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3D Modeling: SketchFab for Non-Printed Assignments

Sometimes 3D modeling is the focus of an assignment. However, not all 3D models need to be 3D printed as the final learning artifact. Until recently, the publication method of 3D printing has been the only method supported by Maker Commons. Now, Maker Commons is supporting the use of SketchFab as a way to publish 3D models to be turned in as the completed assignment.

What is SketchFab?

Think of SketchFab as being like a YouTube but for 3D models. A 3D model can be uploaded to SketchFab and interacted with within a viewer. This viewer is embeddable on most websites, just like YouTube videos. Additionally, SketchFab lets you make numerous decisions about how your 3D model is viewed, from simulating specific kinds of lighting to adjusting what kind of material the 3D model appears to be made of. 

SketchFab is a great way to store your work and share with others. 3D models uploaded to SketchFab can even be viewed in virtual reality through a VR or Google Cardboard headset as well as in augmented reality with a MERGE Cube.

When might you use SketchFab vs 3D Printing?

3D models which have very fine or thin detail can be difficult for 3D printers to create properly. Additionally, some 3D models based off of real-world objects require textures (or the “picture” of the object mapped across the geometry of the 3D model) to be fully appreciated and understood. Texture cannot be 3D printed, so in some cases the object is best suited to be viewed as a 3D model.

Sustainability can also be a reason to use SketchFab over 3D printing. In non-ideal conditions, it could take a PLA 3D print hundreds of years to biodegrade in a landfill. If a printed model has limited use and will just get thrown out afterwards, a 3D model uploaded to SketchFab could suffice, rather than committing the object to physical semi-permanence.


Submission of SketchFab Deliverables

SketchFab 3D models can be turned in for assignment or distributed like any other internet link. They can also be embedded in online portfolios or submitted through Canvas.

Considerations for Using SketchFab

Free Account

All Penn State users will need to create their own free account on SketchFab. This has certain limitations including: no private uploads and 50mb maximum file size per upload. However, there are unlimited uploads for the free account.

3D Model

SketchFab accepts a variety of file types for 3D models including .OBJ and .STL.

Appropriate Complexity

The number of polygons and complexity of a 3D model matters for how SketchFab renders the viewer. A complex model may render in a computer browser with no issues but the same model may have trouble through the SketchFab app on a much less powerful smartphone.

Want to learn more or speak with a consultant about SketchFab?