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Sales vs free download... is it even worth it?


Hi modelers, 3d printing users and people of Formlabs.

I’m looking to get a sense of the percentage of the model sold vs free downloads from the various users. I’m trying to understand if it makes sense to keep trying to rely on the potential of selling one 3D model to hundreds, if not thousands of people, if actually we only end up selling to the 0.1% of users looking to our models. The target audience is not that big, after all (just a few thousand).
I’m suspecting that 3d printer users are so used to get models for free and don’t value anymore a 3d modeler work, while they may still spend their money into 3d printers, filaments, gears and related tools.

What I see, is that free 3d models are actually used as an advertisement for selling 3d printers and related tools, to allow the desktop 3d printer industry to exist, as just a minority knows how to model. See what Makerbot did with Thingiverse. Pure genius: How do you sell a 3d printer to the general public (as previously 3D printers were only for industrial/ professional use), if they can understand how to operate it, but they have nothing to print because they’re not modelers? Giving them free models.

I also have the feeling that, since Formlabs bought Pinshape, this website become mainly a concurrent to Thingiverse and Youmagine for other big printers manufacturer. I think this, because I haven’t seen much marketing happening as in the past, including no Black Friday/Cyber Monday discounts (as opposed to other 3d models selling platforms). I see no post since a year on their Instagram and no post on their Twitter since June. Even before that, the posts were really sporadic. No more contests since April…

My question to Formlabs is:

I may have missed some notice, but is Pinshape going to close soon, or has switched its purpose from a model sale platform to a sharing model platform?

My questions to the designers are:

-Do you have any similar experience/ impression to mine?
-what is the percentage of your models sold vs free download?
-did any of your model actually got bought enough times to make up for the value of it, if it was done for a private gig?
-can you make a living out of it?
-Do you sell 3D prints (no printers or tools), if so, is it a profitable business?
-do you consider this mainly as a hobby?
-which kind of model do you sell the most?

My question to the costumers are:

-What makes you want to buy a model? (category, price, quality, functionality…)
-Do you favor free models to priced ones?
-Do you favor convenience (low price/free) over quality?
-Do you see 3D modeling as a hobby?
-Do you sell 3D prints (no printers or tools), if so, is it a profitable business? Can you make a living out of it?
-Would you have a 3D printer if there was no model to download for free? if so, what is your modeling proficiency skills?
-if models were all just for sale, would you have bought all the models you printed so far?
-What would be a fair price for all the models online? You can purpose categories if you like.
-Do you ever tip designers on Thingiverse or other websites, for printing their free designs?

Thank you all.

If you don’t want to answer publicly, email me at morenap3d (at) . I value your privacy and will not disclose your name, email or business. I may just make a final general sum of all the answers, to get a better insight about this business from the 3D modeler point of view.


Hi MorenaP,

I have tried to put here a couple of models for sale (I was curious to what kind of income you can earn), and I sold something only 2 times (and only the cheapest one), so basically the percentual of sold vs free download is basically 0%, this implies that no I can’t make a living out of it, but maybe somebody else can.

Yes, sometimes I sell 3D printed things (and now even cnc machined ones since I just build myself a small cnc machine), it can be profitable (a lot more than selling stl online) but not at the moment for me because I’m doing it in my spare time (and I don’t have much time at all now :wink: )

For me 3d printing is both a hobby and a tool for my personal projects

As I stated before, I don’t sell many model (as stl), but sometimes I sell complete object, for my perspective the “added value” that I offer is that a person come to me with an idea and I can make it, from an idea to the phisical object, eventually explaining to my costumer what kind of limitation the tecnology (and my machine) has and what material (for example) is best suited for his purpose.

As a costumer I have never bought any stl simply because I’m not interested in sculptures and that kind of stuff, and also a lot of online free models are just not very well made for 3d printing ( and with a lot of errors too)

Definely yes, I usually do “geometric design” with fusion360, but I want to learn how to use the sculpt enviroment too

No, I’m on the “practical side” of 3D printing and if I need a specific model and is not available I just make one myself

It depends on the kind of model, usage that customer(s) will do etc… it is not possible to give a general rule for pricing a model

No, I don’t

I hope that this will answer your questions.



Grazie Mille Stefano!


Di nulla :wink: Spero che anche altri rispondano, sono curioso anche io di conoscere le loro risposte


Well, as someone who has neither a 3D printer, nor the skills, software, or knowledge to design, I’ve had to find people who could, and were willing to do things. There’s a site for freelancers called “Fiverr” where I’ve hired freelance designers who have taken images and descriptions, and for relatively inexpensive fees, have come up with STL files that are exactly what I asked for. I can’t speak to the “profitability” of it, or if one can make any kind of buckage from it, but it’s there, and it’s a resource.