Visualizing the 3D printing world.

We live in a more connected world than ever. But the connection is not limited to digital world any more. We are also connected with physical objects to each other. With the domestication of 3D printing technologies, we can create an object, put it online and see the world making the same object themselves. This is a unique way of connection, and this work aims to visualize it.

Tracking the 3D printed

Advisors: Zach Pino, Tomoko Ichikawa

Duration: 4 Months (Spring 2016)

Tools: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, d3.js, Rhinoceros, Grasshopper, 3D Printing


As the Earth shrinks due to the effects of digital communication and globalization, designers' ability to access data about their potential users increases dramatically. The visualization of this information offers designers a valuable opportunity to identify patterns, test hypotheses, and arrive at new and unexpected insights. I was challenged to pick a freely available spatial data and use advanced software tools in order to visualize a persuasive story about a current, topical issue.


After deciding on visualizing 3D printing world, I have looked into Thingiverse API and evaluated the data it offers. I put together 2D and 3D mock up visualizations to decide on which story to tell and how to tell it. After spending some time learning basics of Javascript and d3.js library,  I came back to the dataset and see which of my shortlisted visualization ideas is possible to realize in the project timeframe and picked one to develop.


The result is an interactive 2D visualization and 3D printed physical data objects of 3D printing world. The 2D visualization shows where different 3D objects were born, where they were 3D printed, where they got `remixed` into different objects and finally where the remixes were 3D printed. The 3D data object has a world map projected on it and has deformations which shows where that particular object got 3D printed in the world.



Before starting the project, I got exposed to inspirational examples of cartography and spatial data visualizations, which really helped me to enter this unfamilar domain and got me excited to work on this project.

1- Piri Reis Map of 1513
2- John Ogilby, The Road from London to the City of Bristol 1675


I conducted a quick research to see what kind of datasets are available around the topic of 3D printing and quickly realized Thingiverse, one of the most popular 3D printing portals offers a comprehensive API that I can easily use.

Key Findings

Through the Thingiverse API, I can easily get the data of:

  • A particular 3D file
  • Location of the original file maker
  • Location of users who 3D printed the object
  • Location of users who remixed the object
  • Location of users who made the remixes


What to Visualize in 2D

After understanding what kind of data I have access to, I sketched out some quick ideas and later iterated on them with software tools. At this point I did not use any real data, I just focused on designing the visualization.

What to Visualize in 3D

I used various materials like play-doh, styrofoam, cardboard and plastic sheets to create visualization mock-ups to quickly test and iterate my 3D visualization ideas.

How to Visualize in 2D

I started learning basics of HTML, CSS, Javascript and started experimenting with D3.js - Data Driven Documents, a javascript library widely used for data visualizations.

How to Visualize in 3D

I have imported a dataset to Grasshopper, an algorithmic modeling tool for Rhino, and experimented in 3D.


Final Visualizations

2D Visualization

The 2D visualization shows the paths of digital 3D objects travelling around the world and getting their original or remixed physical shapes.

Feel free to interact with the visualization below.

3D Data objects

I used the same dataset to map the lattitute and longitude data of the makes as polar points on the object and deformed the shape by moving those points from centroid of the object to outside. These objects contain their own 3D printing data on them. The map texture is used to augment the readability of the visualization.

With this method, every digital 3d file can be visualized and 3d printed to show its digital connections with the physical world. 

3d renders with text
3D Printing the Data Objects

I selected two of the most made objects on Thingiverse and 3D printed them using full color sandstone for the final presentation.

Grasshopper Definition

Below is the Grasshopper definition I used to create these data objects. By only importing different .stl files and Lat/Long data, it is possible to create data objects of every single 3D model that exists on Thingiverse platform.




This was a project that I was able to learn a lot about data visualization tools and designers important role in data vizualization space. I was able to use quick prototypes (sketches, 3D mockups) to get quick feedback and build up on my ideas swiftly.

Since this was my initial experience with tools like HTML/CSS, Javascript and Grasshopper; I spent a lot of time learning the basics and could not implement some of my interesting ideas because of the strict timeline of the project. But as I got more comfortable with these tools, I started to implement most of my ideas rather quickly. Moreover, I started using these new tools in my other projects as well.

Next Steps
  • Exploring more 3D objects, especially different kinds, which would make it easier to make some comparisons.
  • Exploring local visualizations instead of global which would lead a higher resolution.
  • Creating a real-time visualization that shows the morphing 3D printing world live.
  • Comparing 3D printing trends with other real-life events.

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© 2019 Burak Aktas