Anything goes! A test drive of 3D share

3D file sharing and communities are all the rage and a constant stream of new sites are popping up all the time. Some well-established communities, like YouMagine, have already started to think deeply about the legal ramifications of file sharing objects, and are now engaging in discussion about these issues with users (3DPL). YouMagine is also happy for other sites, even competitors, to use the same 3DPL framework — all are encouraged to contribute and shape the license terms. Many others are just trying to get noticed, whilst also trying to figure out a way to make money from all the feverous interest and media hype around the 3D printing ecosystem. Some are hoping for a quick boom, buyout, and cash rich exit plan trying to emulate the Apple app store. Others are taking a more long-term view of community trust, growth and open architectures. Of course this is nothing new, and 3D file sharing sites have been around for a long while now. It's just that the constant growing interest in 3D printing and the thirst for trinkets, models and objects to print, is making everyone want to be a 3D designer and cash in on the action. I'm all in favour of more people wanting to design things. Having your own desktop 3D printer helps with that desire, especially when you can virtualise and acquire objects once only trapped on screen, in a film or favourite game. It's then an exciting learning curve to making your own models and sharing with others. The down side is that not everyone can be a good designer, and I don't want to sound negative, but it is necessary to comprehend this truth. The fact is that good designers have to understand materials, processes and the functionality of an object for it to be safe, usable and reliable. Many ‘things’ also go through a lot of testing, approvals and safety certification before being released as commercial products. That's where things start getting serious, and inevitable lawsuits happen when someone is hurt or even killed by using a 3D printed object, maybe even in a different way from how it was intended, but who is going to be blamed? The legal issues around 3D printing are for another debate, I will revisit this at another time. But please be mindful and consider these things when looking at objects on 3D content sites that you may decide to use around your house or give away as gifts, especially for kids to play with etc. Not all 3D file sharing services will survive and many will polarise into levels of quality or self imposed silo's where some designers feel their work fits or is more valued by the audience. With so many sharing sites it's often hard to decide where your work is going to be posted and if you will reach the desired audience. I decided to take a test drive of 3Dshare recently, to see what it offers for the enthusiast designer and user. 3Dshare has managed to distinguish itself in two specific ways. 3DShare makes a bold statement: Anything Goes! This is obviously going to attract interest and that seems to be working well for them. 3DShare is keen to highlight that it has NSFW sections for sharing models (seems to be very popular!) Again another tempting hook to make you wonder what goodies could be waiting for you. The second angle and point of difference is a low cost of download ($0.99) but a high percentage of that ($0.70) going to the designer. A very similar model to the Apple appstore. You can also choose to offer free models for download. To get the interest level up even further, 3DShare offered to give $5 to the first 1000 people signing up. This proved to be such a popular incentive that they are now offering it to anyone that registers, and it's obviously sustainable as they state: "we are extending the free $5 offer for anyone who signs up, indefinitely." There are going to be many designers and artists, however, that will not want their work being valued at $1 or 'Free'. 3DShare is not looking for these people, it wants to do volume, it also wants to be all set-up and ready for when 3D objects become 'viral' — something that's actually already starting to happen. I can see a few common problems on the horizon. The one thing that always seems to bog down new 3D model sharing sites is how to verify or check the designs that are being offered. That's not always an issue with the designer, but it is increasingly a problem for users who want to 3D print models that were never intended to be 3D printable. 3DShare already has some fantastic looking models that simply will not be printable using desktop 3D printers — and even some professional ones would struggle. As a past example of this issue, 3D model sharing sites like CGTrader, that have been around for many years, found 3D printing was suddenly a new area away from the more artistic 3D design and models for animation, games or just to appreciate. This led to a transition period of models that could not be desktop 3D printed but were being offered as '3D print ready' it was and still is a constant battle to make sure designs were suitable for 3D printing and not just impressive texture mapped meshes that could not. I have spoken to many users who end up disappointed when they can't print out a design. I know CGTrader is making a big effort to improve and verify what is classified as '3D print ready'. As a test I browsed 3DShare for anything that may catch the eye of a user. Popular designs are shown so they are going to be more likely to be purchased again. I selected some free and also paid models to test out how the site works. Many of the free models have been listed by well known designers already using other free model sharing sites. Roman Hegglin, for example, has a vast range of Voronoi animals and objects, most of which can be easily 3D printed on a desktop platform.

Stanford Bunny - Voronoi style, model design and image by Roman Hegglin.

