The 3D printing trend has lost a lot of its mainstream buzz, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead or dying. The industry continues to grow, evolve, and expose itself to new opportunities all the time. You can 3D print a lot of cool and clever stuff these days, and there’s no end in sight for this nifty new technology.
But with an average cost of $200-$300, buying a 3D printer is beyond most people’s budgets — and that doesn’t include the recurring cost of filament (3D ink)! For one-off prints, you should consider an online 3D printing service instead. Here are some of the best around.
Shapeways is the most well-known and recommended 3D printing service, mainly for its consistent quality of prints and competitive pricing. It’s extremely simple to use: upload your 3D model, get an instant price quote, choose the printing material, then wait a few days for it to process, print, and ship out to you.
There are over 60 materials to print with, ranging from different kinds of plastic (most affordable) to precious metals (most expensive). Full-color printing is supported but will multiply the price. Shipping can take 3-12 business days depending on the material.
Shapeways also has a marketplace loaded with their own 3D models to print. For example, a set of thorny polyhedral dice ($99) or a piece of mobius nautilus artwork ($35). You can also sell your designs on the marketplace.
2. 3D Hubs
As its name suggests, 3D Hubs isn’t so much its own printing service as it is a way to connect you with 3D printing services local to your area. The 3D Hubs network is global and currently consists of close to 5,100 manufacturing services across more than 140 countries.
As soon as you upload your 3D model, you’ll get material recommendations based on the geometry of what you want to print. Price quotes are updated in real-time as you explore the different materials. And since 3D Hubs prints locally on demand, you’ll usually receive the printed product within 2-3 days.
Sculpteo takes over 40 different 3D model formats, produces some of the highest-quality 3D prints available, and sends it out ASAP. This makes it one of the most expensive 3D printing services, mainly due to fast shipping, but also one of the most consistent and reliable.
What stands out is that, despite the high cost, Sculpteo isn’t gunning for your money. The site has multiple resources on how various factors affect the final price and what you can do to reduce costs as much as possible. Available materials include plastics, resin, stainless steel, titanium, brass, silver, and much more.
In much the same way, i.materialise takes an uploaded 3D model, analyzes it, lets you select a material, gives an instant price quote, then produces and sends it out. Prints can be made in 20 different materials and over 100 different color and finish combinations.
A 10 percent discount for educational purposes is also available from i.materialise. To qualify, you must be an enrolled student or faculty member at a college or university with an active .EDU email address. When approved, the discount is good until December 31 of the year.
Like Shapeways, i.materialise also has a marketplace where you can shop for nifty designs or sell your own for a bit of money on the side.
Trinckle is yet another service in line with the ones above, with a more streamlined ordering process but much slower delivery time. For those in Germany, expect up to 2-3 weeks. For those outside of Germany, expect even longer. Express delivery may be possible if you contact customer support and request it.
Why does it take so long? Because Trinckle checks every 3D model’s printability by hand to ensure utmost quality. They provide in-depth guidelines for optimal printing quality, but if they find something wrong with your model, they’ll recommend changes.
Like 3D Hubs, MakeXYZ is a service that connects you with 3D printing services local to your area. However, whereas 3D Hubs is broad and global, MakeXYZ is focused in the United States. Use the MakeXYZ search tool to find how many services are near you before you begin.
Once you upload your 3D model, MakeXYZ gives an instant price quote for each of the nearby available services. If desired, you can contact individual printers to ask more about their processes and equipment. There is no shipping fee when using MakeXYZ!
Ponoko differs a bit as a 3D printing service, namely because it only does laser printing. This is a subtractive form of 3D printing that starts with a sheet of material and carves away at it until you get the shape you want, kind of like a sculptor with a block of marble.
Because of this, Ponoko’s quality may vary depending on the model you want to print. The benefit is that laser printing is comparatively cheaper than other forms of 3D printing. Available materials include acrylic, leather, metal, and wood (many varieties within each category), and Ponoko offers a bunch of design templates to help you get started.
3D Printing Ideas for You
Now that you know where and how to 3D print online, you may be wondering what to print.
On the practical side, you can check out these awesome 3D printables for students and dorm rooms and these useful 3D printables for office workers, which can help you stay organized and productive. 3D printables can also solve some of life’s annoying problems.
On the fun side, you can explore 3D printable games that are hugely entertaining and viable as hobbies. If you’re into tinkering, you can also combine 3D printing with Raspberry Pi and combine 3D printing with Arduino for next-level fun.
What are you thinking of printing? Which service are you going to use? Are there any other good ones we missed? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credit: RomboStudio/Depositphotos