Modeling for 3D Printing with Shapeways

Create Models for 3D printing with Shapeways in Blender


3D printing continues to get better and cheaper every day. It also is becoming more accessible to casual users and artists. One of the great services offering 3D Printing to you and I is Shapeways. Shapeways allows you to not only get your models printed, it allows you to create an online shop to sell your own models. It’s like the Etsy of 3D printing.

However, preparing your models for 3D printing has it’s own set of requirements. You need to take into account the physical size of the model. Is the model solid or hollow? How thick are the walls? Will the form support its self in the chose material? Among other things, these are just a few of the bits you need to keep in mind when preparing your model for printing.

This tutorial takes you through the process of preparing Suzanne, Blender’s monkey mascot, for printing from start to finish. You’ll learn how to work with real-world measurements, how to hollow out the model, how to check for non-manifold meshes, how to make an escape hole, and more.

suzanne-print-opengl_thumb suzanne-print-bronze_thumb suzanne-print_photo_thumb







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76 Responses to “Modeling for 3D Printing with Shapeways”
  1. Posts: 20

    Jonathan you could mention about one useful thing which is validation programs. I found tutorial that was explaining how it works and how much time you may save while using it. In my case it is netfabb studio (free. You can import your 3d model into it and check if there will be any errors, if the program will detect some minor one, you can repair it. Very good and easy to use program. Basically it is doing “almost” the same job as shapeways autodetect systems.

    Link for the tutorial (min. 45.00 – end):

    Sample Screenshot:

  2. Posts: 2
    eponym says:

    Thanks for the tutorial Jonathan! BTW, how did you enable transparency in the UI?

    • Posts: 4194

      The transparency is a new feature in Blender 2.66, which comes out in about a week or two. You can download a test build from

      In User Preferences > System enable “Region Overlap” and then you can adjust the transparency in Themes > 3D View > Them Space Settings > Region Background :)

  3. Posts: 2
    eponym says:

    Thanks for the tip. I think the increased visibility is a huge bonus!

  4. Posts: 44
    Philippe M. says:

    Great tutorial, Jonathan! I’ve been curious about 3D printing and Shapeways for a while now, so it’s great to see how you’re supposed to set up the mesh beforehand.

    I have to say, though…that mess of faces around the drain holes at the end was quickly driving me nuts 😉 Man, I’m such a topology geek…

    • Posts: 4194

      Hah you and me both. But in this case those were merely surface shading artifacts and won’t have any affect on the print quality :)

  5. Posts: 16
    willettfx says:

    Been wanting to print something years why started into learning Blender …Wish I was rich! Still Learning
    Thanks Jonathan for the info

  6. Posts: 3
    Ray Tomlin says:

    I got into Blender thanks to Shapeways, Thanks for the AWESOME Tutorial! 😀

  7. Posts: 1
    David says:

    Using metric units in blender I exported a 1 meter(ear ro ear) Susane to .stl;.obj and .fbx and then imported those models into a few different CAD-tools.

    The result was the same for each format. 1m in Blender translates to 1 mm.

    I suppose I could send a description to Shapeways saying ‘I want this model to be approximately AxBxC mm’ but it would be nice to know how to set up the export to produce accurate results right away.

    1 workaround seems to be exporting with a scale of 1000.

    • Posts: 1
      Michael says:

      Yes exactly, this is a great tutorial, I did the cube at 4cm just as described but when exporting to Shapeways they said it was to small, Im going to try your suggestion and see if that works.

    • Posts: 41
      chromemonkey says:

      Is the tutorial inaccurate in this respect, or is it just a bug in certain versions of Blender causing it to export with the wrong dimensional units?

      • Posts: 10
        Willie Zenk says:

        I’m afraid the tutorial is inaccurate in this respect. STL files have no units. As a result of this, Shapeways asks you what the intended units are when uploading the file. Also, when imported into Blender, Blender assumes the STL file is Blender units (1 BU = 1 meter). Even if your scene is setup for Imperial. For those printing the object on a home printer, Slic3r assumes millimeters.

  8. Posts: 65
    Joshua Cole says:

    Great tutorial Johnathan! Thanks to you, I was able to make this ready to print:

    Thank you Shapeways for your hard work in providing this service to us. Keep up the great work!

  9. Posts: 53
    Annonymous says:
    The user has disabled their account.
  10. Posts: 51
    rufina says:

    Yay! Thank you for this tute! It was one I was really looking forward to seeing. ^_^

    • Posts: 4194

      I have a Melvin from Shapeways sitting on my desk :) Or actually, he’s leaning because I didn’t get the balance right.

