Table of contents
- What’s the best 3D printing service in 2021?
- The 10 best online 3D print services in 2021
- 3D printing services and on-demand manufacturing services overview
- Peer-to-peer 3D printing services (distributed manufacturing)
- Compare 3D printing services (comparison engines)
- On-demand manufacturing platforms: special mentions
- Why choose on-demand manufacturing over in-house 3D printing?
- Online manufacturing services: FAQ
What’s the best 3D printing service in 2021?
An online 3D printing service provider can help you save time and money. It’s much cheaper to order a 3D print online rather than investing in an expensive 3D printer and learning how to use it.
Moreover, 3D printing technology still isn’t fail-safe; although the tech has made leaps and bounds over the years, a 3D printer generally requires a lot of attention and tweaking to get the settings right for each 3D printed part.
Taking into account the numerous hours it takes to 3D print an object and the number of things that can go wrong (even up to when your part is 99% 3D printed!), it’s easy to waste a whole lot of precious time.
That’s where digital manufacturing platforms swoop in: you just send them your 3D model file – or have them model it for you – and choose your preferred 3D printing method and material (plastic, wood, metal, etc.). Then, their experts make sure you quickly receive your 3D printed part on demand just the way you need it.
Now, there are hundreds of on-demand manufacturing service platforms. Our hand-picked selection of online manufacturing services is here to cut through the clutter and help you get off to the right start. We divided these services into two categories:
- Additive manufacturing platforms (3D printing only)
- Hybrid digital manufacturing platforms (3D printing, CNC milling, laser cutting, etc.)
Further on, we also mention a few peer-to-peer 3D printing services and 3D printing service comparison engines, as well as benefits and limits of ordering 3D prints online.
3D printing services vs hybrid on-demand manufacturing services
Some platforms exclusively use additive manufacturing methods (3D printing), while others can also make use of subtractive methods (e.g. CNC milling or laser cutting).
If you just want to print specific items in small quantities, like a plastic Baby Groot or a professional prototype, you’re better off choosing a 3D printing service. Subtractive methods will likely be a better choice when it comes to large series of objects.
The 10 best online 3D print services in 2021
|Online 3D printing/manufacturing platforms||Type*||Metal 3D printing service||Country of origin||More information|
|i.Materialise||3D printing service||Yes||Belgium||Details|
|Kraftwurx||3D printing service||Yes||United States||Details|
|Materialise OnSite||3D printing service||Yes||Belgium||Details|
|Shapeways||3D printing service||Yes||United States||Details|
|Sculpteo||3D printing service||Yes||France||Details|
|Fictiv||On-demand manufacturing platform||-||United States||Details|
|3Diligent||On-demand manufacturing platform||Yes||United States||Details|
|3D Hubs||On-demand manufacturing platform||Yes||Netherlands||Details|
|3ERP||On-demand manufacturing platform||Yes||China||Details|
|Protolabs||On-demand manufacturing platform||Yes||United Kingdom||Details|
*Type: some platforms offer 3D printing exclusively, while others feature additional manufacturing methods such as CNC milling, laser engraving/cutting, injection molding, etc.
3D printing services and on-demand manufacturing services overview
We divided these services into two categories: 3D printing services (additive manufacturing only) and on-demand digital manufacturing platforms (both additive and subtractive manufacturing methods).
3D printing services (additive manufacturing only)
- Country: Belgium
- Link to site: i.Materialise
The company is based in Belgium but ships internationally. If you’re still unsure about what you want to print, I.materialise has a large collection of previously printed items that you can order.
- Country: United States
- Link to site: Kraftwurx
While Kraftwurx does offer 3D printing, the site is geared more towards e-commerce. You can upload your ideas and use Kraftwurx’s infrastructure to drop-ship your products.
- Country: Belgium
- Link to site: Materialise OnSite
Their lead time for shipping products is 10 days or under for almost all materials, except for vacuum casting materials for which the lead time is 15 days. The site also has a large list of 3D software for preparing files as well as a dedicated space for medical 3D printing.
- Country: United States
- Link to site: Shapeways
If you are looking to 3D print jewelry, their printing materials even include platinum, gold, silver, bronze, and other precious metals. If you do not have 3D modeling software, you can use Shapeways’ site to order 3D models online. Their lead time is between 2 and 15 days, depending on the material.
