We Are Learning 3D Printing Through Our Personal Experience…
There are multiple specialized websites that serve as communities for users making 3D models for printing on 3D printers to share their work, some are freely available, and others offer their work for a price and you can even order the model to be printer and sent to you as well. If you are interested in downloading some free STL models for trying out your new 3D printer then you might want to check the following popular websites as a good starting point…
Thingiverse – a large community operated by MakerBot, a manufacturer of 3D printers, where you can find a lot of 3D models shared by users and available for free download in STL format. There are a lot of new 3D models added every day and many of the published models come with instructions and photos of successful prints, though be careful that even if some models may be available for download in STL format they may not be optimized for 3D printing and may need some extra work fixing them, but these are usually not many.
Youmagine is an alternative to Thingiverse, also operated by a 3D Printer maker – Ultimaker. Not as big as the first one, but also a good place to check often as it has some interesting designs and also apparently some of the Thingiverse users have decided to move here. Not as many new models added and users interacting and sharing photos and comments when printing an object, but the place has the potential to grow.
Cubehero is another smaller platform made to help 3D printer users to interact and collaborate on projects they are making. This project is not operated by 3D printer maker and while there are still not that many projects available, you can still find some interesting 3D models, so do check it out.
GrabCAD is not your typical place to just download free STL 3D models for printing, it has many CAD models a lot of which are also available in STL format, but not all are. You can download 3D models in other formats and also try to convert them in STL for 3D printing, but you may experience trouble with more complex ones. Nevertheless many interesting things available so do check the website out.
SketchUp 3D Warehouse is the place for 3D models for the SketchUp software previously owned by Google, but then sold to Trimble. There are a lot of SketchUp models available, though you will need to export them in STL format from the software with the help of an STL Import/Export plugin and then to print them.
TurboSquid is one of the largest 3D model resources, both free and commercial ones. Even though the 3D models available there are not specially designed for 3D printers you should be able to convert many of them into STL format and then print them.
There are other smaller resources available providing some free STL models for 3D printers as well as other 3D models not designed especially to be 3D printed. The good news is that if it is a 3D mode of something you may be able to convert it to an STL file and print it on your 3D printer. This process however could not be as easy as just opening a 3DS, DXF, OBJ or another file format and exporting it as STL model and may require some more extra work, so if you are still new to 3D printing you might want to stick for now to places that have free 3D models available in STL format to make your life easier.
If you are new to 3D printing and 3D modeling in general it is normal to start your first steps in 3D printing by downloading and printing models that other people have shared on the Internet. But soon enough you would want to start doing more like doing small modifications to models that you have download and even designing your own simpler 3D models to print. A good starting point to people that have no previous experience is 3D modeling is the SketchUp software, previously owned by Google, but now a part of Trimble. The good news is that there is still a free version of the software called SketchUp Make that can be used for any educational purpose, available for both Mac and Windows. There are also many other options available but based on our experience SketchUp Make could be a great first step in the world of 3D modeling for most people before going to something more powerful and serious in terms of features.
Downloading and installing the free SketchUp Make software however is not all that you will need in order to be able to edit already available 3D models for printing or create and export new designs that you make. You will also need an additional plugin that will provide support for importing and exporting files in STL format – probably the most commonly used file format for sharing 3D models for 3D printers. STL (STereo Lithography) is a file format developed by 3D Systems, one of the pioneers in the 3D printing industry and it offers an easy and suitable solution for the needs of 3D printing. STL files contain only the surface geometry of a 3D object, there is no extra information about things such as color, material or texture available like in other 3D model files as you normally do not need such information for 3D printing. Of course you can also import more complex 3D models designed 3D visualizations and animations and convert them to a format that is suitable for 3D printing.
How to download and install the SketchUp STL Extension:
– Start the SketchUp software
– Open the Window menu and select Extension Warehouse
– Use the search to find the SketchUp STL extension
– Click on the red Install button (you will be required to login using Google account)
After the SketchUp STL Extension is installed you will be able to import and edit as well as export STL files that you can after that import into the 3D printer software you use to print the actual object. You should be able to see STereo Lithography Files (*.stl) option in the dropdown box for file type when you go to File / Import in SketchUp Make and also should have another option called Export STL… directly in the File menu (it is not inside the standard Export option of the software). With this you should be able to start making your first steps in modifying an imported STL 3D model or creating your first own 3D model to print later on with a 3D printer. Do note that the SketchUp software comes with a template designed to make it easy for you to consider the available printing space, the template by default is made to cover the available printing size of a MakerBot Replicator 2X 3D Printer, so do not rely very much on the scale you have if you are using a different 3D printer.