3D printing is a great way to create something truly personal, make your awesome ideas reality, or just make perfect replacements for broken parts or components. If you're stumped for ideas though, here are 10 great resources for you to get inspired, or just find something you'd like to have printed yourself.
You don't have to own a 3D printer to get into 3D printing. There are tons of ways to get access to a printer for your own ideas or designs, and even more if you're a true beginner and want to learn the ins and outs of the process. But what if you need a little inspiration for what you can do with 3D printing, whether you get your own printer or find someone to print for you? Read on.
Part marketplace, part clearing house for awesome projects, Shapeways lets you do three big things: upload and print your own designs, hire someone to design something for you that you'd like to have 3D printed, or get inspired by the multitude of projects already available on the site, or find something awesome you'd like to print yourself, have printed and shipped to you, or tweak to suit your needs.
It doesn't hurt that Shapeways was also your favourite 3D printing service the last time we asked you for your favourites. The community there is huge, the number of projects in their database is massive, and the gallery of inspiring things other people have made (and sell) is incredible to browse.
Thingiverse is less of a marketplace (although there's plenty for sale if you make connections with other makers), and more of a showroom for all of the awesome projects, plans, and other creations of makers just like you — other people interested in 3D printing and who have made great things, want to make great things, or just need inspiration. Best of all, almost all of the designs on the site are available free and open source to the public, via Creative Commons or GNU GPL. There are even mobile apps for the community, available for iOS and Android.
Browse everything and you'll see a combination of completed projects, early sketched out plans, and raw ideas looking for some honing around the edges. Dig a little deeper and you'll find collections designed to inspire, (it's worth mentioning that Thingiverse is owned by Makerbot Industries), or browse by project categories like video games, hobby items, gadgets, household, and more to see what you can make. If you're not sure what exactly you can 3D print, you'll find something there to get the gears turning, and if you find something you like, you can download it and get it printed yourself.
Instructables is home to all manner of projects, from woodworking or cooking to electronics or 3D printing. It can be tough to drill down just to the 3D printing projects, but 3D printed components pop up in some of the most unusual places when you're looking around Instructables. Maybe someone 3D printed part of their IKEA hacked camera jig. Maybe there's a whole 3D printing contest, encouraging makers to submit their own designs and inspiration.
In any case, if you're looking for awesome things to 3D print, or maybe you're looking for your own DIY projects and would love to fit 3D printing into them, Instructables is a great place to look. We love them, and even when you find bad or badly executed projects, you'll find tons of inspiration.
3DShook is a marketplace of items that can be 3D printed at home, or anywhere you have access to a printer. Many of the patterns and schematics are for sale, and the site has a subscription service where you can get items in their catalogue printed for you whenever you like. The team behind 3DShook praises their catalogue on being curated and vetted, so while other sites have a wide open community and tons of open source schematics, 3DShook schematics are exclusive, closed, and only available from them — not to mention can be printed, has been printed, and will likely work out the way you want.
Of course, that's a double-edged sword. You do have to pay to get something printed, and all of their schematics come at a cost unless it's in their "trial gallery" of items you can print yourself. All that said, their catalogue is rich and huge, so even if you don't find something you want them to print — or something you want to download and print — you'll find some inspiration for your own projects.
Pinshape is another gallery of community-driven, user-submitted collection of 3D printing projects and schematics, many of which are freely available to download, and a few others are available for a couple of bucks. The site also hosts contests, forums, and has a huge community of makers both with their own printers and without, all of whom are eager to share their schematics, ideas, and help one another perfect their projects. If you have your own design you'd like to share, the service welcomes all-comers, and if you want to sell it, well, you can do that too.
Pinshape's community is its biggest asset though, so even if you're just trying to get into 3D printing or looking to see what people can do with their own printers, it's a good site to join and browse, and a great community of fellow makers you can get to know.
Focused a little less to "everything" and a little more to "electronics and other complex projects," Wevolver is primarily a community of makers. The goal of the service is to give aspiring makers a place they can share files, get feedback, and meet the people who can inspire and help them make their ideas reality. Unlike some of the other sites that are more marketplaces or just galleries, Wevolver is a community first, and a sharing service second.
Most of the projects people at Wevolver talk about though are a bit more advanced than some of the more hobby-friendly 3D printing projects the other services here host. You'll find robotics projects, drone building and piloting projects, complicated electronics projects and setups, and of course, 3D printing the whole way there, from people who have built their own printers or are using printers to make some truly amazing and complicated things. You'll find communities around 3D printed robotic prostheses, autonomous robots, custom UAVs, and more.
With over 1200 open source 3D printing projects you can download, customise, and remix to make your own, Youmagine is all community and all designs, without the baggage that sometimes comes with being associated with a 3D printing service. Like many of the other services here, individuals and groups (like our friends, Adafruit!) submit their designs to the site complete with schematics and instructions so you can make it your own.
You can also make curated collections of your own favourite prints and projects, so you can build something of an inspiration board for yourself if you find projects you're interested in, but can't make right now. Of course, you can also browse other user collections for even more inspiration — and when you're ready to print or make something of you own, you can download the plans and make it, or use those plans to build something of your own.
Cults is a little more artistic and eccentric than some of the other options here. Their catalogue contains schematics and plans that range from the uniquely useful to the near- abstract, but they're all interesting and fun. You'll find plenty of figurines, toys and hobby items, household decorations, and other fun projects, many of which are just there to admire, and others for sale for a few dollars here or there. There are even jewellery items you can print, tools like camera mounts and doorstops, and even some more adult-themed items as well. If you're interested in the more offbeat and interesting side of 3D printing, the service is well worth checking out.
2. A Nearby Hackerspace or Makerspace
If you're an aspiring maker at all, you should definitely seek out a hackerspace or makerspace in your community, check out the perks and tools available to members, and sign up if you see what you like. Not only will you have access to the tools required to make your ideas reality, you'll also join an instant community of like-minded, local creators who can (and often will anyway) show off their own projects, inspire you with their expertise, or help you with your ideas. There's a lot to learn by looking at web site, but there's even more to learn by joining a group of people like you.
1. Your Local Library
If you don't have a hackerspace nearby, odds are your local library has a 3D printer you can try out, and hopefully there are more than a few people on staff who can help you get started with one.
Check with your local library first to make sure a printer is available, and if there is one, if anyone can show you how to use it. Some local libraries even host group sessions or classes to help people get familiar with 3D printing, design their own items, and sign up for times to get their print job done. You can hang out and watch, or come pick it up, but in either case, it's another great way to join a community of makers and build something great and unique.