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STL files are a type of file for 3D models used by those looking to print miniatures or other 3D prints. These files are compact and easy to transfer, so they can be shared and sold around the web.
Many different websites offer STL files for consumers, and many of these websites provide these files for free. Today we will look at the best websites to offer free STL files and what makes each stand out.
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Why Do You Need STL Files?
STL files were created to be used in scale model prototyping. Companies would use STL files to quickly print out a new part or product in development and do quick testing for obvious design flaws.
While STL files are still used for this prototyping, consumers buy and sell them all over the internet.
With the growth of 3D modeling and the accessibility of 3D printers, STL files are now a typical purchase for 3D print enthusiasts. STL files provide consumers with 3D printer models to print without having to design them independently.
A 3D file built for printing is excellent because it streamlines the printing process and how consumers exchange models.
Things To Consider When Printing With STL Files
Now that you understand why you would want an STL file for printing, we can look into some other aspects to consider during the printing process.
The biggest element to consider when printing with an STL file is the size. Different prints come in different sizes, and it is important to ensure that your print is in the size you desire. 3D printing takes a long time, so reprinting after waiting several hours for a different size is a huge hassle.
Another element that makes size important is the printing space. Residential 3D printers are only so big, so certain prints are too big to be printed at home.
Make sure that your STL file is in the size you want and that your printer can print in that size.
The 3D printing material you choose to print a model in will determine how that model holds. Some 3D prints require a particular material to print because the model’s shape requires a specific strength in material to hold correctly.
Beyond structural stability, the choice of material will change the feel and flexibility of your print. Some resins are incredibly moldable and can be adjusted or bent similarly to rubber. On the other end of the spectrum, polycarbonate will keep your print stable and in the same pose.
Make sure you know what type of material you want to print in before you pick out free STL files.
Another essential aspect to consider when printing free STL files is the thickness of the print. Thick walls offer a give and take that a user must find a balance between when printing.
Strong, thick walls on a 3D print are essential to keep the mold stable. An incredibly thin and hollow print will be brittle, and this frailness makes for a poor miniature.
On the other hand, thick 3D prints require more material to print. This means thicker walls need a longer print time and cost much more to produce than their thinner counterparts.
Finding a thickness in your build that can support your 3D model without bankrupting you in the process is essential.
The last significant aspect to consider when printing STL files is resolution.
Resolution in terms of 3D printing refers to the detail given to additive layers on the print. Printing with a higher resolution will use extra thin layers to pile on details in areas such as the face so that you can see more of the finer design.
Similar to the thickness of a build’s wall, it is important to note that higher resolution will result in a longer print time. So users looking to create higher-quality models will take much longer to print off their STL files.
10 Best Websites To Download Free STL Files
Now that you understand the importance of STL files and things to look out for, we can explore some of the best websites to download these files for free. Beyond the differences in the collection, we will explore what advantages certain websites boast over their competitors.
It is no secret that Thingiverse is a premium website for free STL files. As one of the older options on today’s list, the 2008 website hosts over a million and a half different free STL files to download.
The user-generated models offered by the website are well sorted, being grouped into several drop-down categories based on theme or creator.
Creators utilizing the platform will simply upload the STL files for models they wish to share, and these models can be downloaded by any user on the website. There is no ability to charge for products on the website, so all files cataloged here are free.
You may be wondering how a platform without monetization makes any money without an excessive amount of ads.
Fortunately, the website is owned by MakerBot Industries, the creators of Method and Sketch 3D printers. This means that the company is incentivized to provide 3D models because the more models people have access to, the more printing they will do.
Overall, Thingiverse does everything you want an STL file website to do. The company offers easy-to-download, free STL files from a collection unmatched by the competition. If you are still looking for alternatives to Thingiverse, check out the websites below.
After hearing about Thingiverse’s industry juggernaut, it might be hard to imagine why one would bother with another website. Fortunately, websites such as Printables offer exclusive features that make their storefronts formidable competitors.
Run by Prusa Research, another 3D printer developer for FDM printers, Printables is an open platform with loads of free STL file downloads. This website was launched several years ago in 2019 and has seen some of the fastest growth in the industry.
The website offers a whopping selection of models numbering over 200,000. This staggering number is made better when you discover that their high-quality designs are compatible with all FDM printers.
One stand-out feature of this website is that many of the hundreds of thousands of free files have pre-sliced G-code built into them. When used with a Prusa printer, the file will have cuts set to the company’s PrusaSlicer that can be utilized instantly.
Pinshape is an STL file website owned by the 3D printer company Formlabs. Pinshape works to offer a platform that provides 3D STL files made by designers so that you can download them for yourself.
Not all listings on Pinshape are free, but many of their downloadable files are. Find items such as miniatures, toys, and even art for you to print out.
As another older 3D modeling website, MyMiniFactory provides a wealth of files in its back catalog. The company created its website in 2013 and stocked its virtual shelves with free and paid STL files.
Unlike other websites, MyMiniFactory emphasizes quality over quantity. The company offers over 150,000 different models on its website, all of which professionals make and test.
This means that users risk little when purchasing an unstable file, as the 3D print has already been tested to function as intended.
The website also focuses heavily on tabletop gaming and role-playing. Fans of games like Dungeons & Dragons or Warhammer 40K will rejoice, as almost the entire website holds a theme in geek culture.
MyMiniFactory also holds a strong community, as the website has frequent challenges for designers. These 3D challenges can be found on their website. The goal is to create more 3D miniatures for niche themes or under challenging poses.
