Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Where can you find 3D data to print?

We are a bit spoiled at Z Corp because as design engineers, we have access to nearly unlimited 3D printing capabilities. When I design parts for the next generation of printer, I print those out at various stages of development to check fit, style and function. But, I don’t always print MCAD parts. We do a lot of testing so we keep the printers running – a lot. We might be testing a new component or a whole new printer. Either way, it gets boring printing the same old set of mechanical parts. So, we often look for interesting models for printing that can be downloaded from the internet. What constitutes interesting to different engineers is, well, interesting in and of itself. My preference is for exotic automobiles, airplanes, or anything I would consider to be a marvel of engineering. To others, an interesting model might be a Ming vase, Michelangelo sculpture or some other piece of art. If you walked through the building you might see a printed chess set, pumpkin, football, holiday ornaments, Darth Vader, a snowman, skeleton of a foot, hand, or skull, buildings, Mount Everest, and a wide array of geometric shapes.

There are many sources of printable 3D data available for free or for purchase on the internet. One great source for MCAD parts is 3D content central (because we use SolidWorks here at ZCorp). But there are many sites where you can download architectural content, artwork, medical models, planes, cars, people, and just about anything else you can think of. If you don’t have a 3D printer, your interest in these models may be just for curiosity. If you do have a 3D printer, these sites can be valuable sources of data. Data is available in many formats so you will have to select the format that is right for you. I typically look for VRML (.wrl), but 3DS and STL import directly into our ZPrint® software.

Doing a search for free vrml downloads or free 3D models will result in a large number of sites offering free 3D data. I recommend downloading a few files to determine if the site is worth bookmarking. Below is a sample of sites that I have used.

So, as always, I’m curious. If you download models, what is your favorite site? Do you generate your own models or download models someone else has created? Have you ever paid for a model? What formats have you downloaded. And, what has been your overall experience with downloaded data?

I recently came across the following blog that lists many of the sites that I have used over the years:

Some free sources of 3D data:

There are some very good pay sites also where you can find free downloads.


  1. First of all, congratulations for the new blog. I look forward to future entries.

    I've never actually paid for a model, but I've tried to sell some on a site called Cadooku, and I've also downloaded free models from 3D Content Central a few times. My experience is that it's usually a gamble. Some models are great, some others not so much.

    Must be fun to be able to print all you want! I would be glad to donate a model or two if I could keep a copy of the print. ;-)

  2. Hi Gabi,

    Thanks for adding your comments and kind words. Thanks also for adding Cadooku to my list of sites. I checked it out this morning and it looks like a great way for a SolidWork Jockey to earn some cash by doing what they are good at. I agree that Content Central can be hit or miss but then again I’m amazed at how much great 3D data there is out there for free.

  3. C Sven Johnson said: Thingiverse is attempting to build a 3D library (they've got a competition going now). Read more:

  4. Timothy Ruffner said: Hey Sven. Great info! Read more:

  5. Turbosquid is a great source. Some of the other sites are questionable. The greatest challenge is finding a water tight model. Many of the files posted on those sites are the product of Maya, 3DS, and Rhino users.

  6. Pirate Bay is also trying to start something up.

  7. Sean Taffert said: All the really good stuff is proprietary. People work VERY hard making 3D objects and designs. It takes time and unless people are willing to pay, nobody wants to give away their time freely.

    The free stuff is out there, but as mentioned above, Thingiverse is great but only if you are looking for coat hooks and modified parts for your home built 3D printer.

    The real "beef" is in the commissioned works, where engineering meets art.

    We have a few good examples on our gallery.

  8. Peter Weismarshausen said: Have a look at the Shapeways 3D parts database:
    All these parts can be downloaded for free.

    The aim of this database is to give not only 3D printable data to the community, but all these parts are printed by us and checked for quality and producability. Some have compelling mechanical properties, like gearboxes etc.

    We are always looking for contributors also.


  9. Erik de Bruijn said:
    Hi Peter,

    That's good to know! Those are a few interesting mechanical parts!

    Producability really depends on the manufacturing technology, though. This is 'imperfectly solved' by Thingiverse since the community does testing sporadically based on the level of interest in a design. While this may leave the less interesting files unchecked, it does usually cover the more interesting ones combined with popular processes (the FDM like FFF of RepRap, Makerbot, RapMan, Cubespawn, Cubely, etc.).

    What is the license of these files, it is not stated anywhere? You should keep in mind that you perhaps don't want to restrict derivative works to be of a certain kind (I would prefer GPL, but in your case you want to give your customers complete freedom). BSD might be an option in this case or public domain.


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