3D printing has placed the power of manufacturing in the hands of consumers. If you can develop an idea for an object and get a 3D design for it, then you can use the magic of 3D printing and hold that object in your arms. To get the best product, you’ll want to use a 3D printing service that’s not only high quality but also suited to your specific needs.
You can get your 3D prints done online through a professional 3D printing service or a marketplace that links you to different services. There are numerous services, and the best one depends on the requirements of your print, including the material and number of products.
Choosing the best one among the dozens of 3D printing services online can be challenging. So, in this article, I’ll look at the factors you should consider and compare the features of top 3D printing services to help you find the perfect fit.
An Overview of Available Options When Getting a 3D Print Done
If you want a 3D printed object, one of your options is to buy a 3D printer. Owning a printer would give you complete control over your print.
However, printers are expensive. If you are not printing bulk, it can be hard to justify owning a printer.
The other option is to get someone to do it for you.
Depending on your needs, a local 3D enthusiast might be what you need. A local service would be perfect if you want a simple print job done.
After it’s finished, you can pick it up yourself, which is more convenient than waiting for it to ship from halfway across the continent — or the world.
However, even if someone can do your print job locally, there’s often a challenge. How do you find the best 3D printing service in your area?
One solution to the challenge of locating a local 3D printing partner is a 3D service marketplace.
3D Service Marketplace
A 3D service marketplace connects you to 3D printing services worldwide. A marketplace will list all services close to you if you want a local service. It will also help you compare them according to price, turnaround time, and capability.
The best marketplaces link you to numerous services. You’ll likely be spoilt for choice.
The wide array of options on a marketplace means that you are likely to find a service that has:
- The material you want your print to be in, from simple ones like plastic to complex ones like gold or silver.
- An acceptable price.
- Intellectual property protection, should you need your design to remain confidential.
- Support for the design formats you are working with
- The ability to deliver your 3D print in a short time
- The capacity to deliver in bulk, usually with discounts
- The resolution you want
- The technology you want
- Integrated access from major industry software like SolidWorks, allowing you to access 3D printing services directly from your design software
A great benefit of marketplaces is that they enable comparison. You can compare different services according to various factors to arrive at the best service.
Typically, when using a marketplace, you follow a variation of the following procedure:
- Buy a design from the marketplace or upload your design.
- Specify details like the type of material and technology for your 3D print.
- Go through a list of services filtered according to your specified print details.
- Select a service and finalize your print order.
Instead of finding a 3D printing service through a marketplace, you can opt for a professional 3D printing service.
Such services are usually highly specialized, and you can expect the best quality from them. They are typically well-known brands, with some offering additional manufacturing services like CNC machining and injection molding.
You’d be best off with a professional service if:
- You want a massive batch of 3D prints.
- You are an industrial client with special requirements, such as functional prototyping.
- You want services tailored for unique industries, e.g., medical parts.
You might need 3D prints for different applications and in various circumstances. In each situation, the most-suitable service will differ.
Here is a guide to different situations.
Where To Get Your 3D Print Done if You Don’t Have a Design
You can have an idea of what you want to 3D print without the actual design. If you have the necessary design skills, it would be easy to convert what you have in mind into a printable file on a computer.
If you can’t make the design yourself, you can go through 3D design repositories like Thingiverse. You’d then download your model and upload it to a 3D printing service.
An even more convenient way is to choose from the array of designs available on 3D printing service websites. Most 3D printing services usually have virtual storefronts with ready-made models.
Once you see the design you like, you buy it, and the service prints it for you. It’s convenient and hassle-free.
Repositories like Thingiverse give you access to a virtually endless selection of 3D models, and you get them for free. However, such models may not be ideal for smooth printing. When you buy a model from top 3D printing services, they guarantee that it’s been checked for structural integrity and will result in a high-quality print.
Here is a list of some of the top online 3D printing shops that allow you to buy designs and print them on the same platform:
- Shapeways. This website allows you to customize and print professionally designed 3D models.
- 3D Experience Marketplace Make. This marketplace gives you access to numerous industrially designed 3D objects that you can print.
- Sculpteo. Sculpteo has a storefront in which professional 3D designers offer their 3D models for sale.
- i.Materialise. This website allows designers to sell their models as products. Once you buy a design, the Materialise service prints it and delivers it to you.
Where To Get Your 3D Print Done if You Are an Industrial Client
Regardless of your industry, you can benefit from 3D printing as an industrial client.
Bike manufacturers are 3D printing titanium bike frames to make lightweight bikes that enable faster speeds and more control. In healthcare, hospitals 3D print surgical instruments like scalpels using materials like nickel and stainless steel.
A suitable 3D printing service for an industrial client should:
- Be able to print with a wide range of materials, including materials like steel that are more difficult to handle.