- Country: France
- Link to site: Sculpteo
Sculpteo partnered with Staples 3D printing service in 2015 offering cheap online 3D printing, so you can also pick up your order at select production centers in France or California, US. They also have an online 3D printing store where you can buy pre-designed prints.
Note: Sculpteo features a laser cutting service as well, but we still included it in this additive manufacturing section as they are historically and mainly known for that segment.
Other notable cloud 3D printing services
While these previous 3D printing services were our choice as the best, there are a few notable mentions:
- Fast Radius
- Voodoo Manufacturing
- X3D Print
- FedEx 3D Printing
On-demand manufacturing platforms (CNC machining, laser cutting, injection molding, etc.)
- Country: United States
- Link to site: 3Diligent
3Diligent will connect you with an affordable 3D printing service and will find where to 3D print something for you. They also offer strategy consulting to help your business know exactly how to use a 3D model printing service or an on-demand manufacturing service correctly.
- Country: Netherlands
- Link to site: 3D Hubs
Note: the 3D Hubs network was initially intended for hobbyists that had 3D printers at home. In 2018, however, the company decided to focus on professional and industrial providers only.
- Country: China
- Link to site: 3ERP
3ERP promises to have one of the fastest turnarounds on the market because they do all their on-demand manufacturing on-site. For users looking for a 3D printing service in China, 3ERP is a great choice.
- Country: United States
- Link to site: Fictiv
They can also connect you with a large scale 3D printing service or an on-demand manufacturing service.
- Country: United Kingdom
- Link to site: Protolabs
Protolabs offers a metal, elastomer, LSR, and plastic 3D printing service for printing prototypes and parts. They also offer injection molding, CNC machining, and CNC finishing. It is a high-quality 3D printing service with better delivery times than most other services.
Other notable digital manufacturing platforms
If you need to get something 3D printed online or you want to order 3D prints online and the companies we’ve already listed are not up to the job, check out these honorable mentions:
- Star Rapid
- Rapid Direct
- Stratasys Direct
Peer-to-peer 3D printing services (distributed manufacturing)
Peer-to-peer 3D printing services are made up of networks of users – both hobbyists and professionals – that own a 3D printer.
Freelabster has a network of over 3,500 people who have 3D printers, making their service a little different. If you have a 3D file you want printed and need it quick, Freelabster is perfect. Most products ship in 48 hours and arrive quickly because you choose a printer that is close to you. The site also has an option to help you with 3D modeling, if you don’t have a 3D file yet.
Makexyz is another peer-to-peer service which connects you with local printers. The site has a little extra in that it also offers instant pricing, makes sure your project can be 3D printed (feasibility), and offers free shipping. They achieve this by having an enormous printing network and choosing someone who is closest to your town to print your 3D file.
Compare 3D printing services (comparison engines)
3D printing service comparison engines will find which platforms are suited for your project depending on your budget, material choice, manufacturing method, etc.
3DCompare offers 3D printing, CNC machining, injection molding, laser cutting, metal casting, urethane casting, CAD designing, and 3D scanning. Since they have such an enormous network of manufacturers, they can offer over 200 materials to choose from. The site also has customer support, instant quotes, 3D file analysis, and quality control.
Craftcloud is a comparison engine from All3DP. You can upload your 3D file to the site and receive an instant quote for a wide range of materials. Craftcloud will then find the best manufacturer for your item and have the item shipped to you.
Treatstock is a comparison engine with a little bit of everything else. They offer 3D printing services, a 3D printing marketplace, and can connect you to local 3D printers and service providers. The site also has a collection of free applications which you can use online to create 3D files, view them, test them, and upload to their site.
The 3DCompare tool helps you order a 3D print online at the lowest possible price.
On-demand manufacturing platforms: special mentions
Below we list a few interesting platforms that didn't make the cut in our final selection for varying reasons.
Plethora CNC machining
Plethora does offer a beginning-to-end service, starting with your 3D file and ending with a product in your hand. However, they can only help with products that are CNC-machined. They do not yet offer additive manufacturing, but their website promises to make them one of the leading competitors.
