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Print 3D Models Without a Printer


There’s an easy way to experience 3D printing without having to create a model or own a fancy printer. 3DHubs.com is an online service listing tens of thousands of places where you can find a 3D printer and people who will help print your model, from professional printers to local groups to individuals with a printer. Add in Thingiverse, an online repository of 3D models, and it’s easy to pick a fun model then upload it to 3DHubs.com, find a local printer, and get a model back.

To prove this process works, I found a fun train model on Thingiverse, downloaded a file with the train engine and six wheels, then looked on 3DHubs.com for a local 3D printer.

I found printing prices ranging from a hundred dollars for a professional printer to the $30 I paid to a local high school all-girls robotics team with a 3D printer. They list on 3DHubs.com to raise funds for their FIRST FTC robotics team, Bionica 7120 (team motto: “9 girls, 1 purple robot”). I learned FIRST is a program for students ages 7-12 to form teams to design, build, and program robots for competitions.

“Our initial plan for 3D Hubs was to promote our Hub to fellow local robotics teams, so we could embody the FIRST FTC’s ideals of ‘gracious professionalism’ by helping other teams while helping ourselves,” said Allison H, the person who helped print my train engine. “We are planning on promoting our 3D Hub services further and earlier in the upcoming robotics season.”

I was thrilled to support a great team of students interested in technology (and all girls!) at the local high school where my son attends, as well as where his older sister, his mom, and my sister-in-law went for school. You might find the same opportunity in your community.

Allison also photographed the model printing process, at my request. You might be able to coax your local printer to let you watch. However, it can take hours to build your model.

Once I downloaded the 3D train model from Thingiverse, the only glitch happened when I uploaded the model to 3DHubs.com. The service asked me about measurements, millimeters or inches. Not having created the model, I didn’t know the answer but went with millimeters.

I wasn’t too concerned because 3DHubs.com makes it clear, whatever you upload, the printer checks all these details before printing. And that’s what happened. Allison never asked me about measurements. I had tried another 3D printing service awhile back and had to stop because of a similar technical question with no obvious way to prevent a printing error.

In this case, everything with 3DHubs.com worked. Their order process turned out to be very simple with an easy tutorial showing all parts of the order page. You get emails when your printer responds to your printing request, and any steps in the process. There’s also a checkbox under the box where you correspond with your printer that, when checked, sends a copy of your mail to a support person at 3DHubs.com. The name of their support person is easy to find if there are problems.

Creating 3D models doesn’t have to be hard or take a lot of effort and time. You can get started finding a model on Thingiverse then use 3DHubs.com to find a local printer to create your model. It might get you excited to create your own simple 3D models with TinkerCAD, or find models there to print, like dragons and laser-eyed chickens. It also looks like TinkerCAD models can be exported then imported into Minecraft, which would be fun to try.

Learn More





Train Set (Thingiverse)


7120 Bionica’s 3D Printing Hub


FIRST Tech Challenge




Team 7120 Bionica

9 girls, 1 purple robot