Can I Use 3d Print On Demand If I Don’t Have a 3d Printer?


The world of 3d printing starts with a 3d printer. Or does it? Just like you can have printed products without owning a paper printer, you can use a local print shop or a national printer to get your item.

New York City Name Pendant Charm on Shapeways.Com – Made by iconxware

Print on Demand for 3d printing is an excellent service offered by many companies. For the hobbyist, Shapeways.Com is a favorite, offering both a printing service and a sales area for designers to sell their designs (which Shapeways.Com will print). 3d Print on Demand offers more options of quality and material than a home 3d printer, so should be considered for non-plastic items.

Each company has a set of offerings, from quality, material and speed of delivery. Have a look below to see if any of these fit your needs. Owning a home 3d printer will alleviate the need for using a service like this for small, mundane plastic parts, but if you can’t (or won’t) get a home 3d printer, then this may be good for those items, too.

3d Print On Demand Companies

3d Hubs (https://3ehubs.com)

Engineering oriented. You have to request a quote. Can be used for very complex parts. Offers manufacturing capability. Not good for home use (they specialize in much more expensive work than what us home hobbyists need).

Sculpteo (https://sculpteo.com)

They can print from 1 to 100,000 items for you (I bet they like it when you ask for 100,000 items!) they advertise themselves to be a bridge between hobby use and engineering/manufacturing use, so somewhere between Shapeways and 3d Hubs. You can upload directly to them via their website.

Pinshape (https://pinshape.com)

Much like Shapeways, this company provides a download store for free and paid STL files. You can select any of the models and request that they print them for you, for a price, of course. They offer an array of plastics and metals for material.

Trinckle (https://trinckle.com)

This is the only one of the bunch that I’ve found that has both a printing service and an online design tool. The tool is not free, and it’s definitely tailored for engineering design for manufacturing. The print service is, like 3d Hubs, is designed for engineering and manufacturing, too. And they’re in Germany, which is great for European customers but shipping to North America (or a post-Brexit UK) might prove cumbersome and expensive.

Shapeways (https://shapeways.com)

Shapeways comes across as more of an engineering site when you go to their home page, but in this case, looks can be deceiving. It certainly can do engineering tasks (in fact, they have a design service that you can use if you need this, too). The way you know that this is also a hobbyist’s dream is when you do a search for something. I just typed in “Sopwith Camel” and it came up with hundreds of aircraft models to buy. They don’t have free STL files to download, but you can select a model and have them print it for you. Like the others, they offer materials from plastic to flexible to metals.

What If I Do Have a Home 3d Printer?

In this case, 90 to 99% of everything you want to have printed can be done at home. But there may be some uses for 3d print on demand. Your home printer may not have the necessary quality for your use, or you want the item in a different material than what you can print at home. Don’t despair if this is the case. 3d print on demand services can do more detailed and larger than you can do at home. Consider them for your extreme use cases.

3d Print on Demand Uses

Hobby use is a very compelling use for 3d print on demand. Without a home printer, you may want a dozen Sopwith Camels and a dozen Albatros DVII scale model World War I fighter planes for use in a flying game for your dining room table. You may want to print 10 of 10 different designs of your new jewelry concepts for sale at your next craft faire. Or you may want to create a custom set of cookie cutter shapes or specialist pot sticker dough cutters for your unique cooking and baking experiences. There are so many hobbies out there, I dare not speculate on all the uses for fear of leaving most out!

One-off use can be a great use for a business or an individual. Prototyping, of course, is the usual use for this sort of printing, but it’s certainly not the only use. For those who play tabletop games, a compelling piece may be best purchased and printed using one of the print on demand services, rather than looking to print it at home. Jewelry can be created in this way, too. Even if you own a home 3d printer, you’re likely not printing in steel, silver or even gold! That’s an option for many of these companies in their print on demand offerings.

Larger than you can print at home is also a very compelling reason to print via print on demand. Cosplayers are those that like to create costumes for use outside of Halloween (just google “cosplay” for an idea of what I’m talking about). The costume designs are simply amazing, and many of them rely on 3d printed parts to create them. A helmet, for example, is too large for most home 3d printers. Having that printed at a print on demand service is a great way to have it done and back to you in time for the convention!

What Are the Licensing Implications of 3d Print on Demand?

Can you upload any file to a print on demand site to have them create it for you? Well, almost. Any file that you create is yours to do what you like with. So if you’re making objects on TinkerCAD and uploading to Shapeways for them to print for you, you’re perfectly legal. Of course you are! It’s your design.

It starts to get trickier for those items that you download. Check the license agreements that come with most STL files to see if you can use them for yourself, or whether you have the commercial right to make and sell the items created from the files. Most (but not all) are Creative Commons licenses that will allow you to print, modify and distribute for non-commercial use. Some designers will sell commercial licenses, too. With those, you can print and sell the items without any worries at all.

When uploading, the print on demand service will ask you what your rights to the STL files are. Answer appropriately. For sale on places like Shapeways.Com, you’ll have to be the designer of the STL files. Unless someone has ceded ALL their rights to you for a design, the only way to gain rights enough to sell the STL file is to be the designer. I’m no lawyer, and I’m sure that there’s legal complications out there that will boggle the mind, so if you want to make your next millions with sales of STL files or models, you’ll likely want to ensure you get the rights part right!

So just like all discussions of legal things, you’ll need to go talk to a lawyer! Where you live may be completely different from where I’m writing from, so … yada, yada, yada! You get the point. Your mileage may vary.

So whether you have a home 3d printer or not, you can use a 3d print on demand service to create parts or models for you. Yes, there’s cost involved, but in many cases, there was no other way to get the part or model! Happy printing!

Related Questions

Is there a demand for 3d printing?

Yes, there is. Most demand currently is from the engineering world (those that need prototypes or short-run items or subcomponents) and from the hobby world (doing the same thing). Gamers are ripe for this technology, as it can produce models for use in games cheaply, and provide subjects not otherwise made by larger manufacturers.

Does Kinkos do 3d printing? Does Staples do 3d printing? Does Walmart do 3d printing?

Yes, yes, and not yet, but likely soon. Both Kinkos and Staples have 3d printing options that you can use today. If you go to their websites, you can upload STL files and have them printed and sent to you. In some metropolitan areas, you can pick them up in a bunch of hours. Walmart is watching to see when it’s best to jump into the market. They do say that they have interest in this space.

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