks for getting started with 3D printers!

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