A crazy idea to build a very special Thingiverse alternative. What do you think?

Folks, in the past years, like many others, I have had a love/hate relationship with Thingiverse. I love having access to more than two million models. But, on the other hand, I hate that many of them are not very good and may not print successfully. The idea of hosting OpenSCAD models with user-friendly front-end customizations is fascinating. But, unfortunately, it rarely works. Recently Thingiverse was hacked, placing user data at risk. It is time to think about alternatives.

As part of my research into alternatives, I have looked at close to a dozen sites. Some are good, and some are not very good. Some with ads everywhere, some with no ads. Some with paid models, some free, and some with a mixture of models.

Overall I found more models for gamers and fun than models targeting practical 3d prints. Now, I will be the first to admit I am not even sure what makes a print practical. For example, if you are babysitting a screaming grandchild, a suitable toy is very practical.

So this got me thinking. What if you had a site where all models are customizable and scripts driving these models were protected from downloads to ensure the designer’s intellectual property rights. Perhaps the site would have “sample” models from the scripts available for free downloads with “customized model” available for a fee. Since all models are customizable, a site with thousands of models would be as impactful as a site with many thousands of static models.

Let me present a simple example. I made a video for my channel about modeling an “L” shaped shelf bracket with OpenSCAD. The model was unique when used with the OpenSCAD customizer; a user was able to change the size of the two legs of the model, the placement of the screw holes, and the size of the holes. This simple produced hundreds of practical variations that anyone with a 3d printer would be able to use.

Another model might be as simple as a small storage box with multiple dividers. Everyone has a bunch of junk in a drawer somewhere in their house. With this model, you could produce unlimited variations, one large compartment or many small compartments: six centimeters high or ten.

A user visiting the site would have the ability to specify their customizations and view unlimited online 3d renderings for free. In addition, they would only be charged a fee when they downloaded a model.

This site will be a for-profit business since there are high costs in creating the technology and hosting the models. However, with experience running several businesses, I recognize that the personal costs to support the users, handle payment issues, and keep the technology running are also significant. Therefore, we do not want to create another Thingiverse. So we ensure we have sufficient capital and make this a profitable business.

Now let’s get crazy. Is it possible to kickstart an endeavor like this? First, would subscribers receive early access to the site, helping to direct the features and capabilities of the software? Then, depending on the level, they gain access to free or discounted downloads, and if they are designers, premier placements of their models in search results.

These are just thoughts I am sharing to solicit a robust discussion of the topic. I may also post a video about this idea to my channel to further promote discussions.

Here are some additional questions to think about together.

  • Who should set the price per model, the designer, or the site administrator?
  • What should the price of an annual subscription be, and what should it include?
  • What do we offer lifetime subscriptions? What should they include?
  • Should the site also include static models, and if so, why? There are many places to find static models (STL files that cannot be customized)?
  • How many models do we need to go live?
  • Should we incur the cost of printing every model before we post it, or is it sufficient to require photos of prints?
  • What are your thoughts about ads?
  • How often should designers get paid?
  • Is it practical to only pay designers on PayPal?
  • Do you have any objections to using PayPal for the payment system, both via PayPal directly and with direct credit card support through PayPal?
  • I anticipate adding mobile apps in the long term, but do we need to support mobile apps to go live?
  • Should we support a slicer on the site?
And feel free to share any other thoughts you may have.

All the best. Thanks for reading this.


I am new to 3D printing, I have a very lot to learn, especially CAD programs. My thoughts are that this is a good idea. Yes, there should be a subscription to this service. There should also be an annual fee. This would help keep the membership volume down, easier to manage, but someone would have to purge UN-renewed membership. Pay Pal can be good and bad. Designers should be paid at a 6 month cycle, this way they could use their proceeds to purchase other designers models.

Give this some more thought with some of the members of this forum who have a lot more experience than I do.

I already commented elsewhere. I think it is feasible if done correctly. I think crowd sourcing is the new way to do things. It seems to work though I have no personal experience with it.

I just watched the Youtube video on this and I think it is a great idea. Count me in if you need help.

I’m on ! ?

I saw the video and commented on this. I like the idea. However I’m not really sure I like a subscription service. I have never liked software subscription services in general. I like to purchase as I go. I had several items on Thingiverse but deleted my account. I design functional parts and things. I would like a service I can upload free items but also have a couple I set a low fee for. If there were a subscription I think there would be many turned off. For example for those that don’t download a lot would be paying much more for items that would normally be free. Me for example, I rarely pay for models. I have only payed for two. All the others (many others) were all free. I only payed $17.59 for the two files. There are pros and cons to both ways that would have to be worked out. But as a designer I like the idea of getting payed for having designs available. And that could pay for the subscription. I don’t like the idea of “Annual Subscription Allocation”. I take that as meaning during a subscription period you can download X number of models and that’s all. Unless you pay extra. I’m interested in seeing how this all evolves.

Hi all
I saw the video and read the lines above.
Below I am reluctant to express my opinion on the questions.
I do not currently use opencad but I am interested in this program.

