Question about sending STL files to 3d printing services

I want to 3d print one of my sculpts. However, I do not own a 3d printer and will have to send my STL to a 3d printing service.

Is there a way to secure your STL so it won’t be stolen by anyone? I find it kind of unsettling sending an STL to strangers to print it for me.

I wish there was a way to code an STL so that it is it is only programmed to print a certain amount of prints before the file becomes useless. Maybe I am just paranoid. I don’t know much about 3d printing.

There’s not really a way to lock a stl file. Especially when sending it to be printed. Once you send it out into the world anyone who has it can do anything they want with it.

If you’ve been in the forums much, you’ll know that some of us 3D print. You could find someone here who you feel can be trusted to print it for you and not give your file away.

If you’re really worried about it then try to find a friend, relative, etc. who will let you slice and print it or will do it for you. Other than that, you could try to find a reputable company who will do it for you.

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Just a thought- the libraries around where I live will print things for free. Depending on where you live, your local library may do the same. I don’t know how they handle the files as I’ve never used them to print but you could reach out and check.

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Thanks Roger. I really hope they implement this security feature into slicer softwares in the future to protect artists. Limiting the amount of prints would be a great safety feature.

I would invest in my own 3d printer, unfortunately I have no space to ventilate the toxic fumes from the resins. Guess i’ll have to trust one of these companies with my files. Thanks again.

Can you at least post a picture to know what type of object you whant to print?
Are you planning to make money with it?
Like print it to then make a silicone mold and sell the copies?
If not, what would be the problem if other people print it?
You need to understand that there are so many stl models out there, that even the people that are addicted to download all of the ones they can find for free in different social platforms or even the ones they got in patreon subscriptions, they will never have the time or the room to print more than 5% of what they have.
So even if they end up with your file it will probably never get printed.
Now if you want to make money by selling one painted copy, like some type of exclusive art toy thing, then yes I understand your concern.

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Yes, it’s exactly that. I want to print one of a kind doll portraits and this market is ripe with resellers and recasters, unfortunately. I haven’t sold any of my works yet because I’ve never printed them out.

You bring up good points though. I guess the better option in this case is to buy my own printer, which I am seriously considering.

I’ve found that some of the big commercial 3d printers in my area have very low quality compared to people with cheaper 4k-8k desktop printers.

3D printing is really easy to do. The low cost and fast learning curve is why so many people do it.

If you’re that worried about people stealing your files then a printer will only set you back a few hundred dollars. Just make sure you use proper PPE and have a good system of post-processing prints.

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Back around 2007, I had already completed the goal of evolving from a traditional bench jeweler to digital jewelry designer working through CAD.

The only problem back then was the leap from the digital back to physical world was the $250,000 hurdle cost of 3D machines of that era. (SLA patents kept entry costs incredibly high) Yes, there were CNC service bureaus, but there are certain regions a CNC cutting bit can never reach and that felt like a deal-breaker for me. Entry-level CNC machines of the time started around $20k, but the amount of setup, babysitting and mess involved was another nail in the coffin.

It may have been a classified ad in a trade publication that pointed me to a 3D printing service bureau. There were a LOT of things about this operation that felt truly magical:

  • They were deploying a top-tier (for the era) 3D Systems Viper machine that drew each layer from an overhead laser
  • STL file was sent to them through their custom PC app for verification that the model was OK (watertight, non-manifold, etc)
  • Their online system would provide a real-time cost estimate
  • Upon my approval, the model would be immediately scheduled for production.
  • Their Windows app would show me the progress in real-time.
  • The completed print would be FedExed to me within a day or two.
  • At no time did I worry about my STL mesh wandering around, A company that would want to stay in the good graces of it’s client base would not be dumb enough to be careless about intellectual property.

As good as any Service Bureau can be, design mistakes are on YOUR dime. This is true as far back as an earlier era when LASER PRINTER Service Bureaus were a thing for 2D graphic designers. In this vein, having a machine of your own means freedom to iterate and experiment.

