Best online resources for laser cutters & 3D printers
When you’re thinking about getting a new laser cutter or 3D printer, even if you’re just playing with the idea – before you make your decision, you’ll be searching online for help with deciding which one is right for you. Once your new bit of kit arrives and you’re getting it set up, it is almost certain that you’ll look at the manual and want more help and support – which is where you’ll look online for that guidance once again. Then again before, during, or after you have completed your initial projects, you might seek out advice, or inspiration for your next make, or to learn new techniques to build your skills – there really is no end to the reasons we look online for support.
While many of us head directly for Google and YouTube for help at all stages of our journey through becoming a master of whichever tools we have chosen to work with, there are so many more resources to get your teeth into – which is what made us think we’d do a roundup of the best resources for makers. Not all these resources will be the right ones for you all of the time, but knowing they are there might just help you to find the answer to a question you get stuck on.
In this post, we’re going to cover some of the best websites, podcasts, and YouTube channels for creators using laser cutters and 3D printers, as well as having a look at which social media you might find useful.
We have mentioned some of these websites in our posts before, but we definitely think they are worth including here because they are just so useful. They’re especially great for beginners, but they’re also fantastic for finding inspiration, a low-effort solution, a fun project, or to find files that you can alter and adapt for your own needs.
While there are some pretty dubious, some pointless, and some very definitely not suitable for work discussion threads on Reddit, it is a great place to find other people talking about their common interests. As you’d expect, there are some fantastic discussions in the Reddit laser cutter enthusiasts subreddit. There are discussions that you can share your experiences with users asking for advice when buying new laser cutters, and many people sharing photos of their newest cuts, as well as embedding YouTube clips of their makes in posts.
We don’t recommend them, but if you’re curious and contemplating a purchase, then the cheaper Chinese laser cutters (sometimes referred to as eBay laser cutters) are also widely discussed on this subreddit. If 3D printing is your thing, then you’re almost certainly going to want to dip into the 3D Printer subreddit.
You can sign up for Reddit using your Google or Apple account if you don’t want yet another username and password to remember (we have so many accounts to remember already, and we’re sure you do too!). Once you’re logged in, you can join each subreddit so that you see the latest posts on the Reddit homepage when you log in, rather than having to go access each subreddit separately.
Thingiverse is a design community for 3D printer enthusiasts. There are thousands of 3D print designs created by other users available to download, and because the MakerBot team (who own Thingiverse) want to encourage sharing, it is expected that designs that are uploaded are expected to be licensed under a Creative Commons license. This means that designs are free to be used, and altered as you wish.
While Thingiverse is a great resource for 3D printer designs, there are also plenty of designs that you can download the files for and use with your laser cutter. It isn’t quite so active a community as it is for 3D printers, but there are definitely some great ideas on there, particularly if you’re looking for projects to make around the Christmas period.
If you want to see Thingiverse designs in your social media feeds for regular inspiration, then you can follow along @thingiverse on Instagram, where 3D prints made by users are showcased on their feed, and on Twitter (@thingiverse), where the Thingiverse team post updates about any technical issues users may be experiencing on their website.
PinShape has both paid and free designs available for 3D printers to use. The designs tend to be high quality, with information such as printer settings included. If you’re not looking for a specific print, you can browse the categories – from toys and games, to miniatures, home living, gadgets, and art. You can filter designs to show only free designs, or if you’re happy to pay for a print, then you can filter your price range.
While it used to be independent of any printer brands, it is now part of the Formlabs family. While that doesn’t seem to have impacted on the quality of the designs (there are some great projects) the forum, blog and contests seem to have been put on hold.
The MyMiniFactory website and community has been growing in popularity with 3D printer users since 2013. The aim of the MyMiniFactory website is to allow both amateur and professional designers and 3D printer users to interact, getting feedback, sharing designs and knowledge.
The MyMiniFactory blog is a particular source of inspiration, with regular posts (new posts go up most days) from community members that are passionate about their activity – and while many posts aren’t particularly long, they’re well worth a look if you’ve got the time to have a quick scan of. You can filter blog posts too, so if you’re looking for something in particular then you don’t have to keep scrolling through endless posts.
If you’re a pro and you’re looking to profit from sharing your designs (especially if you’ve refined those simpler designs, or you’ve perfected those that took you hours to get right) then you can offer your files for sale. You can even find opportunities to create official content, if you’re ready to take that step.