Here are some additional questions to think about together. Who should set the price on the model, designer or site administrator?
My opinion is that the administrator must set the price according to the complexity.
What should be the price of an annual subscription and what should it include?
I do not know
What do we offer lifetime subscriptions? What should it include?
After we have a large library we could think of something like that
The site should also include static templates and, if so, why? Are there many places to find static templates (STL files that cannot be customized)?
It should be something unique … adjustable models
How many models do we need to go live?
As many!
Should we bear the cost of printing each model before posting it, or is it enough to request photos of prints?
The models must be tested first by the designer and then they can be put on the site
What do you think about ads?
Not too many. I personally close the site when I have a lot of ads.
How often should designers be paid?
Good question!
Is it practical to pay only designers on PayPal?
It’s ok, nowadays there are many payment options
Do you have objections to using PayPal for the payment system, both through PayPal directly and with direct credit card support through PayPal?
Is an option.
I’m looking forward to adding long-term mobile apps, but do we need to accept mobile apps to be available?
It is a good idea
Should we accept a slicer on the site?
It is debatable. If it’s going to be a good site, they won’t look for it.

Hello Irv
i am very please to be able to give my opinion.
Why people like thingiverse ? because it is free and you can find almosy everything you search . it is quite easy to modify an STL after dowload with all the tools availiables (meshmixer , tinkercad blender even slicers ).
A person who manage cad software can easely reproduce the perfect match piece he want but it is a bit too hard for common home makers who simly use their printer to reproduce models .
i agree that the use of printer at home for reproduce parts for fixing things is really intersting because it is in the mind to repare and not replace .
In my opnion there are two makers categorize : home family makers ( get and print with really few modifications ) and advanced printers ( get , create , modify with many tools )
The spirit of share community is very important for advanced printers and less for home family makers who just consume stl files .
Maybe create different cost between advance printers who produce and share models and home family ones could be a way ??
concerning Paypal i agreee .
Have a nice day

I have many thoughts on the subject but I feel that I may bore you if I start listing them all. First of all, I am a retired Network Administrator that has fallen behind the power curve on technologies. I just started 3D printing 2 or 3 years ago and have designed very little mostly on TinkerCAD. That being said I don’t anticipate being a contributor as a designer. I would like a site that you have described in the video and the intro to this discussion. As a person that lives on a fixed income, I don’t purchase a lot of models to print due to my limited income. So if there was a cost to join it may leave a few of us out. If there was a free option with limited use for the free objects to optimize for printing, when and if at a time we could afford a subscription it would be a great incentive to join. I think you are on to something and I wish you well my friend. God Bless

My comment on Youtube -
As lazy as I am I always search various sites for models first. I almost never find exactly what I need and then go design my own(FreeCAD). I think a site with configurable models for a reasonable price that also listened to the community would be great and would be more than willing to help with the initial funding. It seems to me that some of the best companies/sites out there today are heavily influenced by the communities that they serve.

New ideas -
I’d like to see both an annual subscription as well as a pay as you go option. Maybe even a tiered subscription model with so many free downloads per tier then a discount on additional models. Maybe a bit more complicated but not everyone will want just one or two options when there are other sources out there. I would compensate designers on a per download basis with payouts made when they have a certain amount accrued. Also the models should not be limited to modifiable ones. Sometimes a model is what it is or a designer may not know how to use OpenSCAD. Maybe a designer is willing to upload the cad file from their program as well as the stl so you can still modify the model if you have the software or can import the model. Some may only want to upload the stl. We come from a wide spectrum of income and what we can invest into our hobbies as well as an equally wide spectrum of experience and knowledge. I for one know and use several programming languages but the last thing I would want to try to do is design a part that way when I can draw it the old fashioned way :smiley: There is no way to make everyone happy but the more options you can offer the more clients you will have. This is why Taco Bell lost me as a customer when they removed the Mexican Pizza and Pico sauce from their menu. I very much look forward to this project coming to life and thank you for your effort in trying to get it off the ground.

A few thoughts…

I have participated in the open source community for many years, so I guess maybe I have acquired a liking of that model of community-based software development.

With that in mind, your idea of hiding/protecting the OpenSCAD code for each model seems like a bad idea, because it discourages people from exploring how interesting models are created in the SCAD language. I’m not sure how to monetize a model web site given this issue, but I really don’t like this particular method, which hides information. It seems to me that if you are going to be true to the “make with tech” mode of thinking, it should be about the full stack of skills, including coding in SCAD. I guess for me, I’m willing to put up with legit and relevant advertising to support a more open system. You could do like many similar sites have done and allow users to buy their way out of advertising by paying for a subscription (I suspect few would, however). You could support a model for certain developers who, at their discretion, desire to keep their SCAD code private, but it shouldn’t be artificially constricted such that all model code has to be hidden.

