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3D Printing

Guide to support students using 3D printers in the Innovation Lab

In order to 3D print an object, you will first need a digital file representing the three-dimensional shape of the object. Usable files are denoted with the file extension .STL (for 'stereolithography') or .OBJ (for 'object'). You have several options for acquiring a file to print from.

Finding Existing Files

Many online resources exist to aggregate STLs. Here are a few of the most popular ones:

You can also just try googling '[name of thing I want to print] STL file' and see what comes up.

Some of these sites are 100% free; others may allow file creators to charge money for their creations.

When you find a file you'd like to download, you should save it into a folder under your name in the shared 3D Print (H:) drive, which will make it available on all of the Innovation Lab computers. The first time you save you will have to create a new folder with your name.

You may have to extract the zip archive before you'll be able to use the .STL files within.

Creating Your Own Files

If you can't find the thing you want to print already online, you can always create it yourself! The lab offers several options, from beginner to advanced.

If you simply want to modify an existing file by cutting in half, hollowing it out, or perhaps combine two files together, the simplest way will be with Microsoft's 3D Builder tool. You can find a basic overview here. 3D builder can also correct file errors that may be present in .STL files downloaded off the internet. It can also enhance the smoothness of files, as seen here with this Stetson.

To create a new object from scratch, you will have to use a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) program. People new to CAD will want to start with Autodesk Tinkercad, a web-based program that's free to sign up for and use. Click Create a Personal Account to get started. 

You can use the built-in tutorials to learn how to build objects out of primitive shapes and negative spaces, and even import your own custom shapes drawn as black and white .SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) files.

For more advanced CAD users, all of the Autodesk suite is available for free via Autodesk for Education. Just verify your Stetson email address and you will be able to use everything from Fusion360 to Inventor at no cost to you. These are the programs professional product designers use to create their models.

Finally, there are some more unique utilities that can be used to create custom objects. Meshmixer, installed on the Innovation Lab PCs, provides a clay-like experience for more freeform objects, while resources like the lithophane maker can be used to convert images into 3D formats where the thickness of the object matches the brightness of the image.

3D Scanning a Physical Object

Finally, if there's something in the real world that you want to be able to 3D print, the library offers two 3D Scanners that can be used to digitize certain types of physical objects under the supervision of the Innovation Lab Manager.

  • The Einscan turntable scanner works for objects between 1" cubed and 8" cubed.
  • The Artec handheld scanner can handle objects from about fist sized to the size of a human being.


Arrangements to use the 3D Scanners can be made by filling out the Innovation Lab Consultation Form. Due to the difficulty of using these scanners, they are limited to academic projects only.

Have a question? Ask a librarian! Email Call or text 386-747-9028.