7 Reasons To Buy (Not Build) a 3D Viewer

So you want to integrate a 3D viewer on your website and are wondering if you should build your own, or use Sketchfab? Here are a few things to consider:

1. Rendering

At Sketchfab, we have spent the past seven years working on supporting state-of-the art 3D rendering in the browser. Cedric, our CTO, was one of the very first 3D programmers to work on WebGL, back in 2011. WebGL is the first web standard to display 3D graphics in the browser without a plugin, and the backbone of Sketchfab. It was initiated by Mozilla in 2011, and Cedric worked with Mozilla to make the first demo of WebGL for the launch of Firefox 4.

Sketchfab was born soon after. We’ve spent seven years improving the rendering capabilities of our core technology, and adding new features on an almost weekly basis. Our goal was to ensure that high-end 3D artists using expensive 3D tools would be as happy with the rendering on Sketchfab as they were with their own native rendering. 

We support things like Clear Coat, Screen Space Reflection, Refraction, Anisotropy, Ambient Occlusion… Yes, you could build this manually, but we provide this out of the box.

2. Performance

Sketchfab has a community of over 2,000,000 members and hosts millions of 3D files.

Our system is proof tested by millions of visitors every day, across all browsers, all operating systems, all devices… We have served over a billion 3D views to date.

No custom solution can be guaranteed to work everywhere, but ours can. Any potential issues immediately reported by our community are typically fixed within a day. We also proudly serve companies of all sizes across all industries, including customers like Nike, Lego and Porsche.

Sketchfab is trusted by leading brands

On top of providing a system that works, we do a lot of optimization behind the scenes. When you upload a 3D file to Sketchfab, it goes through 8 passes of cleaning and optimization to make sure it will perform smoothly on all systems.

For example, we automagically generate 5 different texture resolutions and dynamically adapt the resolution to the device the visitor is using: lower resolution on mobile, higher resolution on desktop. We also optimize each texture depending upon how they are used within materials.

3. Hosting, plug, and play

Using Sketchfab means we provide hosting. On top of the fact that it means you don’t have to worry about hosting, it means everything is what-you-see-is-what-you-get, immediately live in the browser, and plug and play. You upload your model, and you can play with all the settings in real time: lighting, shadows, materials…

You don’t have to tweak code to see the result. Anything updated on the model is immediately updated anywhere the model is embedded. And the model is easily embeddable anywhere.

Think about video. Yes, you could build your own video player, but hosting a video on YouTube or Vimeo makes it so much easier to manage, publish, share, embed, edit, find, and their scale means higher-quality transcoding and better performance.

4. Editor

On top of doing our best to support your file as it was built, we also provide a number of tools available through our editor, to make your content shine even more.

From the editor, you can instantly adjust things like lighting, materials, textures… and you can also automatically add ground shadows, sounds, 3D annotations… as well as  a number of post-process effects, like depth-of-field, saturation, grain…

5. Robust set of APIs

We also provide robust APIs to build on top of Sketchfab. It means you can leverage the robustness of the platform and not reinvent the wheel, while having the flexibility to customize the experience. 

Our data API will let you upload your models programmatically and integrate Sketchfab with any application.

Our viewer API will let you customize the player for your needs: skin the player to your branding, create custom annotations & controls, change textures or colors. Sketchfab’s viewer API powers a growing list of impressive 3D configurators – you can see some examples here: https://sketchfab.com/3d-configurators

6. Ecosystem

Sketchfab is a platform, with a rich ecosystem around it: for uploading, embedding, viewing, and downloading.

Uploading

Sketchfab is integrated with more than 100 3D creation tools, so you can upload in 1 click. Our most notable integrations include Blender, Maya, Max, Substance, C4D, Unity, RealityCapture, Metashape… You can check the full list here

Embedding

Sketchfab is integrated with more than 100 publishing platforms, making it super easy to embed our viewer anywhere. Our embed integrations include Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Kickstarter, Reddit… You can check the full list here

Viewing

Sketchfab supports VR and AR out of the box. VR through all webVR enabled headsets (including Rift, Quest, Vive, Daydream…), and AR through our mobile app, or devices like MagicLeap and HoloLens.

Downloading

Sketchfab just started offering download integrations, you can try some of them here: sketchfab.com/exporters

7. Cost, the Specialization theory, and the principle of Software-as-a-Service

Using a web based service rather than building it yourself is not something we invented at Sketchfab 🙂 I guess it goes back to the specialization theory of Adam Smith, and the division of labor. 

For example, at Sketchfab, our specialization is to provide the best platform to publish and find 3D models online. We try to focus most of our engineering resources on this. That’s one of the reasons why we haven’t spent energy on building creation tools, as many of our partners do that already. That’s also why we use web-based services for hosting, newsfeed, emailing, payment, etc…

Sketchfab is the leader in 3D visualization online

It would make no sense for us to rebuild a payment system, or an emailing system. Similarly, working with us is going to be less expensive – in most cases – than a single engineer, and you will get an experienced team working on it full time (for the past 7 years). What could be better? 🙂