WebGL: Another weapon in the 3D printing revolution

Browser-based 3D is taking a giant leap forward thanks to a technology called WebGL. It isn’t fully supported by Internet Explorer or Apple ios yet (though jailbreakers on ios have ways and there is reportedly an Apple hack).

But if you are reading this on a mac or pc using a recent version of Firefox, Chrome, Opera or Safari then slip your brain into neutral because it’s time to take a trip…

Hold on.. what is WebGL again?

If you want to get technical, it is a royalty-free web standard that uses the HTML5 canvas element, access to your graphics hardware, and a JavaScript API to create real-time 2D or 3D graphics.

If you don’t, try this: WebGL (Web Graphics Library) is a technology that makes 2D and 3D graphics run in your browser without any plugins. The results display in real-time, are as smooth as a marble, and allow the user to interact with them. It can be used for in-browser gaming, visualisation of dynamic data, physics simulations, interactive film, twitter streams and just about anything else you want to turn into exploratory and lovingly created eye candy. It can also interact very neatly with your webcam, microphone or anything else you choose to use to input data into your computer – including Kinect.

What does that have to do with 3D Printing?

Sites that are producing 3D models for print are already taking advantage of Web GL technology. Here are a few examples where the technology has been put to good use:

My Robot Nation

These guys were early adopters, using web GL to display customisable mix and match robots that you can then send to their colour 3D printer, and were subsequently bought by 3D Systems – one of the current behemoths in the industry. Nervous System design studio’s cell cycle works on a similar principle. It is a Web GL design app that allows you to dynamically model your own personal customised jewellery based on naturally occurring patterns.


See the models others have made or make your own in this 3D modelling experience

Fancy trying an online 3D modelling suite that sits in your browser? This one is free to play with and you can save your models in the cloud or export them as STL, OBJ or Collada files then take your model to a 3D printers.


If you already have your model but want to check how well it will print, this is the site for you. Made by 3D print consultants Econolyst Ltd, it uses WebGL to assess the model quickly and securely on your own machine and, as with all these examples, doesn’t require you to install anything to use it.


If your 3D model is perfected and you want to show the world, you can just drop it here. No sign up or login is required and your STL (binary), PLY, 3DS, OBJ and SolidWorks, Pro/Engineer Creo, Siemens NX, CATIA, Autodesk Inventor, IGES are displayed using Web GL at a custom URL.

You can expect to see lots more companies from the 3D print industry kissing Flash goodbye and eagerly adopting the slicker, speedier experience that is WebGL for new and innovative sites.

Erm, you mentioned taking a trip?

Innovation is always the name of the game with new technology. Tear it to bits, put it back together and see what you can create. These guys have taken their imagination and stirred it up with technology to create some truly mind bending experiences:

3 Dreams of Black

Prepare for a feast of visual and auditory excellence in these 2D and 3D interactive dream sequences that combine video. This is one of the sites setting the benchmark for interactive film.


Highly colourful and interactive musical experience for artist Ellie Goulding. Great to see the guys who created this – HelloEnjoy – are fellow Brightoners. Howdy! They have also written a good behind the scenes article.


Click and drag to turn somersaults under water around beautifully rendered moving jellyfish

Alcatraz Azathioprine

Ever felt like you’ve been dropped into a post-apocalyptic dystopian jail. No? Well, here’s your chance.


Exactly how positive or negative is your part of the world feeling at this moment? This example uses real-time data from Twitter to let you know.

Little Sun Light Graffiti

Visitors to the Tate Modern were invited to create light graffiti by dancing, jumping, and writing out with a Little Sun in their hand. The results are beautifully rendered on an interactive globe. Part of a bigger project that provides solar-powered lamps for those in the world without electricity

100,000 stars

Take a ride through the 100,000 stars that make up our stellar neighbourhood, incredible use of data as all the stars are named and plotted in this interactive experience.

Nouvelle Vague by Ultranoir

Take a whole slew of incredibly rendered beautiful 3D art, add a Twitter feed with your favourite hashtag and this is what you get. 

Mr Doob

The technical director of Ro.me and a widely recognised WebGL wizard and a driving force behind JavaScript library three.js. This interactive video presentation he created is awesome, and after your long and at times ethereal journey you may just like to hang out on his clouds.

Join the discussion

If you’ve got some good WebGL examples or resources, or any other thoughts please share them in the comments area below. And if you like the article, hit the share button.

5 thoughts on “WebGL: Another weapon in the 3D printing revolution

  1. I need to to thank you because of this very good blog! I completely enjoyed just of it. I have got your site book-marked to look at a new challenge you submit.

  2. Pingback: Gregory Smith

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *