Many advanced design software packages allow for objects to be created face-by-face, giving powerful and precise control of your design. But to be printable, a 3D design file needs specific requirements to be met, especially having edges that connect so the 3D element has clear dimensionality — called being manifold or watertight. Many design applications, being made for a wide range of uses rather than focusing on 3D printing, don’t check for this automatically.
But now SketchUp, one of the more popular and accessible design packages, has launched its solution to this issue through a partnership with additive manufacturing experts Materialise, to let designers generate printable STL files and access them in its 3D Warehouse repository.
The process, called Printables for 3D Warehouse, is straightforward. Once a SketchUp file is saved and uploaded to 3D Warehouse, a checkbox option allows for it to be sent to Materialise’s cloud-based system to analyze and optimize the file for 3D printability.
The file is then processed — which occurred quite quickly in our tests at Maker Faire, even with the large crowds pushing the limits of cellphone and Wi-Fi access — and marked on 3D Warehouse as being printer-ready. That’s it, tidy and simple.
Prior to this built-in option, SketchUp users needed to use 3rd-party plugins to optimize their content for printing. While this new system requires a network connection to process the files, the SketchUp team explains that Materialise’s algorithms return a high-quality STL file that can be safely printed with great results.
Beyond being a tool for designers, it also expands 3D Warehouse into new territory. Largely a collection of digital models used for virtual projects, from architecture to mapping (part of SketchUp’s growth came from it being a popular tool to make buildings and other structures for Google Earth, and was a property of Google prior to Trimble’s acquisition of it in 2012), the “printable” element opens it to be another outlet to find and share files that can be 3D printed, alongside sites such as Thingiverse and Youmagine.