Generating revenue off of designs in a fair way to all is a very difficult problem. I’d suggest at least a few more months of receiving feedback before diving in and writing code :slight_smile:

@CoreyPDX, I have wondered about this too, but I’ve come to believe that it’s unfair of us creators/makers to expect others to even want to learn/explore how models are created. If someone expresses interest in learning about creating/making I am happy to give them whatever help I can, but I no longer feel any disappointment if someone says they have no interest. My daughter is in that category. She likes watching the printers at work when she comes for a visit; she thinks it’s fascinating, but has no interest in doing it herself. However, she does enjoy using the Nintendo Switch gamepacks, as well as the auto headrest hooks, I printed for her.

The bottom line is I now believe there are millions of people like my daughter. They don’t even want to see the code behind the models. They would, however, be happy to fill in a few parameter boxes to get something customized to their likings/needs.

The same exact thing happens with open source. I’d guess about 98% of users just want to use a binary that someone built for them already. They may look at the documentation, but they won’t ever read the code.

A smaller percentage want to download the source, build it, then use the binaries, but still don’t look at the code.

A smaller percentage want to look at the code to see how it works, and possibly modify it, fix bugs, or reuse bits of it for their own project.

So that percentage may be less than 0.5%, but it’s a vital part of open source development.

@CoreyPDX I think your numbers regarding Open Source are spot on. And I think very similar numbers could apply to 3D printing models. While Irv’s ideas are great, I question if it will be worth the effort.

If I read you correctly, you believe it doesn’t matter whether the code is available or not; 99.5% of people will never look at it. You may have a point, especially when it comes to openSCAD. I feel that even many programmers find openSCAD scripting uncomfortable. It’s not a traditional procedural programming language. I liken it more to LISP than a normal procedural language. It could be that having the code available may even raise the profile of the site, by having programmers mention it on YouTube, other forums and, of course, social media.

No, no, I mean that although the number of users who want to look at and learn from/fix/reuse/etc. the original code are small, they are essential to an open environment of learning for people who interested in this kind of “making”. In the past I used this language briefly for a project, and think it’s pretty cool actually. It appeals to me because it doesn’t require manipulation on a screen using a mouse and tons of fiddly settings to create a 3d object.

I get that, but you do believe that very few people will actually look at the code, correct? I think it’s important because it affects the monetizing model. If very few people will look at the code it is more likely they will be willing to pay to have a custom version of the model for their own use. Those that are willing to look at the code would be able to create their own versions for free (unless a basic subscription is required), but everyone else would be using the site to create printable versions of their customized models.

That brings up a point. The financing model could include a subscription level that entitles the subscriber to see the code. Other subscription levels would be entitled to x number of custom models per month/year or whatever. Ad-hoc users would pay more for a custom model, but would not be bound by a subscription. Also, people who contribute models could be given x amount of credit, which could let them create a certain number of custom versions of models submitted by others. Not sure how viable that is, but it’s 1 possibility.

What a great idea. I have been following your videos for some time now and find them a great source of information for a beginner like me and also for the more advanced.
If your new concept comes to fruition it will be a huge jump forward. I wish you well and hope to see more in the near future.

I get what you’re saying, but that is unlike any open source model I’m familiar with. It’s a bit more like an app store model, where you download an app at a cost anywhere from for free (with some kind of subscription model usually), or you pay for it upfront. I’ve never seen a collaborative open source community where you have to pay for the source code.

In the case of downloading a model, it’s hard to imagine having hidden security or privacy issues, but on the other hand, there is no fostering of a developer community.

Maybe most people would be interested in your kind of monetization model, but for me I’d look elsewhere first. The idea of hiding any information just rubs my fur backward.

Just my thoughts. Thanks for the discussion :slight_smile:

I don’t think the idea of the site Irv Shapiro is proposing is to foster yet another open source site. There are a ton of those. Open source is great, but it’s not perfect. Projects tend to develop slowly, there is often disagreement and infighting leading to forking, and many projects suffer from a lack of direction and good management. That can be the advantage of software developed by corporations. The flaws in corporate software are legion, not least the fact that it has to be paid for. That said, corporate software can be tighter, more organized, developed more quickly, and is less likely to disappear from lack of core developers.

I think the world is better off with Open Source and corporate software models existing side by side. Open Source makes software available to people who would otherwise never be able to use it – a huge advantage. It also acts as a check on corporations – when there are viable options available for free or very low cost, corporations can’t just get away with gouging customers freely. For example, OpenOffice keeps Microsoft on its toes, pushing the company to advance MS Office to stay ahead. Make no mistake, I do believe MS Office is superior, but the OpenOffice is certainly viable. The same goes for FreeCAD and Fusion 360. And let’s not forget, the existence of Open Source has pushed companies like AutoDesk to provide free/low cost versions of their software, like the community version of Fusion 360 – the so-called hybrid model.

So I’m not an Open Source die hard, nor am I a corporate soldier. I’m glad both options are available, and I think there is room for a site like @Irv_Shapiro is proposing, 1 that’s not truly Open Source, but 1 that also can overcome some of the issues with sites like thingiverse. Thingiverse will still be there, and so will many other sites, but the site being proposed would provide features not available on those sites.