Ponoko 3D laser cutting and engraving
This platform no longer offers 3D printing services. Ponoko does offer laser printing, cutting, and engraving. The site also offers instant quotes, same-day shipping, and cheap prices. They offer 85+ materials that you can order and cut, print, and engrave on.
Staples 3D printing service
The Staples 3D printing service is a relatively new one on the market. Staples joined up with Sculpteo to create this additive manufacturing service. Their website does not give much information regarding which materials they use or which methods of 3D printing they offer, but apparently you can find 3D printing in most Staples stores, which is very convenient.
Why choose on-demand manufacturing over in-house 3D printing?
Benefits of using a 3D printing service
- Cost reduction: although some online 3D print platforms charge a lot for their services, it’s still faster cheaper than investing in a 3D printer and all the costs that go along with it (energy, maintenance, management, materials, etc.). That said, if you need to 3D print many parts all throughout the year, you might want to produce them in-house with your own additive manufacturing system.
- Simplicity: 3D printing is still a complex technology, especially for beginners. By using an on-demand 3D printing service, you can skip the steep learning curve and reap the benefits without the hassle.
- Quality: the people that operate the platforms’ 3D printers are experts, so you can rest assured that your parts will be delivered close to perfection. You don’t have to worry about print failures, layer adhesion, warping, and other issues which can be a real headache.
- Material choice: the vast array of materials available for you to choose from is something that you can’t access otherwise, unless you have an entire warehouse filled with different kinds of 3D printers (stereolithography, powder bed fusion, extrusion, binder jetting…) and corresponding materials.
There are so many advantages linked to externalizing 3D prints, it would be too long to list them all. The main takeaway is that– in most cases– it’s quicker, easier, and cheaper.
Of course, there are also all the advantages that 3D printing offers in comparison to traditional manufacturing methods (e.g. time-consuming and expensive injection molding), but that’s a whole other story.
Limits of ordering 3D prints online
- Pricey: it can cost several hundred dollars just to 3D print one small part, depending on the material and technology you want to use (especially with a 3D metal printing service). Again, it’s still cheaper than buying a $200K printer, but it’s something to keep in mind.
- Time/delays: ordering a 3D print on-demand can be much quicker than producing it internally. However, if you’re making a prototype that you need to keep enhancing until its final version (which is generally the case in product design), it means you’ll have to wait whichever amount of days it takes for the provider to print and ship the newest version.
- Certification: your parts won’t necessarily be certified (e.g. ISO standards). 3D Hubs does offer some certifications, but this isn’t the case for most platforms. If you’re making parts that you need to sell (versus personal objects), think twice about this.
Hence, to order a 3D print online isn’t always the best way to go depending on your needs and use cases.
Online manufacturing services: FAQ
What is a 3D printing service bureau?
A 3D printing service bureau is a company that can 3D print your files for you, without you having to buy expensive equipment.
What is distributed manufacturing?
Distributed manufacturing is when a 3D manufacturing platform takes your design and sends it to the most appropriate manufacturer– geography-wise, technology-wise, or both.
Where can I find a 3D printing service near me?
Peer-to-peer 3D printing services will find local 3D printers for you. We recommend Freelabster and Makexyz.
What’s the difference between i.Materialise and Materialise OnSite?
Materialise OnSite is geared more towards professionals and industrial use cases, while i.Materialise is more adapted for hobbyists and occasional users. They are two different 3D printing services, but both under the umbrella of the Materialise Group.
Where to find a 3D printing service in India?
Anjali3D is a 3D printing service in India.
Where to find a 3D printing service in China?
3ERP is a 3D printing service in China, with a wide range of manufacturing capabilities.
- If you’re looking to 3D print strong, resistant parts, you may want to look into high-temperature 3D printers (PEEK, PEKK, PEI).
- Powder 3D printing is becoming more and more affordable. Check out our selection of the best desktop SLS 3D printers for professionals.
- For photorealistic prototypes and end-use parts, you’ll need a full-color 3D printer.
- Use our 3D printer comparison engine to get a quick overview of the 3D printer market. We list 3D printers of all shapes and sizes in different price ranges and with a vast choice of technologies.