The Easy Way To Try Out 3D Printing
If you want to have a go at 3D Printing before buying your own 3D Printer you can use an online service. They’re a quick and easy way to get an idea of what 3D Printing is all about without having to invest in any equipment.
3D Printing services are also a cheap and convenient way to try out new materials and finishes without you having to invest in new equipment.
What Are The Benefits Of 3D Printing Services?
Ease and Speed
3D Printing Services make it easy to order a 3D Printed part and get it in your hands in just a few days. You can either pick from existing designs or upload your own projects. Some services will even do all the design work for you if you just send them a schematic or photo of what you’re after.
Testing New Materials
If you have a specific project in mind then it’s a good way for you can experiment with different materials to see which might suit your needs best before buying new equipment or material.
Some companies will provide a complete design service. This can be anything from replicating a physical part that you send them to optimizing a design for 3D Printing.
Reliability & Consistency
3D Printing Services generally use very high quality industrial 3D Printers because they can print a high volume of parts to a consistent standard. If you need a large batch of identical parts or a specific part that has to be dimensionally accurate, you could benefit from using a 3D Printing service to ensure you get the accuracy and quality you need.
Best Online 3D Printing Services
Shapeways has risen to be the most popular of the Online 3D Printing Services. They offer 3D Printing of your own models, a Marketplace where users make their own 3D models available for you to have printed by Shapeways, and a full design service that allows you to hire a talented designer to bring your project to life.
If you upload your own objects you then have the opportunity to join the Marketplace and sell your own files to Shapeways visitors.
How Easy Is It?
If you’re new to 3D Printing, Shapeways is a great choice to get your first taste. You can simply upload your 3D Model files to their online software, which is very well-designed and intuitive to use. Or you can use some of their built in apps that are specifically designed to help you design and make objects in various categories such as jewelry, tabletop miniatures, terrain models and 3D scans.
You can simply upload your 3D Model files to their online software, which is very well-designed and intuitive to use. Or you can use some of their built in apps that are specifically designed to help you design and make objects in various categories such as jewelry, tabletop miniatures, terrain models and 3D scans.
Or, you can use some of their built in apps that are specifically designed to help you design and make objects in various categories such as jewelry, tabletop miniatures, terrain models and 3D scans.
These apps really turn designing for 3D Printing into a point and click exercise so you will find them to be particularly useful if you have little experience of 3D Printing.
I’m a Pro! Is it Good For Me?
On the other end of the scale, if you’re more than happy to use your own design software you can simply upload your completed STL or OBJ file (X3D, DAE and VRML are accepted too), select a material spec and hit order!
If you’re running a business, Shapeways also offer batch production with no minimum runs, guaranteed precision tolerance, and mechanical properties guarantees. You can also use their rapid prototyping services which boast a 2-day turnaround with low costs and instant feedback on pricing and printability.
I think a good way to use Shapeways with your business would be to use your own FFF 3D Printer for doing prototypes and then order the final product from Shapeways. This would be ideal for something like jewelry where you can offer custom designs and fitments using a plastic sample that you print yourself, you can show this and get it approved by your customer before committing to the final 3D Print in a more expensive material like steel.
This would be ideal for something like jewelry where you can offer custom designs and fitments using a plastic sample that you print yourself, you can show this and get it approved by your customer before committing to the final 3D Print in a more expensive material like steel.
Shapeways – Verdict
Shapeways are hard to beat. They have the advantage of an array of services, very good reputation for quality and consistency and an interface that has been very well designed to make the whole process very easy to follow without frustration.
Unlike Shapeways, MakeXYZ don’t have any of their own 3D Printers. Instead, they’re a kind of Airbnb type service that connects people who need something 3D Printed with owners of 3D Printers in their local area.
This can mean your objects are printed by anyone from a small business, local hackerspace or just a guy in his garage. And because it’s local, shipping costs and times are both kept low.
MakeXYZ take care of all the file transfers, communications, and payments so all you have to do is upload your file and pay the fee on the MakeXYZ website. The owner of the 3D Printer will then print your part and either mail it back to you or make it available for collection, whichever is your preference.
You can also use MakeXYZ purely as an introductory service to find local 3D Printer businesses in your area. You can then contact them directly.
How Easy Is It?
Very! After uploading your STL file you will be given an instant quote. Then you pick a 3D Printer owner to use, based on user reviews and the type of printers and materials they have available. Once you select an owner, you can see a report card showing examples of previous work they’ve done, response times and pricing.
I was surprised by how good the coverage was in the directory of local 3D Printing Services. Sure, you’ll have more options if you’re in a big city, but I was surprised by just how many places are offering 3D Printing Services nowadays, even out in the boonies! It seems every small town has at least a couple of 3D Printing enthusiasts, which is great!
MakeXYZ – Verdict
MakeXYZ offer a good service that’s a little different to the standard ‘factory’ style of 3D Printer Service. They are generally a little cheaper than Shapeways because there’s an element of competition between printer owners.
But more importantly that they do is create a community based on feedback and trust, which I think is a great thing. Finding out there are fellow 3D Printer enthusiasts local to you who would love to work with you is a
Finding out there are fellow 3D Printer enthusiasts local to you who would love to work with you is a nice thing to know and keeps the feel of the maker community whilst also giving consumers a great choice.
Sculpteo originated in France but now have offices in San Francisco and offer their 3D Printing services across the US.
They offer many different material types from the standard PLA, ABS and SLA Resin in multiple colors, through to more exotic ones like sterling silver, Alumide, and ceramics. They also offer multijet printing options that enable you to include more than one color or material type in a single part.
In recent months, Sculpteo have added laser cutting to their repertoire. Enabling you to get very intricate designs and shapes made in all sorts of materials like acrylic and MDF.
