In the digital humanities, it is sometimes easier to acquire 3D content from external sources rather than making it, especially when under a time constraint or limited in knowledge of 3D modeling. Fortunately, people in situations like these have access to many resources, such as repositories of 3D content submitted by amateur users within the 3D-design community or by professional creators working at design studios.
Some of the resources below have content suitable for 3D printing (.stl file format), while others might only be used for digital implementation (.obj or similar file format). Additionally, even though most of the listed resources are free, some might require registration for an account or a small payment to access the content. Remember to obey the licensing terms listed for each site and individual model, since some creators may not allow the use of their content for commercial purposes.
- In Google Poly, users can find 3D content files in the form of low-polygon, geometric constructions made in Blocks, artistic sketches made in Tilt Brush, or tours of global sites made in Tour Creator. These are available in .stl, .obj, and other 3D file formats that can be downloaded and used as desired.
- In SketchFab, users can browse, upload, or download 3D content files submitted by other users in the SketchFab community. Though most are premium models that require a purchase, some are free to download. This site also focuses on digital 3D content for export in .obj formats or for manipulation in 3D design programs like SketchUp, Blender, or Unity. However, there are .stl files available for 3D printing as well.
- TurboSquid contains professional-grade 3D content files that range from tens to hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Most of these are for use in digital 3D content platforms, such as 3ds Max, Maya, and Autodesk FBX. This site does have some free 3D models and files in .stl and .obj formats, but users don’t generally come to this site for those types of files.
- The Unity Asset Store has 2D and 3D assets to use for content development, which includes files, textures, animations, visual effects, and user interfaces. Obviously, these are all meant for use in Unity’s program only, and there are both paid and free content packages available.
- The SketchUp 3D Warehouse from Trimble is a website from the owners of SketchUp that collects 3D content submissions from SketchUp users, both amateur and professional. The content, likely meant for digital manipulation purposes only, is free and can only be imported into the SketchUp program. However, after making any necessary adjustments, SketchUp can export into other common 3D file types.
- Thingiverse is a site from MakerBot dedicated to creating a community for 3D printing objects for all purposes and facilitating creative discussions between the users. The website contains free 3D model files (in .stl format) generally for 3D-printing purposes, but these .stl files can be converted to 3D design files when needed for alteration or customization purposes.
- The UVA Library Dataverse’s Cultural Heritage section is a free source for 3D content produced by Will Rourk, 3D Data and Content Specialist at the UVA Scholars’ Lab. Here, 3D data is available in both digitally viewable and 3D printable formats so that people can import them for use in virtual reality or for physical manipulation. Additionally, some objects have the raw point cloud data available, which can be used to create the 3D models from scratch.
There are many other sites for this sort of data, but finding the exact 3D model that you need may take some time to search multiple sites, especially if it is an obscure or highly detailed model. It isn’t too difficult to create the 3D content needed, as long as the right tools are acquired. However, for some people, it may be easier to use an existing 3D model to speed up the development schedule.