- Have the capacity for mass production.
- Have the necessary certifications, especially in regulated industries like healthcare and aerospace.
- Provide intellectual property protection in case you need it.
- Satisfactorily guarantee the quality by sending sample parts before you approve mass production.
In addition to the above requirements, your selected service should give you personalized attention. For example, you should have a representative you can easily contact for queries, especially if you are doing mass production and expect to do it multiple times in the future.
Non-industrial clients often don’t need personalized service and find the automatic system provided in online 3D print shops appropriate.
As an industrial client, you’ll likely be spending much money on the 3D prints, especially if they are recurrent. Therefore, it makes sense to have someone you can liaise with to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Below is a list of some top industrial 3D printing services:
- Stratasys Direct. It is particularly suited for 3D prints in medicine and engineering. It enables you to create templates – with specifications like the type of material – that you can use on other projects in the future.
- Sintavia. This service is best for the 3D printing of components used for advanced propulsion and thermodynamic systems in the aerospace industry.
- Tangible Solutions. Tangible solutions is an industry leader in the contract manufacturing of medical-grade orthopedic implants.
- Materialise Onsite. This printing service is best for the rapid 3D printing of high-quality prototypes.
- FacFox. Based in China, FacFox offers multiple manufacturing options, including plastic and metal 3D printing, CNC machining, and urethane casting.
Where To Get Your 3D Prints Done With a Local Manufacturer
Sometimes, you might want to avoid shipping an item from halfway across the world. So, you might opt for a closer service to reduce shipping fees, and the time it takes to get your products.
Still, you’ll probably want to work with a high-quality 3D printing service that has been proven to deliver, which is where a third-party service like Hubs comes in.
Hubs will connect you to vetted additive manufacturing partners around the world. These services have a proven track record and the capacity to meet your preferred quality requirements.
Based on your specifications, Hubs selects a suitable manufacturing partner that is conveniently located. The moment you upload your design and specify printing requirements, you get an instant quote with transparent pricing.
While Hubs is considered an industry leader, there are alternatives that help connect you to local printers, including:
I’ll briefly go over each of them in the sections below.
This marketplace focuses on local sourcing, allowing you to find an appropriate 3D printing partner near you.
They also strive to guarantee quality. As such, depending on where you live, you may not find a partner that’s as local as you’d like them to be. You will be given the closest option and can rest assured of the quality of the 3D prints.
Advantages of using this platform include:
- Free delivery.
- You can optionally include a Non-Disclosure Agreement to ensure your design stays confidential.
- Payment is securely held in Escrow.
- You can conveniently search for 3D printing partners by location, technology, material, or name.
Fiverr is a freelancing marketplace that connects service providers to customers. It deals with a wide range of services, from graphic design to photography.
You can use it to find the best 3D printers located near you.
The platform allows you to select the most suitable printer based on their ratings and the feedback left by previous clients.
Where To Get Your 3D Prints Done if You Need To Scan a Real-Life Object
Sometimes, instead of having a design on your computer, you have a real-life object you’d like to replicate.
One option in such a scenario is going through a design repository like Thingiverse to find a design close enough to what you want to replicate.
However, there’s a much better option — 3D Scanning. With volumetric scanning, you can digitize almost any physical object. You then take the resulting 3D scan and upload it into your 3D printing service of choice.
The process of getting from a real-life object to a 3D printed replica naturally consists of two subprocesses, scanning and printing.
However, some 3D printing services make the process easier for you. Some of them, like FacFox, do scanning and printing for you, significantly easing your workflow.
Other services, like MakeXYZ, help connect you to local 3D scanners. Once you have a printable 3D scan of your object, you can use the same service to find high-quality, conveniently located 3D printing services.
General Factors To Consider While Choosing a 3D Printing Service
In addition to the scenarios I’ve discussed, you should consider general factors when deciding where to get your 3D prints online.
- Cost. Tweak parameters like material, resolution, and turnaround time to ensure you stay within budget.
- File format. If you have a preferred file format for your 3D prints, check whether a 3D printing service supports that format.
- Payment methods. Different services support different payment methods. Check to see that your preferred method is supported.
- Materials supported. Some services don’t print certain materials. Also, you might get a higher-quality print from a service that specializes in working with a particular material.
- Desired technology. The technology a service uses for 3D prints, from FDM to SLA, affects certain aspects of the finished product, such as resolution.
- Service area. Some 3D printing services only serve specific regions. If you are outside the region, you may find it significantly inconvenient to use the service.
There are numerous 3D printing services online. The best service to use for your 3D prints depends on the factors unique to your situation.
Each 3D service will be best suited for specific 3D printing applications. If you align with the service that best fits your scenario, you will likely get the best results.