  11. Posts: 4
    Tim Kline says:

    Hi there. Nice video. I’m just starting to learn Blender and I’m really only going to be using it for making 30mm tall miniatures with 3D prints. I’m still kind of new to 3D in general, but learning a lot. Anyway, I had one question.. in your video you showed that Suzanne’s eyes are separate pieces and then solidified them and now they’re flowing into the eye socket so there’s now gaps. I remember reading somewhere that this isn’t a good idea for 3D prints, and you should try and make the whole thing be one big water tight mesh.

    Anyway, is this true? or is it OK to have a lot of different pieces all flowing into each other to make a larger sculpt? It would be a lot nicer if I could sculpt a fist, and then stick a sword handle through it for example, rather than having to sculpt the sword connected to the fist as one big mesh.

    • Posts: 4194

      Hey Tim,

      The multiple pieces is something that is a bit murky. When in doubt, it’s probably best to combine all the meshes into a single, solid mesh. That being said, having overlapping parts is not necessarily a bad thing. It can largely come down to how much overlap there is, and whether the pieces should move or not.

    • Posts: 10
      Willie Zenk says:

      Successfully printing intersecting geometries is entirely dependent on the slicing software that generates the G code that is sent to your printer. As the title of this video explains, these tips are for Shapeways prints. The directions may or may not be necessary for your particular printer/software. I’m not sure what software Shapeways uses–likely various proprietary programs depending on the material and size of the print (which may or may not even use G code). I have not tried slicing intersecting geometries with Slic3r. To combine two meshes in Blender, you might use the Boolean modifier. But that could cause other topological problems, especially with very detailed sculpted meshes. What kind of printer do you have? What software are you using?

      • Posts: 4
        Tim Kline says:

        thanks guys

        Not sure what the make of the printer is or his software, but my “3D Printer Guy” has a really high res printer. I just emailed and asked, but no response yet. He can do really fine detail. the 3D figures I had done by someone else, I printed them through shapeways at first and the detail was washed out especially in the face, so I’ve been using this other guy instead. When I do my own sculpts I’ll probably still do shapeways though, since it will be cheaper and I can get a feel for what I’m doing.. then get the high res sculpt done separately for my production figures.

        I went through the beginner tutorials and now I’m just starting the intro to character modeling. Learning a lot so far :) I was messing with booleans and I think that might be the way to go. So I could have say a closed fist, and stick a sword handle through it so it looks like he’s holding it, then use the boolean modifier to merge them? When i was playing around it was making some funky looking corner details where the 2 pieces meet, but I think it will still be fine since it’s such a small size, no one will ever notice if it’s not a perfect right angle. The miniatures are only going to be 30mm tall.. a fist will be like 2-3mm big. And I’ll be going from the high res 3D print, then the manufacturer will make rubber molds from that, and the final figures will be made out of pewter. So if there was anything messy I could always fix it on the master print since there will still be a little bit of sanding and cleanup to do anyway.

        I just wanted to be able to build myself a “weapons & bits” library, so that I can easily import them and add them to a figure as needed.. and then everyone’s items will match and be uniform across the board.

        Could the boolean modifier make any holes if I’m not careful? I just want to make sure my mesh is water tight. Or is there an option where I can automatically fill any holes, like “cap holes” in 3DS max?

      • Posts: 10
        Willie Zenk says:

        I have never seen the boolean create holes that would cause a manifold mesh to become non-manifold. There might be some internal voids where the two meshes do not overlap, if the sword handle does not completely fill the space inside the hand. But that shouldn’t be an issue. It sounds like a fun project you are doing. Are your models on thingiverse. com?

  12. Posts: 9
    Mark Hoefer says:

    Hey guys, I REALLY could use some help with this, im trying to get the dimensions right on an object for shapeways

    Basically i thinki have the scale kind of correct in blender but whenever i upload the OBJ file the original bounds and the oriented bounds seem a bit… off

    Literally the only thing that matters on this project is the the interior diameter on the disc is 1 1/4″ real life dimensions, as long as the rest of the model stays how it is proportional to the inside diameter, then this will work out just fine, but i am terrible at knowing if this will come out correctly, would anyone be willing to help?

    • Posts: 4194

      Hey Mark,

      So sorry for the terribly late reply.

      When uploading to Shapeways I’ve found using Blender Units as inches and then uploading as “Meters” seems to work best. This is a bit odd, but it works.

  13. Posts: 37

    Hi there, I have just one question, so watching this tutorial make me think good topology is not that necessary for 3D printing. So what if I have a dynamic topology created object? Leaving the object with the proper size and proper wall thickness (+ water tight) would that be enough to print it? Is it topology not important? (other than the normals orientation)

    • Posts: 4194

      That’s absolutely correct! So long as the mesh is manifold (watertight) then the printer could care less what the topology is. Clean mesh flow is really more for animation and modelers sanity than anything else.

    • Posts: 4194

      That depends on the type of printer you have. If you have a filament (FDM/FFF) printer then no, you don’t need an escape hole. If you have have a resin-based (SLA / DLP) printer, then yes, you’ll need an escape hole.

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