Top 3D Services: Part 2

3D Printing & Imaging
Top 3D Services: Part 2


Makeys GCode

In Part 1 I introduced slicing and CAD software, two key ingredients in a custom 3D Print. This week I’m going to cover the actual use of your machine and venture into the still-budding world of DIY 3D scanning. Just like last time, all services listed are free (at least to a certain extent).


CAM = Computer Aided Manufacturing, or how to precisely control the movements and actions of your machine with a computer. I’m happy to say that the majority of these support wireless printing, which is a fantastic feature that’s (finally) starting to get popular.


A set of applications built to send GCode to your machine. They all come in a nice package as a free application for Mac, Linux, and PC. Printrun comes with multiple slicers built in, so it can act as a standalone application for all of your 3D Printing needs. This is my workhouse app — it work well with just about anything.

RepRap Wiki

The simple interface makes it especially easy to use, too. There’s really nothing not to like. (RepRap Wiki/GitHub)


Like Printrun, Repeteir-Host is a comprehensive program, covering everything from slicing (Slic3r and Skeinforge are the two options) to part placement and machine control. It’s more complex than Printrun but still works on Mac, Linux, and PC. Although I prefer Printrun, I like the way Repeteir looks more, especially in the part viewer.
Repeteir Host
RepRap Wiki



Here’s a much newer (and more exciting) Repeteir product. Repeteir-Server is made for use with the Raspberry Pi and boasts some nice features, including the ability to handle multiple printers, small memory usage (only 5MB per printer, no matter how large the print is), and a simple web interface to manage jobs. This is fairly new (v0.24) and not available for Mac and PC yet.



OctoPrint is a completely web-based “host” program for controlling your 3D Printer. Since you don’t have to be near your machine to start a print, you can watch it work via a live video feed and interupt the job if needed. There’s a timelapse feature too, which automatically snaps photos at a set frequency and assembles them into a video automatically.
Gullickson Laboratories

Perhaps the best thing about OctoPrint is it’s compatibility with a Raspberry Pi. Pop one of the credit-card sized computers inside your machine and print over WiFi from just about anywhere.


Haxlr8r and MakerBot co-founder Zach Hoeken brought this open-source, wireless printer control to life a few months ago. He recently released v2.0, which integrated Slic3r and improved the overall experience.

The great thing about BotQueue is the ability to talk to multiple machines. You can upload a STL file to the website, walk away, and let the software do the rest. All it takes is a single configuration of the slicer for each machine, and then you’ll never have to worry about slicing again.



Social Coding company GitHub has started doing cool things with hardware. They’ve hooked up their Replicator 2 to a computer that’s running as a server, receiving commands for how to control the machine through WiFi. As they seem to do with just about everything, the whole process is taken care of by the company chat bot, Hubot. You can slice and print a part from your couch at home, periodically checking on its progress in conversation with a chat bot. Pretty neat.

The software only works on OS X at the moment, but it’s completely open-source and available for you to integrate into your own workspace. I wrote more about how it works back in November.


3D Viewers and Files

There are a few good 3D Viewers out there, and the number of them is quickly growing. I’ve been using a program called Pleasant 3D to view and scale STL files for years, even though it hasn’t been updated since early 2012. It’s great for me because it’s simple and does everything I need it to: viewing, rotating, and scaling parts. One of the things I’d like to see in the near future is a 3D version of Pixlr, so I can complete all the editing I need to online, right in the browser I downloaded the model from.

GCode Viewer

This free, in-browser GCode viewer was made by Jeremy Herrman and is based on a simpler viewer by Joe Walnes. It defaults to drawing the toolpath for an Octocat print, but you can upload your own GCode files. Well done Jeremy!
GCode Viewer

I’d like to see the community help out with this and help it grow into a great tool. I would like to be able to set path color based on the current actions or speed of the toolhead. If you’d like to build on this project, check out the code on GitHub.
gCodeVisualizer is another free in-browser viewer that’s worth checking out.



Sketchfab is a free web service for publishing and displaying interactive 3D models. It supports 27 native 3D formats as well as in-browser rendering tools for adjusting textures and lighting. The viewer can be embedded almost anywhere (even Facebook) as easily as a YouTube video. You can upload a model to the web in two clicks or use one of the exporters available for CAD software (like SketchUp) to upload with one click.

We featured a particularly fascinating project from a Sketchfab user on a past 3D Thursday (related models here).

