You don’t need to learn design software just to use a 3D printer. The internet’s filled the brim with high-quality 3D printable designs, many of which are available for free. You can find these files on printable databases, which are free to use and include search functions to help you find what you’re looking for.
Printable databases are easy to use and host printer-ready STL, OBJ, or even CAD files for students and engineers. Of course, there are a lot of databases to choose from. Some databases focus on trinkets and tools, while others are centered around figurines and cosplay props. In this article, we’re going to look at the best printable databases available today, and provide some info on how they might appeal to you.
Update, 6/2/22: Verified all copy and links up to date.
What to Look for in a Printable Database
Everything for Free: Thingiverse
High-Quality Paid & Free Designs: Cults
A 3D Design Marketplace: PinShape
Quality Open-Source Designs: YouMagine
Figurines, Art, Cosplay Props, and Spare Parts: MyMiniFactory
The Largest Online CAD Database: GrabCad
The Odd Duck: Free3D
Each printable database has its strengths, focus, and features. So before we dump them at your feet, let’s review what you should expect from a printable database. This way, you can dive into a database that appeals to your interests and start printing designs right out the gate.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Cost: Most of the databases in this article host a mix of free and paid designs. Premium designs usually sell for just a few dollars each, and they’re often well worth the quality. If you only want to look at free designs, then check out Thingiverse.
- Focus: Each printable database has its own “focus” or “genre.” MyMiniFactory, for example, hosts a ton of minifig designs for tabletop games. YouMagine hosts a lot of mechanical designs, and Thingiverse hosts anything that people are willing to give away for free.
- File Types: Most 3D printers work with STL or OBJ file types. Both file types will work for you, although OBJ files are better for multi-color printing, as they’re capable of carrying texture information. Printable CAD files aren’t as common as STL and OBJ files, but they’re popular among engineers, students, and architects who know how to use the AutoCAD software. GrabCAD is the only notable database for printable CAD files.
- Verified Designs: Some databases verify that designs are printable before publishing them, or include helpful comments from users that explain whether certain printer settings lead to a better result, or if a specific 3D printer works with a model. This keeps you from running into problems or wasting materials. We specify when databases in this article verify their designs.
By the way, if you’re looking for a specific design, then you might want to search for it through Yeggi before opening any of these printable databases. Yeggi is a search engine for printable designs and regularly scans the databases listed in this article.
Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s get into it. Here are the best printable databases, along with some information on how these databases work and how they might appeal to you.
Thingiverse is a massive STL-only database that’s full of high-quality designs and models. Every STL on Thingiverse is free, and you can download whatever you’d like without making an account. Of course, joining Thingiverse allows you to share your designs, or to “customize” the designs of other users.
If you’re new to 3D printing and own a Makerbot printer, then you should try playing with Thingiverse before moving on to another database. Makerbot and Thingiverse are owned by the same company, and the database hosts a ton of designs that are “made for Makerbot” printers.
The only drawback to Thingiverse is that it’s a little disorganized. You may have to browse around a bit to find what you want. But hey, it’s free!
Cults is a well-organized 3D printing database that contains a slew of free and premium designs. Each design is verified for its printability and organized into a collection, like gardening or gaming. While Cults isn’t as free “open” as Thingiverse, it’s a bit easier to find high-quality, relevant designs on the platform.
Designs on Cults come in STL and OBJ file types. And while many designs on Cults are free, others will cost you a couple bucks. Of course, it’s not uncommon to run into jaw-dropping designs that sell at a premium.
PinShape is a tight-knit printable community where you can buy, sell, and share STL and OBJ files. Like Cult, PinShape is neatly organized into design categories and hosts a mix of free and premium designs. But really, the site shines for its Design Marketplace, which is a collection of the best premium designs available on PinShape.
It’s worth mentioning that PinShape also regularly publishes guides and news. This, along with PinShape’s wide repository of printable designs, makes it a useful database for teachers.
If you’re a fan of engineering, mechanical devices, or D&D, then YouMagine is a splendid alternative to other free printable databases. Its selection may not be as vast as Thingiverse or Cults, but YouMagine’s focus on high-quality, open-source designs is both notable and appreciated by hardcore 3D printing fans.
YouMagine hosts STL and OBJ files and neatly organizes them into separate 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.
Interested in figurines, art, and other small printables? MyMiniFactory is a massive database of paid and free STL and OBJ files, with a serious focus on minifigs, cosplay props, and art. Along with its library of tabletop game printables, MyMiniFactory hosts a collection of spare parts for broken electronics, 3D scans of classic statues, complex cosplay gear, and even educational models.
MyMiniFactory verifies that all of its files are printable and allows users to open MyMiniFactory stores for about $25 a month.
GrabCAD is the largest online library of free CAD models. If you’re an engineer, designer, or student who prints CAD models, then this is your sanctuary. All of the files on GrabCAD are free to download, and the website regularly hosts design challenges with groups like NASA and GE. GrabCAD also publishes extensive design tutorials on its website and distributes the GrabCAD Workbench and GrabCAD Print software.
Free3D isn’t a printable database, but we’re including it here for its extensive library of free 3D files. These files, which are often made for video games or 3D animations, can be modified for 3D printing, so they may be useful for people who are just getting started with 3D design.
The Free3D website hosts some printable files, which you can find on the printable landing page. These designs are often made for games, so they may look a little surreal after coming out of your 3D printer.