You can also contribute to the community by opening a store, uploading ideas, writing for the blog, or by adding items to the Scan The World project. This initiative is an ambitious one, with the aim of enabling people to create 3D printable representations of artifacts and items, whether for personal, education or commercial use.
Looking for 3D print projects with that are guaranteed to work, rather than for searching through endless projects you need to edit? Then you might want to consider 3DShook. The catalogue includes 3D print projects for the home, for children, fashion items as well as plenty of others that are ready to print. And that catalogue isn’t small – the 3DShook team added more than 1200 new, tested, and ready to use projects to the website in the last year alone.
Why pay for a 3DShook membership? Well, of course, you don’t have to – there are plenty of other places to find 3D printer projects for free. But if you’re setting up a business using your 3D printer and you want to be able to offer lots of items to customers immediately, while you spend time creating your own designs, then 3DShook could be a great way to make that happen. 3DShook designs are exclusive, so you can’t find those designs on other websites, and they’re all tested for use with consumer grade printers, with no intellectual property rights issues.
You can choose from a one-time payment for a pack of 40 files or 100 files ($25 or $50 respectively) or with a monthly subscription you can download up to six designs a day for just $14.99. And of course, there are free trial memberships available before you get started, so you know what you’re getting.
The website for US technology brand MatterHackers has an absolutely phenomenal amount of help and support for anyone that is using technology for their projects. Their range of products for sale is extensive – they only ship directly to the US and Canada, although you can use freight forwarding services if they happen to have something you can’t get in the UK.
In addition to their being a US supplier, their knowledge base is well worth knowing about. Topics that are available to read about in the Explore section of their website include 3D design and 3D printing, ‘how to’ guides, tips and tricks, hardware and upgrades, Open Source, and weekend builds, amongst many others.
If that wasn’t enough, there is an active community on the MatterHackers website, where people ask for help and support, and receive advice from other community members. You’ll have to create an account to be able to comment or ask questions, but there are enough discussions that the chances of finding the answer to your question (without needing to actually ask it) are good.
If you’re looking to become a professional (or you’re just starting your journey) then the MatterHackers events may be for you – and past event recordings are available for rewatch in some cases to.
Repables is a completely free design community for 3D printable files, and doesn’t have any association with a manufacturer. That means that none of the designs that are available require payment, and absolutely anyone can upload their designs for others to use. While that is a great thing – because free designs is fantastic – the lack of overview by a company also means that there isn’t any quality control. If you don’t have much experience yet, you may run into issues. We still think it is worth a look there, just be sure to check the design file carefully before you send to print.
When you want something to listen along to as you’re working, driving, or doing chores, but you want to keep your mind on your laser cutter business, then a podcast can be a good way to keep learning.
Trevor Wanamaker is an engineer and part-time maker, and has been making the Makervision podcast this July 2018. There’s now 90 episodes available, covering topics like accounting for your design time, shipping and delivery, and other aspects of creating a business with a laser cutter. There are some interesting interviews that give some interesting different perspectives, as well as more philosophical talk such as getting over the fear of getting started.
Episodes tend to be around an hour, and can be accessed via the Makervision website, on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. If you want more, you can follow Trevor’s work on Instagram, @makerexperiment.
WTFFF?! 3D Printing Podcast: Digital Manufacturing From Design to Print
Although episode regularity is a bit hit and miss (at the time of writing, the most recent posts were uploaded to Google Podcasts in October 2020) there are hundreds of episodes of WTFFF?! available, and they tackle subjects from listeners including ‘why does my recurring 3D print suddenly change?’, ‘what kind of 3D printing careers are there?’ and many, many more – we’re almost certain that you’ll find something useful to listen to from this podcast.
We should mention – if you haven’t made the connection already – the FFF does not stand for a string of expletives! It stands for Fused Filament Fabrication – which is a 3D printing process.
Where to find more maker podcasts
As we said, podcasts are a great way to learn on the go, and to feel like part of a community without actually having to deal with people! There are loads more podcasts to be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher, allowing you to download episodes on the go, as well as PlayerFM, which has a great selection of recent 3D Printing Podcasts.
There aren’t many of us these days that can’t say we don’t head for YouTube these days, whether we’re looking for entertainment or education. There are some pretty excellent laser cutter resources to be found on YouTube too, from how to… guides, to reviews and a whole host of other stuff to get stuck into. Since everyone’s choice of great resources are different, we’ve mentioned just a few channels here, that are quite different from each other, to get you started.
