SketchFab is a web service to publish, share and embed interactive 3D models in real-time. Put simply, the site is part of a growing network of online 3D software to enable artistes, designers, and lay users to design 3D models that can, subsequently, be crafted into objects using a 3D printer. According to Alban Denoyel, co-founder of the site, SketchFab was devised to enable sharing of 3D files without 3D software. Over the last year or so (since its launch), a community has formed around it. Subsequently, the site has christened itself the “Youtube for 3D files.”
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Denoyel says the site is similar to Youtube in terms of its workflow. Users upload files in one of the 28 supported format and the browser displays the rendered file. Subsequently, users can embed and share the 3D file across a number of sites. “I think the bottom line is that when you have spent ten hours working on a 3D file, which is a media, in 2014, it just feels natural to share it,” he says. Currently, designs from the site can be embedded across a network of popular sites such as Kickstarter, LinkedIn and Behance.
However, that is where the Youtube analogy ends. Unlike Youtube (which is free), SketchFab uses a freemium pricing model (a combination of free for the basic service and premium pricing for paid products). The pricier version of the platform’s services provides more memory and greater privacy for designs (as compared to the free version). In this respect, Denoyel says the service is like SoundCloud. “Each media format gave birth to a major platform to host, publish, share and embed them,” he says, explaining the hybrid model.
An Overview Of SketchFab
I played around with the site briefly. Uploaded files are rendered in a WebGl-enabled browser and organized based on different categories and users. Much like Youtube, users can create their own channels. Supported categories include topics such as art and architecture, military, and science.
In addition, much like the popular video platform, the site has a list of popular designs within different categories such as Most Viewed, Most Faved, and Brands (ostensibly, this is for a future monetization strategy).
You can also perform light editing for some file formats. For example, you can shade materials and brightness associated with different regions of your 3D files. However, so far, support for such editing tasks is limited to obj, VRML, and Blender formats. Denoyel says the team plans to expand this capability down the line with light and shadow editing. In addition, they plan to include API extensions to remotely control settings related to the solution. Post-editing, you can either embed the 3D model on your webpage or share it through social networks. The latter requires special configurations, such as apps that enable iFrames for Facebook.
Another iteration of the site is SculptFab, which is a tool to sculpt 3D models online and publish directly to the SketchFab site. Denoyel told me that SculptFab was a quick hack to build an easy workflow dedicated to SketchFab publishing. Then, there is SketchFab.me, which acts as a personal 3D modeling display site. Whilst the sites are useful and intuitive (I was able to create a 3D model on SculptFab within minutes), I am still trying to grasp the intent behind these sites. For example, SculptFab is a relatively simple platform, which lacks the richness of other 3D modeling platforms. However, it balances this drawback with an ease-of-publishing, which is absent in other, competing platforms. Similarly, SketchFab.me seems to be an extension of the main site and is, probably, targeted at a professional community. However, in its layout and publishing workflow, the site is fairly similar to the main site.
A Couple Of Thoughts On SketchFab
There are 3D design tools that help you create and there are 3D design tools that help you propagate your finished design, SketchFab belongs to the latter category (though ScultpFab seems to be the beginning of a new direction for the company). The premise and technology for the site is impressive and is a leap over current methods to share 3D files or render them in the cloud.
I faced issues due to hardware (Yes, I work on an outdated machine); so, I could not test latency completely. However, a fast processor and graphics card will go a long way in making the site more user-friendly for your needs. I also could not test the site for design complexity. For example, I created relatively simple designs on SculptFab. The 3D file I uploaded on the SketchFab site was also fairly simple. So are most designs available on the site. As I understand, design complexity is an important factor, especially for professionals such as architects and engineers.
Further down the line, the site may also face problems associated with piracy and noise. The site’s categories includes brands, who can use the site to gain feedback and advertise their products. Startups, such as Pebble, have already begun advertising on the site. Interestingly, the maximum number of views, however, belong to Fan Art for established products, such as iPhone and Tesla. This could become a problem down the line as fan art noise will drown out the actual brand’s channel. Currently, the site has a Model Request feature that enables you to order models available on the site. Considering the popularity of fan art, this might create piracy problems as imitation models could price actual brands out of the market.
The site is already undergoing changes. After receiving a fresh round of funding this month, Denoyel and his team are busy revamping their site. The site’s backend architecture will be redone with the new funds to handle traffic surges, Expect a new version of SketchFab soon along with a slew of editing features, such as the ability to reduce model size, and marking hotspots on the completed files.