“Vadertie” by Sketchfab cofounder Trigrou

(Homepage/Interview with Co-Founder Alban Denoyel)


CGTrader is a 3D model marketplace that helps designers and engineers buy and sell 3D models. There’s a huge variety of models available to buy, and some available for free as well. This is a great resource for models of all types, whether you’re looking for an accurate model of a Lamborghini Aventador or a grizzly bear.

CGTrader is hosting a 3D Modeling competition to celebrate their Birthday, and the deadline for submission is tomorrow, March 15th. Submit your models and learn more here.



Makrz is a free iOS app by 3D Printer company Printrbot. It’s home to thousands of free, open-source models for 3D Printing and lasercutting. My favorite feature is the integration with DropBox — link your account and download files to the cloud right from the app, so you’re ready to slice and print once you’re near your machine.


(iTunes/Announcement Blog Post)

Cubify API

Are you a web developer and fan of 3D Printing? This API allows you to connect your web app to and the robust e-commerce and printing service that comes with it. 3DSystems provides a PHP interface for connecting to the Cubify web services but does not include UI or hosting components. They do plan to support additional languages in the future.

AppCreate is a great option for artists and modelers to create an app for creating, with no coding experience needed. Once your app is approved by the Cubify team, you’ll receive 5% of the purchase price on models created and bought with your app.



Thingiverse is the original (and my default) community for sharing and finding free CAD files. The number of models available is massive — I typically start here when looking for inspiration or something neat to print.
Maker Faire Robots on Thingiverse

MakerBot recently released the Customizer app, which allows users to create parts that can be easily modified by others. The first Customizer contest winners were recently announced, and the results are impressive.



Like Thingiverse, GrabCAD is a repository of free CAD files. Unlike Thingiverse, GrabCAD contains more recreations of already-existing items in 3D — everything from car chassis and engines to Apple devices and firearms.
GrabCAD Library


3D Scanning

Although still expensive and challenging at times, hobbyist 3D Scanning is getting easier with the recent influx of great tools. The release and subsequent hacking of the Microsoft Kinect was a big turning point, and a lot of applications take advantage of its abilities. Thankfully though, you won’t need one to use most of the services I cover here.

Autodesk 123D Catch

123D Catch is a Scanning app that cleverly uses 2D images to assemble a 3D model. You need to take 20-40 overlapping photos of a stationary thing and the software stitches them all together. You can patch any holes in your model with the web app, and you don’t need an expensive DSLR to do it; a smartphone will do just fine.
123D Software


3D Systems recently released a similar service called Cubify Capture. It’s still in Beta but looks promising.

(Homepage/Sample Scans)


Mo3dls stands for “Mobile 3D Laser Scanner”, and it works differently than all the other scanning software here. Your smartphone, securely held in place, measures the position of a line laser on an object as it’s slowly rotated by a motorized table. Unfortunately, it’s not available yet, but I’d highly recommend watching the video below if you have a few minutes because it looks great.

I’m definitely excited about this, and I think I have a reason to be — the sample scan they posted is very detailed.

(Homepage/Sample Scan)


Skanect does take advantage of the technology inside the Microsoft Kinect, the Asus Xtion Pro Live, or the Primesense Carmine. By moving the device around the scene, Skanect automatically stitches together the different points of view in real-time to instantly create color 3D models of objects, people or rooms.

The workflow includes simple post-processing tools to create 3D-Printable models in minutes. The free version can upload models for online sharing or to online 3D Printing services like Sculpteo. The pro version enables full export to personal modeling software.

(Homepage/Sample Scans)
What are your favorite free 3D Services? Share with us below in the comments.

If you’re involved in a particularly revolutionary or awesome project and would like to write about it for 3D Thursday, or you have a related product that you’d like us to review or write about, please contact Eric Weinhoffer at Thanks for reading!

12 thoughts on “Top 3D Services: Part 2

  1. totalpipec says:

    I think gcode viewer at is worth mentioning

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      Good suggestion, thanks! Added a mention.

  2. Dalia Lasaite says:

    Thanks Eric for mentioning CGTrader!

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      No problem!

  3. Fangschaltung says:

    I think “david laser scanner” at is a great piece of software

  4. James says:

    “Once your app is approved by the Cubify team, you’ll receive 5% of the purchase price on models created and bought with your app.” I was about to report this as a typo until I saw the same on their website. 5%? Really? GEESH! That’s awful generous of them! HAHAHA!! =D

    No need to post this, I just get highly perturbed when I see the creativity of others being taken advantage of, so I had to say something. =)

Comments are closed.


Eric is a Mechanical Engineer with interests in machining, mass manufacturing, product design and kinetic art. While not building things, he enjoys skiing, cycling, and juggling.

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