Whether it is in inspiring the ideas of creatives or creating high-quality content, MyMiniFactory is a website that delivers. If you are interested in tabletop gaming, this will be the website for your free STL files.
Fab365 stands out as an STL website because its designs are grouped by theming. Many of these websites feature vast selections of STL files but have difficulty sorting them into categories to browse.
Fab35 allows users to shift through these groupings to find what they are looking for without looking for one specific title.
Fab35 offers a clean layout and solid designs, although their free variety is lacking. There are only a couple hundred different files sold on the website for free, so some of the models that catch your eye may require a purchase.
GrabCAD is a website that airs to help mechanical engineers. Users can share tools that help engineers collaborate and develop different product designs.
Fortunately, GrabCAD is not exclusively made for these engineers.
The website features a decent selection of printable 3D models that can be downloaded and used for free. While most of these STL files are for small parts or machinery, they can be helpful for those looking for something specific.
If you are new to 3D printing and are a bit intimidated by the process, Instructables is a good resource for you. Like the other websites on this list, the store’s pages feature free-to-download STL files that you can use.
What stands out about Instructables when compared to other websites is its tutorials. As the website’s name would imply, Instructables is focused on giving users explicit instructions on how to use these tools. This means that the STL files offered on this website are displayed with instructions on how to use or build them.
Alongside the helpful tutorials, the website is overflowing with beneficial creators who are happy to look at a problem. Suppose you need assistance with a specific question. In that case, most creators will connect with you to answer them or help you through a particular issue.
NIH 3D Print Exchange
NIH 3D Print Exchange is a good option for those looking into science or a medical project. The website allows users to share and distribute 3D files to be accurate to anatomy. This means that scientists, doctors, or any student can utilize these prints to test or analyze.
On top of the selection of over 12,000 STL files to download from, the website even offers prosthetics. Users may print specific prosthetics to assist them by purchasing the file from the NIH website.
Many know the Smithsonian museums as a hub for historical and cultural information. These museums offer a wide array of exhibits spanning several themes across over ten in-person locations.
Because not everyone can make it to Washington, DC, the museums have been working on converting their 142 exhibits into the virtual world and offering them online. Currently, over 2500 different exhibits have been scanned and are viewable on their website.
Of these several thousand online exhibits, some offer free printable STL files you can use yourself.
Last but not least, we have the NASA website.
While certainly one of the most boring websites on the internet, the NASA website offers a wide variety of free 3D models for you to use. Over one hundred models created by the agency have been made free to download so that educators and enthusiasts alike may have a copy.
As you would imagine, most of these downloads are spaced-themed, which can make them a bit niche. But the quality and variety of these models are good considering their specificity.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve talked about the best websites to download free STL files, but you may still have some unanswered questions about the topic. Below we have taken some of the most frequently asked questions and explored them further.
Is 3D printing a cheap hobby?
No 3D printing enthusiast would tell you that the hobby is easy on the wallet, but it is not as expensive as many think.
3D printers are becoming cheaper and more accessible than ever before, so finding a means to print STL files is relatively affordable. A decent consumer 3D printer can be purchased for as low as $300 dollars, and printable STL files can be found for free all over the internet.
After you own a working 3D printer, the only significant expense is the cost of materials and any 3D files you pay for.
What can I use instead of STL files?
STL files may be the industry standard, but they are not the only printable 3D model files on the market. Similar file types include the well-known OBJ or the more obscure PLY files.
These file types may offer differences in print quality or compatibility, but they all function similarly.
Is 3D printing unhealthy?
The action of 3D printing is not inherently unhealthy. There are, however, some potential risks when using a 3D printer frequently.
Printing can often involve working with risky materials. As such, printing enthusiasts will need to look out for handling potentially toxic or hazardous materials. by taking the proper precautions.
Use gloves or another layer of protection when coming in contact with chemicals or metal solvents. Certain materials used in 3D printing can be toxic if they come into contact with your skin directly.
Another thing to look out for is poor air quality. 3D printers can use harmful chemicals that could get into the air and put you at risk. Wear the appropriate mask when working with or around a 3D printer.
Lastly, as with many electronics, 3D printers run the risk of fire, static, and burns. 3D printers heat up when in use, so ensure not to touch where it is warm. Also, avoid fires by placing the printer on non-flammable surfaces with an appropriate power source.
As a rule of thumb, following the guidelines outlined in a printer’s manual will keep users from harm while working with a printer. While there may be risks to working with hazardous materials, proper care and etiquette can keep users healthy while doing so.
How much does it cost to 3D print for an hour?
The rate of 3D printing can range widely depending on the complexity of the print and the type of printer being used.
If a printer wants a return on investment, they will want to charge enough money per hour so that the price of the printer will be offset by printing time. So if a $300 printer is expected to print for 900 hours, a company will need to charge at least $0.33 per hour to make their money back.
Complex prints may also add to printing costs, as prints with many details may require extra time to set up. Intricate prints are also more prone to error when printing, so the printer may seek to offset this risk through an additional fee.
Are all Thingiverse files free?
Yes, all files listed on Thingiverse are offered for free. The company that runs the website, MakerBot Industries, makes most of its money from its 3D printer lines. So all files provided through their website are free and easy to download.
In The End
All in all, there are many different websites for printing enthusiasts to find free STL files. While not all websites offer the same extensive catalog of 3D models, each item on today’s list includes a unique set of 3D models being offered on their website.
Whether you enjoy the complex landscape of tabletop wargames or need to print out a part for some research, there is a free STL website for your needs.
If you or someone you know is interested in 3D printing, make sure to check out one of our top 3D printers so that you can get started.