Getting something 3D printed is easier now than it’s ever been, and there are plenty of reasons why you might want to. From just making something special and unique to replacing broken parts, 3D printing services make it easy. This week we’re looking at five of the best, based on your nominations.
Even if we don’t all have 3D printers in our homes just yet, 3D printing services make it easy to send schematics, scans, or photographs or items off to be replicated using a 3D printer, then pick it up or have it shipped to you when it’s done. Some services let you walk in with your item or your files, others allow you to send them away and get a new one in the mail. Last week we asked you for the best 3D printing options if you don’t own a printer, and you weighed in with your favorites. Here are your top five picks, in no particular order:
Your Local Library
MakeXYZ isn’t really a 3D printing service in itself, but it does fill a very important need: It connects people who have items that need to be printed with people who have 3D printers and are willing to print items for others—whether those printers are at local hackerspaces, in private homes, or even in local businesses that have added 3D printing to their list of in-house manufacturing services. You can either let MakeXYZ handle all of the dirty work for you and send your file to a printer and have the printer then manufacture the item and send it back to you (or get it ready for you to pick up) , or you can use the service simply to find businesses that offer 3D printing services in your area and connect with them directly to get the job done. Get estimates instantly by uploading your own STL (STereoLithography) file, but if you don’t have one you can either convert whatever 3D file you have to STL, or get help designing your part and getting it ready for printing. MakeXYZ even supports bulk orders, so if you’re trying to get your own business of the ground, they can help. As you search their database, you’ll find printers that specialize in all sorts of different materials, so regardless of the type of item you need printed, there’s likely someone in your community that can print it.
Those of you who nominated MakeXYZ praised it for being an easy way to connect with local 3D printing services, and while I was initially skeptical that the directory would be mature enough to have anyone in my area, I was pleasantly surprised when I found more than a handful of options to choose from. Their printer directory is easy to search, just type in your zip code, and watch the results unfold before your eyes. Your mileage will vary depending on where you live, of course, but I found several options, along with their ratings, the materials they print in, and more. Click on any one of them to see their full listing, including their contact information, response time, examples of items they’ve printed so you can see their work, as well as their general pricing. Head over to take a look, or check out their nomination thread here.
Ponoko provides 3D printing, laser etching, and engraving services to anyone who needs them. Whether you need a single item printed, or you need hundreds, Ponoko can help. The company has both designers and 3D printers and robots, and pricing starts as low at $5 depending on what you need printed and the materials you choose. The service even offers same day shipping if you order at the right time, which means you can take your custom designs from 3D file or CAD design and turn them into actual products you can sell or parts you can use in a matter of hours. The service even offers digital prototyping and conversion services if you don’t have all of the files or schematics you need right away, and you won’t pay until your item has been prototyped and looks just the way you want it. Whether you’re looking to kickstart an idea, or you just want to make custom gifts for friends and family, the service can accommodate you in materials that range from pressed cardboard and acrylic to bamboo and wood all the way up to stronger materials and various types of plastic.
You3DIt is another hybrid service that offers fabrication and 3D printing, but it’s designed for people who may not be as technically or maker-inclined as others. For example, you don’t necessarily have to come with your files and schematics ready—just an idea of what you’d like to have made. You work with the site’s team of designers and experts to then build your model based on your idea, and then, once it’s perfected and ready, it’s sent off for fabrication. Of course, if you already have a design and you just want it printed or manufactured for you, the service can help there too—but instead of operating a massive fab full of printers and crafters who make your items, they’ll connect you with a local fabricator or 3D printing service that will actually produce the item you’ve designed and developed. Again, prices vary because there are several parties involved, but the service prides itself on being easy to use. You can see examples of some of the projects people have designed right on the home page, along with the project status (whether it’s been paid for or in fabrication, for example), to see how the process works.
Those of you who nominated You3DIt also praised it for integrating the design process with the printing and manufacturing process, something that a lot of people with ideas struggle with. After all, not everyone with a need for 3D printing or an idea to have built is an expert with CAD or Google Sketchup, and this service puts those people in touch with the ones who can help bring their ideas to life. Similarly, they offer other fabrication tools in addition to 3D printers, like laser cutters and etchers. Plus, if you’re a designer or have your own 3D printer, you can list yourself on the site to get involved in the process (and presumably make some money.) Read more in the nomination thread here.