In light of this, when 3D SLA (resin) printers began dropping to $100,000 then $50,000 then $20,000 and finally busted the $15,000 plateau, it made business sense to acquire one.

In today’s age of outrageously cheap $300 high-def resin printers, there’s less reason for Service Bureaus to exist, but I’m sure they still do for clients who have special needs or high-capacity requirements. My service bureau described above was no longer around by 2015ish. If you’re seeking an establishment to make your prototypes, I’m certain there are plenty others still out there. The question of intellectual property (IP) would hopefully be clearly answered on their website. I’d also try to locate any Yelp/BBB style reviews to see if there are any IP complaints about a candidate service bureau… but keep in mind some nasty fake entries might’ve been posted by their competition. For the really big service bureaus, I’d imagine they have the kind of clients with deep lawyer pockets to ensure IP theft is NOT a thing. It’s probably the smaller opportunistic guy-in-the-basement types that would raise red flags for me.

Here’s a peek at what goes on at one of the Printing Services:

You’ll note that the big boys are not wasting their time with the $300 printers. When they’re making important prototype parts for the likes of a Sony, Nike, Disney or Ford, The point of selecting the right machine for the job comes down to MATERIALS that machine can work with. This is the reason why Formlabs makes no excuses for their pricier machines. Their materials selection is unmatched. Fairly serious machines for serious engineering needs. When you’re making a $50,000 engineering test sample prototype for a major client, a $2500 printer and $300-$500 consumable cost for specialty resin is just an accounting rounding error!

In the $300 hobbyist field, can you cobble together a custom resin formulation to give you a materials range from hard plastic prints to soft, flexible parts? Only to a VERY VERY limited part of that spectrum. It’s not even a contest when stacking up against the Formlabs library. The basic $30 cheap resin (Anycubic, Elegoo, etc) will give a hard plastic print that tends to be brittle (not surviving a drop to the ground). Their clear resin more often than not has a yellow haze finished result. Desiring a flexible material means buying some SiryaTech resin at $65, and custom mixing with the normal stuff to hopefully come across a flex-vs-durability characteristic you’re happy with. Varying levels of the cheap resins have their own range of stinkiness. ALL of this also means it’s up to you to figure out all the proper exposure settings. The exact dialed-in number for someone might be way different for you. All the cheap upfront cost tends to go hand-in-hand with a tremendous amount of trial-and-error exploration. Just make sure you’re ready for it.

Yeah, it’s relatively easy to unbox a $300 printer and print the Rook or Benchy model included in the thumb drive, but be prepared for all the sleuthing that’ll entail if your own initial models don’t stick to the build plate, or cylinder walls exhibit tears, or fully supported undersurfaces look like a pincushion. All the value brands will have Reddit Forums with the same repeated noob problems. This is a testament to how these brands aren’t doing enough to elevate the greenest of noobs into the intermediate troubleshooters they need to be to succeed in this craft.

If material variation or specificity isn’t required (ie, pliable Barbie type dollhead) then by all means, a $300 printer would be too tempting not to play with if at the very least to gain that hands-on experience. You’ll likely stumble across a resin brand that stinks the least to you or come across an enclosure/filtration setup to mitigate those concerns.

Cleanup process? I’m from the era when kids assembled plastic models and worked with paint thinners, lacquer & enamel spray cans, Never mind what gets stored around a jeweler’s workbench. I find it amusing to hear from the current nanny state whining about isopropyl washers after a 3D print…

Here’s a trophy for getting this far :trophy: Hope this shines a clearer light on your decision @Bossa .

Executive Curator of the printing armada:
envisionTEC micro (retired)
B9 Creator v1 (retired)
B9 Creator v1.2 (shelved)
Elegoo Mars
Elegoo Mars Pro
Formlabs Form 3
Elegoo Jupiter
Elegoo Saturn 2


Wow, thanks a lot Carter. That was a good read. I really appreciate the info.

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