LaserStar Technologies (@LaserStarTV)
US brand LaserStar Technologies has been posting videos on YouTube since 2011, and what we like about their channel is that most of their clips are really short – which makes it much easier to see the whole thing without wasting too much of your time. Being based in the US, there are a lot of mentions of laser engraving and customisation of firearms, but there are some pretty cool ideas (particularly for jewellery) to inspire your next project too.
GreyLightning is the YouTube channel of a baby boomer living her best life, playing games and creating things using high tech tools including laser cutters and 3D printers. Not only does she cover basics like how to choose a 3D printer, how a laser cutter works and what to consider when buying one, her playlists include advanced laser cutter projects, projects for tabletop gamers, amongst other creative and gamer-based topics.
The GreyLightning website has more details, including links to step by step instructions for some of her projects on the Instructables website, and blog posts that really help you to get a feel for her thought process throughout the projects. If you’re into tabletop gaming, then it is worth a look at GreyLightning’s YouTube channel, or her website for inspiration.
Since 2006, the Make: YouTube channel has been creating videos for makers with technology like laser cutters and 3D printers. If you’ve been lured into making using high-tech tools, get ready to have your curiosity piqued – they also cover CNC milling and Arduino programming, amongst other suitably geeky (and yet incredibly interesting!) topics like how to code like NASA. The channel now has more than 1.64 million subscribers, and they release at least a couple of new videos each week.
If you’re already a social media user (and many of us are!) then it makes sense to incorporate your making interests into your social media feeds! Although if you can’t bear Facebook and the rest of them, then feel free to skip ahead – although we do recommend considering Pinterest, since it doesn’t have to be social, and can be a really useful way of storing the ideas that you want to hang onto for future projects.
A quick search of Facebook groups for laser cutter shows plenty of groups to get involved with worldwide – so you can choose which ones you want to engage with. Some groups have more than 74,000 members, while groups specific to the UK have over 5,000 users, with groups of different numbers of users having between 3 posts a day and more than 100 posts per day.
In the same way as there are groups for laser cutter users, there are hundreds of groups for 3D printer beginners and enthusiasts, with group members sharing their projects, advice, and video clips of their makes. You’ll also find users who are trying to sell supplies and files in public groups, but if you’re not interested then you can simply scroll past. If you find you’re in groups that really aren’t your thing after all – no problem, simply leave the group.
Choose your groups carefully, and in accordance with what you want to get from them, but if you’re looking for support, advice, and inspiration, and you’re already on Facebook, then a maker-related Facebook group can be a great addition to your feed.
As a visual platform, with the ability to add both photos and videos (on your feed, as Instagram Story or Live posts, or as a longer format IGTV post) it makes sense that Instagram can be a fantastic resource for makers of all types, and at all levels.
Searching for laser cutter, laser engraving, and 3D printer returns thousands of results, and you can get even more specific by using hashtags that you are interested in, such as #3dprinted, #manufacturing, or particular materials such as #filamento3d.
Twitter might not be as visual a platform as Instagram, but it is where hashtags started – and you can search for terms by adding a hashtag (#) to keywords. Let’s say you’re looking for posts to do with the Flux Beamo (one of our favourite compact laser cutters!) then you would simply search #beamo.
The real value in Twitter that we see for crafters and makers is in finding links outside the platform – so while you might not find the exact thing you’re looking for there, you’ll almost certainly find something interesting to stumble on.
Ahh, Pinterest. The home of so many ideas, projects and videos. You can use Pinterest like a search engine that returns you visual results – which can be much more efficient than clicking into links from Google only to find what you’re looking for isn’t there. Searching for laser cutter returns plenty of project ideas, links to downloadable files, and reviews of different types of laser cutters. Of course, you can filter by type as well, so you can find videos and people to follow if you want to make Pinterest social.
Pinterest really comes into its own when you create an account, because you can use it to store ideas that you want to come back to. If you’re a laser cutter owner and a 3D printer owner, then you might have separate ‘boards’ that you save (‘pin’) projects for each machine to, or you might take photos that you upload to your boards to help you remember what you did and when. If you’re working on a secret project – a gift, for example – then you can set your board to secret, just in case that person stumbles on your pins.
