Put Your 3D Printer to Work With These Pre-Made Printable Design Databases

A woman uses a 3D printer to create a plastic model.
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

You don’t have to learn design software just to use a 3D printer. The Internet is full of high quality 3D printable designs, many of which are available for free. You can find these files in printable databases, which are free to use and include search functions to help you find what you are looking for.

The printable databases are easy to use and host STL, OBJ or even CAD files ready to print for students and engineers. Of course, there are many databases to choose from. Some databases focus on trinkets and tools, while others focus on cosplay figurines and accessories. In this article, we will review the best printable databases available today and provide information on how they might interest you.

What to look for in a printable database

Each printable database has its strengths, focus and functionality. Before throwing them at your feet, let’s examine what you should expect from a printable database. That way, you can dive into a database that appeals to your interests and start printing designs right off the bat.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Cost: Most of the databases in this article host a mix of free and paid designs. Premium designs usually sell for a few dollars each, and they are often worth it. If you only want to see the free models, see Thingiverse.
  • Focus: Each printable database has its own “focus” or “genre”. IntegratedFactory, for example, hosts a ton of minifig templates for tabletop games. YouMagine hosts a large number of mechanical designs, and Thingiverse hosts everything that people are willing to give away for free.
  • File types: Most 3D printers work with STL or OBJ file types. Both types of files will work for you, although OBJ files are better for multi-color printing because they are able to carry texture information. Printable CAD files are not as common as STL and OBJ files, but they are popular among engineers, students and architects who know how to use AutoCAD software. GrabCAD is the only notable database for printable CAD files.
  • Verified designs: Some databases verify that designs are printable before publishing, or include helpful user comments that explain if certain printer settings lead to a better result, or if a specific 3D printer works with a model. This prevents you from experiencing problems or wasting material. We specify when the databases in this article verify their designs.

By the way, if you are looking for a specific design, you may want to search for it via Yeggi before opening any of these printable databases. Yeggi is a search engine for printable models and regularly analyzes the databases listed in this article.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s go. Here are the best printable databases, as well as some information on how these databases work and how they might interest you.

All for free: Thingiverse

A screenshot of the Thingiverse website.
Thingiverse

Thingiverse is a huge STL database uniquely filled with high quality designs and models. Each STL on Thingiverse is free and you can download what you want without creating an account. Of course, joining Thingiverse allows you to share your creations or “Personalize”Other users’ designs.

If you are new to 3D printing and have a Makerbot printer, try playing with Thingiverse before switching to another database. Makerbot and Thingiverse belong to the same company and the database hosts a ton of designs that are “designed for Makerbot”Printers.

the only downside for Thingiverse, it is that it is a little disorganized. You may have to browse a bit to find what you want. But hey, it’s free!

Free and high quality designs: Cults

A screenshot from the Cults website.
Cults

Cults is a well-organized 3D printing database that contains a multitude of free and premium models. Each drawing is checked for printability and organized into a collection, as gardening or Game. While Cults isn’t as “open” for free as Thingiverse, it’s a little easier to find relevant, high-quality designs on the platform.

Cults designs are available in STL and OBJ file types. And while many models on Cults are free, others will cost you $ 2 or $ 3. Of course, it is not uncommon to meet breathtaking designs that sell at a premium.

A 3D design market: PinShape

A screenshot of the PinShape website.
PinShape

PinShape is a close-knit printable community where you can buy, sell and share STL and OBJ files. Like Cult, PinShape is carefully organized into design categories and hosts a mix of free and premium designs. But really, the site shines for its Design market, which is a collection of the best premium designs available on PinShape.

It should be mentioned that PinShape also regularly publishes guides and news. This, along with PinShape’s extensive repository of printable designs, makes it a useful database for teachers.

Quality Open Source Designs: YouMagine

A screenshot of the YouMagine site.
YouMagine

If you are passionate about engineering, mechanical devices or D&D, then YouMagine is a wonderful alternative to other free printable databases. Its selection may not be as large as Thingiverse or Cults, but YouMagine’s emphasis on high quality open source designs is both notable and appreciated by fans of hardcore 3D printing.

YouMagine hosts STL and OBJ files and organizes them carefully in separate files categories. The database also contains a ton of 3D printer upgrades, so you can increase the cleanliness and efficiency of your printer without burning a hole in your wallet.

Figures, art, cosplay accessories and spare parts:

A screenshot of the My Mini Factory website.
IntegratedFactory

Interested in figurines, art and other small printable items? IntegratedFactory is a huge database of paid and free STL and OBJ files, with a serious focus on minifigs, cosplay props and art. With its library of table game printables, DepositedFactory hosts a collection of spare parts for broken electronics, 3D scans of classic statues, complex cosplay equipment, and even educational models.

RegistrantFactory verifies that all of its files are printable and allows users to open stores for $ 25 a month.

The largest online CAD database: GrabCad

A screenshot of the GrabCad website.
GrabCad

GrabCAD is the largest online library of free CAD models. If you are an engineer, designer or student who prints CAD models, then this is your sanctuary. All files on GrabCAD can be downloaded for free and the site hosts regularly design challenges with groups like NASA and GE. GrabCAD also publishes comprehensive design tutorials on its website and distributes the GrabCAD workbench and GrabCAD printing Software.

The Odd Duck: Free3D

A screenshot of the Free3D website.
Free3D

Free3D is not a printable database, but we include it here for its extensive library of free 3D files. These files, often designed for video games or 3D animations, can be modified for 3D printing, so they can be useful for people who are just starting 3D design.

The Free3D website hosts printable files, which you can find on the printable landing page. These designs are often designed for gaming, so they may seem a little surreal after you get out of your 3D printer.

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