A Mixed Up Mix – Making Them Easier To Use By Standardizing 3D Library Categories

Help!  Anal retentive organizer buried under mountains of plastic junk & jewelry, downloadable STL files, too many wonderous devices, new ideas, repetitively cloned items, the good, the bad and the bland, widgets, whatchamacallits, thingamadoodles and thingamajigs!


Wow!  There is a LOT of stuff to download for 3D printing from the internet.  There’s at least a 100 websites dedicated to or mostly devoted to sharing libraries of downloadable files of three-dimensional objects.  There’s so many, I couldn’t possibly name them all, but I’m going try.  Here it goes… #1 Thingiverse.com by Makerbot.  Phew!  There done!  Just kidding, but Thingiverse does almost look like the first, the last and everything in-between when it comes to sharable 3D libraries on the internet.  Thingiverse has so many files, if you started downloading and printing every available file, it would take the rest of your life.  In which case, it would be the first, the last and everything in-between.  But hold on!  Before we run off and start a 3D printing storm.  Something to consider, if we decide to print one of everything on Thingiverse, that means ONLY one of everything.  We eliminate any duplicates items and ideas, if not physically identical, we exclude anything that is a variation of something else.  We can reduce the library down to a manageable size, that might not take our whole lives to print.  In other words, there is a lot of duplication on Thingiverse.


Let’s say we love 3D printing so much, we want to do it every waking hour of every day, but we’ve reduced Thingiverse to only the unique items, we could still do it all day because there are more downloadable libraries on the Internet.  A lot more!  There large libraries and small ones.  There are libraries that have a very broad range of items and some that are very specialized.  There are some that are free, some that are not so free and some that are both.  This is going to sound very cliché, but there are downloadable 3D libraries of every size and color and there are still too many to name here.  It is my plan for this website to eventually, produce a ranked database of these websites and link to the best ones and most useful objects that can be found.


One thing I’ve noticed by scouring these libraries for needed and interesting things, is the libraries have no real consistency to their organization from one library to the next.  As I’ve said before, it’s a young industry and so everyone is still trying to figure things out.  But until we do, you can find “gadgets” devices in the “Toys” category and don’t look now but someone has got the “Utility” category mixed with “Hobbies.”  Somebody tell me again, what is the difference between “Fashion” and “Art”?  And don’t say one is wearable!  Speaking of fashion, how far does fashion have to go before it becomes the “Props & Cosplay” category?  There’s categories for “Teaching”, “Learning”, “Education” and “Educational”, huh?   It easy to find “Toys” in “Tools” and “Tools” in “Toys.”  Okay, that one’s acceptable.  To some of us, they are nearly the same thing anyway and their spelling may be more than coincidence.


Okay, not every shareable library would need the same categories, obviously, if they specialize in a certain category of items, they would need an altogether different division of files.  It’s just that it would be so helpful to all users to be able to find things, if there was some consistency between websites.  Maybe if we come up with a decent hierarchy of categories, we can have some influence on this.  Others might not use our hierarchy of categories, but at least we’ll have it for our own use when it comes to making that list of the best downloads to be found on the Internet.


Can we come up with a hierarchy that is so useful libraries might adopt it?  I can suggest the top level of a library might have: “New”, “Featured”, “Trending” and “Popular” as categories above the hierarchy and maybe we don’t need both “trending” and “popular”, but there is a distinction between them: “popular” is a list of the most downloaded files of all-time.  Whereas, “trending” is a list of the most recently downloaded files.  Check my categories and definitions and see if you agree or there needs to be some changes:


Since I started 3D printing, it has seemed that all objects that can be printed on a 3D printer can be divided into just three (3) main categories: “Utilitarian”; a device specifically designed to do work, “Art”; a device specifically designed to entertain and/or provoke an emotional response and “Toys”; a device specifically designed to do work and entertain.  All other categories, seem to fall under one or more of these categories.  In these definitions the term ‘work’, is used as it would be in physics: the transfer of energy from one place to another or from one form to another.  The category ‘Toy’ obviously falls equally under both others and therefore must be its own category.  Items here can do work and/or you can’t deny they are intended to entertain.


The “Utilitarian” category can be subdivided into two (2) categories: “Tools” and “Parts.”  Tools are devices that are complete or mostly complete, designed to perform a semi-specific task.  They can be removed from the task when finished and usually can repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks any number or a limited number of times.  Whereas ‘Parts’ are devices specifically designed to be used in conjunction with other components to become a permanent or semi-permanent addition to a larger device designed to perform tasks.  The category “Tools” can be further subdivided into “Electronic”, “Garden”, “Household”, “Outdoor”, “Sports” and “Transportation”.  Have I missed any?  While Transportation can be still subdivided: “Air & Space”, “Automotive”, “Bicycles”, “Ships & Boats” and “Trains”.  The category “Parts” can be subdivided similarly: “Electronics”, “Household”, “Transportation” (and its subdivisions) and a few more: “Replacement”, as in parts to repair something and “Photography”.  It seems like that last one should be under “Art”, but we’re talking about things like lens caps, GoPro mounts and the such.


How can the category ‘Art’ be subdivided?  We could divide it by genre or whether it has moving parts or not.  We could arbitrarily pick a topic and divide by that, such as whether it is wearable or not or educational or not, but we should probably just jump past a major subdivision here and apply the final category types.  For instance, the categories at this sub level that belong under ‘Art’ are: “Accessories”, “Animals”, “Cosplay & Theatrical Props”, “Fan Art”, “Fashion”, “Furniture”, “Industrial”, “Jewelry”, “Logos & Symbols”, “Miniatures”, “Nature”, “People”, “Science” and “Signs”.  I’m sure I forgot some.


Picking the intermediate levels here may seem a little arbitrary, some discussion can only help.  We can name the next subdivision types, but we can’t call it the lowest level as some of these types should be subdivided more: “Action Figures”, “Adult”, “Board Games”, “Construction”, “Dolls”, “Educational”, “Games”, “Hobbies”, “Role Playing Games (RPG)”, “Military & Weapons”, “Puzzles” and “Transportation”.  The RPG can be divided into “Dice & Markers”, “Mapping, Tiles & Terrain” and “Minitures”.  Transportation can be divided as above.  Hobbies can probably be subdivided, but only if/when we get so many items it becomes necessary.


Why is important to define the categories?  It’s important not only to find things but so you can easily find out if you’re item is unique or not.  Can you imagine having about 5000 files to go through and not having them stored in folders?  3D Printing is still young and we need to get things organized, especially if you’re the anal retentive type, like me.


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Darren Hughes

Darren is a Nerd/Jock hybrid. In fact, he maybe the original nerd. In the '60's, he and his Sister were certainly among the first Trekkies, having pretended to be the crew of Enterprise at night (after watching the original series during it's inaugural run) and playing little league in the day. Darren holds a few college degrees. One of them for Engineering and another for Computer Networking. He's always been a fan of learning and technology. Darren has only been 3D printing for a couple years and still considers himself a novice. It is his hope for this blog site to share what he learns as he goes with other beginners, to save them time and hassle finding the best 3D printing and avoiding the worst.