If you own a 3D printer and are looking for designs, there's a good chance you've come across the Thingiverse library. Run by MakerBot, the company behind the Replicator line of 3D printers, it's estimated to have over 700,000 user-created designs. That includes everything from action figures, jewelry, gadgets like a DIY Game Boy, experiments like an endlessly growing Katamari Damacy ball, and random household items like pickle tongs.
But while they've been getting cheaper, home 3D printers are far from common. For most people, there's no reason to browse the Thingiverse other than random curiosity. It's easier to get actual objects from an online market like Shapeways, which lets designers make their projects on high-end 3D printers and sell finished items to customers. Now, though, MakerBot is trying to make its catalog friendlier by partnering with global printer-sharing service 3D Hubs.
Files are free, but designers can ask for a tipFounded in 2013, 3D Hubs lets people who own 3D printers offer their services to local customers, taking a cut of their sales. Under the partnership, Thingiverse designers can offer a "get this printed" button that will let visitors order it through 3D Hubs. The files themselves are free, but designers can ask for donations.
Technically, this was all possible before the partnership. Thingiverse designs can all be downloaded for free, and from there, it wouldn't be hard to simply take the file and find a printer on 3D Hubs. Right now, it's clearly still geared toward people who know what they want; clicking the button on the design for a "folding fidget cube" took me to a long page of unexplained file names and suggested a $31,000 wax printing option. But in time, it could make the process simpler and more foolproof. If nothing else, it reminds people that 3D printing can make things for everyone, not just hardcore tinkerers.
For now, a handful of popular designers can offer printing options for their creations, including practical toolmaker Walter Hsiao and the more aesthetically focused design studio Nervous System. The buttons will be rolling out over the course of this morning. In the future, they'll be coming to a second wave of designers, and a spokesperson from MakerBot says that this print-on-demand option will eventually be available to everyone.
Update April 21st, 10:30AM ET: Added comment from MakerBot.