We’ll end our comments about Pinterest with a warning though – scrolling through stuff you’re interested in can get really time consuming (some might even say addictive!) and we’ve accidentally spent hours on Pinterest before, pinning projects that we want to do ‘sometime’! While it is a great resource, you might want to set timers, or only go into Pinterest when you have a certain amount of time.
If you’re an at-home maker, and you’re at the start of your laser cutter or 3D printer journey then following companies on LinkedIn is probably going to be less relevant for you – there are fewer shares of projects that may inspire you.
But we can’t avoid mentioning LinkedIn in this list of resources, because if your business depends on your laser cutter or 3D printer, or you’re intending this to be the case, then you’ll almost certainly want to follow your suppliers – as a bare minimum. If you’re starting a business using a laser cutter, (perhaps a wedding business?) then you’ll need a network that can support you – and alongside other social media channels, LinkedIn is one of the best to find those connections that you need. Follow companies or individuals, or connect to build those working relationships further.
Newer social media channels
Although they are newer, or have smaller user bases, don’t discount channels like TikTok and Snapchat. Depending on the sort of projects you want to find, or advice you’re looking for, you may be able to find it on these channels – but we suspect you’ll find fewer options here.
Should you put your own work online?
That decision really is up to you, and what you want to do when you put your work online. You can be a creator without needing to be an online content creator, and of course, you don’t have to publish or try to earn money from anything you do – especially if you are simply using your laser cutter or 3D printer as part of your hobbies.
But if you want to document your journey for yourself, then using a social media account – particularly Instagram or Pinterest springs to mind – can be a great way to help you record that journey. All you need is your smartphone and the app installed, you don’t need a high powered PC, camera or recording equipment. The same goes for setting up a blog, creating YouTube clips, smartphones today are generally good enough for this kind of content.
If you’re confident and you want to be an active member of the laser cutter or 3d printing community, and you have the time, then there really is nothing to stop you joining social media groups, forums, and communities, and really getting involved. Sharing your photos, videos, and design files is encouraged on many specialist websites for makers – and you can share your successes, your fails (especially if they’re funny!) and your advice.
Should you have designs that you want to be paid for sharing, then that is possible too. MyMiniFactory, PinShape, GrabCAD and GCTrader are all locations that you can share your designs for people to purchase.
If you’re using your laser cutter or 3D printer to create items to sell in your business, then you may not want to share your ideas, your process, or your design files – particularly if you’re creating something completely unique and innovative. But you will want to create a social media following to help encourage followers to buy from you – it is an essential part of building, and marketing a business today.
Selling your items
If you’re looking to sell your items – maybe to create a business selling items you’ve made with your laser cutter or 3D printer – then we definitely recommend looking at starting with marketplaces. Although you might be able to make sales on Amazon and eBay, customers don’t tend to head there when they are looking for artisan or handmade products (although the ever-expanding Amazon is heading into that territory with Amazon Handmade). Instead of attempting to fight for business with mainstream sellers, you’re more likely to be successful on craft and artisan-focused marketplaces like Etsy, Folksy, Tindie Maker Marketplace, and nuMonday.
Should marketplaces not suit the goals you have created for your business, then you can look at selling through your social media feeds (almost every social media company has started to implement the ability to sell through feeds if you have a business account) or on your own website.
Websites with eCommerce functionality have never been easier to set up, with Shopify and BigCommerce being the favoured all-in-one options, but other website builders like Wix and Squarespace have the ability to create online stores without needing to know code. Most have apps and add-ons that you can use to manage inventory, support your business with SEO and payment gateways.
Can I follow Hobarts online?
Absolutely! Our website isn’t the only place you can find us online. We have accounts on most of the social media channels, and we’d love for you to follow us there – and if you tag us with your creations that you’ve made using materials that you bought from us, we’re likely to follow you back too!
If you’ve found a great website, podcast, YouTube channel or social media account that you think we should share on this post, get in touch via our socials!
Whether you’re a beginner in laser cutting, starting out in 3D printing, or you’re a pro at using both types of machines, learning new techniques, finding inspiration for your projects and sharing ideas really has never been easier than it is today. Get involved with communities on social media, share your designs, download from websites, or just lurk (you don’t ever need to communicate with anyone if you don’t want to!). That’s what is brilliant about our community of makers; there is so much out there for us, with so much more potential for us to grow into.