Archive for August, 2017

Printing Out Your 3D Designs with Third-Party Services

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

The world of 3D printing is only growing – and quickly!

If you’re ready to jump into your own designing and prototyping, but aren’t ready to invest the time, money, and space required of in-home 3D printing, you have plenty of options for outsourcing the actual printing.

Using a third-party 3D printer comes with many benefits:

  • Convenience – send off an electronic file and wait for your design to be realized; perfect especially if you’re not ready for small-scale in-home 3D printing
  • Scalability – produce more products in less time
  • Quality control – know that you’re getting a top-notch, professionally-made final piece

We are outlining the types of 3D printing services that exist, covering the most popular, though there are dozens of these services that exist globally. We list important factors like materials, printing methods, and bonus factors. And if you need a refresher on printing technologies, check out another blog of ours – 9 common printing methods.

The standard model for outsourcing 3D print jobs is uploading your design, getting a price and delivery quote, and waiting for the product to arrive on your doorstep. We share four popular services along these lines, but you’ll be surprised with a couple brick-and-mortar options that may exist in your area, as well.

Overall, the companies we researched offer a range of price points based on material and finish, design, and processing time. These are difficult to estimate until you can share a specific design with the company in order to get a price quote. Know that there are very affordable entry-level costs for beginner designs.

(For more specific prices, check out this comprehensive review of some companies included here. They used 3Dbenchy to source quotes in popular materials.)

Without further ado, here are our recommendations for third-party 3D printing services.

Shapeways

This Dutch start-up was formed in 2009 and today houses its primary printing locations, called “Factories of the Future” in Queens, New York, and Eindhoven, Netherlands.

  • Materials and finishes: 50+, including porcelain, ceramic, metal, various plastics, wax, and sandstone
  • Printing methods: selective laser sintering (SLS), Binder jetting, wax casting/material jetting
  • File formats: accepts designs in STL, OBJ, X3D, DAE, Collada or VRML97/2 (WRL); designers can convert into these formats
  • Shipping: 3-10 business days
  • Markets: rapid prototyping; industrial-grade printing; instant pricing; automatic and manual checks on design printability; no up-front costs or minimum order size beyond what you order; dedicated tech support
  • Bonus: Provides printing and design tutorials, and real-life inspiration from community printers

Sculpteo

Started in France in 2009, Sculpteo now has several locations, including one in San Francisco. Their app and Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud integration allows for print ordering directly from smartphones.

  • Materials and finishes: Dozens, including acrylics, aluminum, steel, and stainless steel
  • Printing methods: SLS, binder jetting, polyjet, metal casting, and more
  • File formats: accepts over two dozen 3D formats; see their table for more info
  • Shipping: Ships worldwide; in-person pick up available in San Francisco
  • Markets: Rapid prototyping; additive manufacturing; cloud engine; agile metal technology; laser cutting services
  • Bonus: Offers plenty of free tutorials, ebooks, and webinars

i.Materialise

This publically-traded company was founded in Belgium in 1990, so they are serious about their experience. They tend to be a bit more professional, with major business partnerships, but hobbyists can take advantage of their experience, too.

Materials and finishes: 20 materials options; 100+ color and finish options, including gold plating and polishing

  • Printing methods: Uses exclusively Industrial printers – stereolithography (SLA), SLS, FDM, binder and material jetting, indirect metal printing, and more
  • File formats: 40+ accepted
  • Shipping: Flat rate depending on your location; can upgrade to 48-hour printing
  • Markets: Major experience; they are the “trusted partner” of Adobe, Autodesk, Microsoft, SketchUp, and Twikit
  • Bonus: Students get 10% discount

3D Hubs

This option works differently than the previous companies, who print your design and ship it to your door. Instead, 3D Hubs is a network of more than 6,000 3D printing locations worldwide. In fact, they claim that 1 billion people have access to a 3D printer within 10 miles of home. Their goal is to reduce the waste, time, and inventory associated with shipping from one location – with an aim to change how we rely on goods.

  • Materials and finishes: prototyping plastic, high-detail resin, SLS nylon, fiber-reinforced nylon, rigid opaque plastic, rubber-like plastic, transparent plastic, simulated ABS, full-color sandstone, and industrial metals and alloys
  • Printing methods: FDM, SLA, SLS, jetting, direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)
  • File formats: STL or OBJ
  • Ship time: Average 48-hour turnaround
  • Markets: rapid prototyping; additive manufacturing; supply-chain production on demand; consulting and design services; bulk orders (from 50-50,000)
  • Bonus: Students and educators get 25% off – always; lots of major companies use these guys, including Texas Instruments, Tesla, and GE

Surprising printing options

Before you head off into the wide world of online options, you may want to check out your local libraries and community colleges. We’ve found a lot of these institutions offer innovation and digital learning labs that provide access to different types of 3D printers. Some offer a limited number of free print jobs with your library card or really affordable options for those enrolled in the community college.

Across the U.S., UPS Stores are beginning to offer 3D printing at select locations – simply access your CAD files and head in!