How Easy Is It?
Like Shapeways, Sculpteo allow you to upload your own 3D files to their online software, from here you can optimize your design for 3D printing. The software will recommend changes and it includes some useful tools such a shelling function. Shelling, or hollowing, removes unnecessary material from your object which will cut down on the cost, time to build and weight of your 3D printed object.
The software is quite capable of repairing and optimizing your object automatically making Sculpteo a good option if you’re new to 3D Printing.
If you want to start from an existing design then Sculpteo offer a 3D design store where you can browse and buy designs from other Sculpteo users. From here you can go straight to ordering a print in your chosen material or use the built-in software to make any modifications you’d like first.
One of Sculpteo’s big benefits is their excellent library of ebooks and training manuals. If you follow their guides you can go from beginner to pro in no time.
Sculpteo offer something a little different to other 3D Printer Services with their virtual storefront. This is a standalone platform that allows you to sell your designs to the public through a Shopify style storefront embedded on your own website, blog, or app.
You can set your own prices and keep the profits from any sales, minus the costs of manufacture and shipping. Sculpteo take care of the payments, manufacture of the 3D Printed parts and shipping to the customer.
If you have an idea for a product that could make you some money, this is a very easy way to make that product available to customers without having to manufacture batches before accepting orders.
Sculpteo – Verdict
Sculpteo offer a similar service to Shapeways with just fewer choices of material and a smaller marketplace to buy ready-made designs from. They do however offer some different designs, materials and manufacturing processes so it’s well worth checking them out to see if they offer just what you’re after.
If you’re after a 3D Print urgently then they are the best choice with their recently introduced ‘Fast Mode’ shipping. This guarantees you get your 3D Print within 48 hours or your money back!
If you’re a 3D Printing novice, then Sculpteo are a good choice for you as their design app is very easy to use even for complete newbies. And their user guides are second to none.
Sculpteo’s customer service has a good reputation amongst customers and has many repeat users.
Offline 3D Printing Service
UPS have added 3D Printing services to their repertoire in over sixty of their US stores, with planned rollout to a total of one hundred stores.
Although currently, the service is only available in stores located in large cities, there is quite a good spread across the country. You can check your ZIP code on their website to see if your local store offers 3D Printing.
What 3D Printing Service Do UPS Offer?
UPS offer 3D Printing using ABS using very high-quality Stratasys machines. So you can take advantage of the strength and stability that ABS offers over PLA, as well the opportunity to use soluble supports to create more complex designs.
ABS is an ideal material for manufacturing jigs, architectural models, and just about any household or DIY item you can think of so I think UPS have made a good choice to focus on this one material.
You can also get your objects scanned, designed and then 3D printed with UPS’s tie-in with Honeypoint3d. So, if you don’t have the time or skills to design in CAD you can get a 3D printed part in your hands from giving Honeypoint3d just an idea and a sketch and then popping into your local UPS Store to pick up your completed print!
UPS Stores – Verdict
It’s great to see a well-respected brand getting involved in 3D Printing. UPS know how to deliver a quality product to tight deadlines and with good customer service. So I have high hopes that their plans will prove popular and continue to expand.
A good way to use UPS would be to print your prototypes at home in PLA and when you have a final design that needs some more structural rigidity, take it over to UPS to get it made on their high-quality ABS machines.
If you have a participating store nearby, definitely check it out next time you need something printed in ABS.
Your Local Library
Fayetteville Public Library in NY was the first public library to offer a 3D Printing service way back in 2011. Since then, hundreds of libraries throughout the nation have invested in their own 3D Printers.
Can You Really 3D Print in a Library?
In fact, there’s a good chance your local library will offer at least a basic PLA 3D printing service.
You can also find some advanced 3D Printing services ranging from consumer grade machines to pro level SLA resin and 3D scanning services at many libraries.
Some libraries such as Cincinnati Public Library and Long Beach Public Library offer whole Maker Spaces. These are workshops fitted with not only 3D Printers but various manufacturing tools, such as lathes, drills, and cutters and a team of volunteers ready to help you learn how to use them.
Oftentimes training workshops are put on so you can meet other Maker enthusiasts and learn some handy new skills in a friendly environment.
Why Do Libraries Offer 3D Printing?
Public Libraries aren’t just about books. Their mandate is to provide access to information and knowledge. Everyone knows libraries are already a great resource for music, software, video, historical documents and research assistance, photocopying and so much more. But libraries also offer training workshops, social events, and community gatherings.
3D Printing is a perfect partner for libraries as it’s still difficult for most people to access the technology without investing in relatively expensive equipment. And information on how to use 3D Printers is still relatively difficult to find.
Trying out 3D printing at your local library is a great way to dip your toes in to see if it’s beneficial for you before splashing the cash on a shiny new 3D printer.
With a small investment in equipment and at least one knowledgeable volunteer, libraries can offer training and the facility of 3D printing to anyone who needs it.
There’s no comprehensive listing of Public Libraries with 3D Printers. So the best thing is just Google your local library and see if they offer a 3D Printing Service.
3D Printing Services – Summary
Whether you want to take your first steps in 3D Printing or would like to experiment with some more exotic materials and equipment, I recommend using any of the services I’ve reviewed above to do so.
For beginners, getting someone else to take care of the cost of equipment is a great way to dip your toes into a new and exciting hobby. Whilst you can still apply your creative skills to the design side of 3D Printing with no cost, being able to just upload your file to a website and receive your finished 3D Print a couple of days later is a marvel.
If you have a special project that demands extra quality from your parts. Or you have a particular finish in mind such as a piece of jewelry, there’s no more cost-effective way then using a 3D Printing Service.
Happy 3D Printing!