Along with whatever images the designer uploads, 3Dshare lets you preview .STL files and other common formats. They are also working hard to preview and show many more advanced format files in the future. I was pleased to see that all free downloads use a creative commons attribution license. What's rather disappointing is that when you click on the 3DShare license link you just get page of dummy typesetting text, indicating that's maybe not yet seen as a priority. There are also lots of different CC License types, so that really needs to be sorted out soon. I did talk to 3DShare about the license issue, they stated that they are taking it seriously and are looking into various options, despite this the same holding page is still being shown a few weeks later. I hope they do take some more time to look at licensing correctly. After downloading the free model, you have a zipped file. Inside it contains .STL model files with cryptic names like 'o_19ecd48gp1jum1cvvqsu16fq81g15' and unfortunately no other license information, details about the designer or usage terms. I downloaded a few to make sure it was similar for all.

Useful clip assortment - Model and image by Richard Swika

When considering a paid for model, I opted to try a useful model set by Richard Swika. This is a design I could easily make myself, but as the cost is under $1 it's an ideal candidate to prove the low cost vs design effort and time theory.     A warning indicates that $0.99 will be drawn from your account, and the download starts. You get a similar zip file with cryptic names and no license or terms etc. To my disappointment only five .STL model files were inside. Not the collection of 25 that is described in the overview. After checking a few more like Roman's free chess set, (again only 5 pieces downloaded) I think this could be a bug. I asked 3DShare about this issue and they got straight onto it with a very quick reply and appreciation for the feedback. It’s clear that the service has been running for a while, but it’s just booming with interest at the moment. One big issue is that I do not know under what terms I can use this useful clip assortment set. Is it just for my private use? In theory I could print out thousands and start selling them. I don't know if the designer would be happy or not about that. It's quite common for a non-commercial license restriction to be placed on models, even ones that are bought. This is why license terms are so important for designers and users. Not to be all doom and gloom, but I selected this useful clip set to highlight the other looming issue mentioned at the top of this post. If I print out the clip, mount and hang something expensive from it, then the clip fails or breaks who is at fault? The designer, the printer, the user? Maybe the 3D file sharing site or even the 3D printing material supplier? Richard gives an overview of what the clips can be used for, but he has no real control over anything after that. It's these sort of boring but legal or safety issues that do need further consideration. 3Dshare terms and conditions are lengthy and aim to cover plenty of scenarios, but certainly not all. For my next paid for model I selected something that looks great, but I could see it would not print well on a desktop 3D printer. I like dragons, so the Lagiacrus Dragon Model by Follygon was selected. It's in the 3D printing category.  

Lagiacrus Dragon Model - Model and image by Follygon

No details about the model, file format or license information here and it's not possible to preview this model in 3D. On download it's an OBJ file without the image map for the skin. You don't get the colourful dragon shown in the photo, but the model itself is fantastic with plenty of detail. It is going to be very hard to desktop 3D print, you would need to add supports and maybe even change parts of the model to get adequate results. You could upload it to a professional 3D printing service, but without any license information it's not possible to know if you can print and sell these dragons or maybe remix parts of the mesh into another model design. After using the 3Dshare website as a user, I then switched to being a designer and uploading some of my own 3D models to share and sell. I have had a desk tidy set up on Youmagine for about 12 months, where it's had just under 1000 free downloads so I can't tick the 'exclusive to 3Dshare' box. Out of interest I selected the $0.99 price to see if anyone would now pay for it. (Or at least feel sorry for me and donate a few $.) You get a simple window to drag and drop files and images, enter details about the model and select a category. You don't get anywhere to add or select a license so I added the CC-BY-SA details to the description. This set contains seven separate model files, so I can test to see if all the files get downloaded. 3DShare lets you download your own models but still costs $0.99. Sure enough the download contained only four STL files and the picture of the puzzle desk set. It is a bug in the download system. This should be fixed by the time you read this - hopefully. I have not managed to find a way to edit the entry, so it's stuck like that for a while. Overall, 3Dshare is easy to use and find items of interest. Personally, I would want to use this site for both free and paid for models, but until the license terms for the designer and user are more clear I'm reluctant to add more model designs just yet. If we end up with 3D models as popular as Grumpy Cat or the recent Katy Perry left shark then this site could make millions, and any lucky or opportunistic designers will also do very well in the deal getting 70% of the sales profit. One thing's for sure, we are going to see many more copyright issues, take down notices and IP infringement battles in the 3D model sharing space, it's not if, but when that all kicks off big-time. Meanwhile a few weeks later as I finish this post, my puzzle tidy set has had 13 downloads and 262 views. I’m sure if you uploaded some 3D Porn, you could make a small fortune, why should 3D printing be any different? Anything goes! Right?  

About Richard Horne

Richard Horne is well known in the 3D printing community as RichRap. Rich is a highly passionate advocate of 3D printing for all uses in industry, education and the desktop. Since joining the open-source maker movement and then the RepRap project in 2009, Rich has been blogging, developing and sharing ideas for the greater global interest in 3D printing.