Collaborative 3D Printing Made Possible by Pinshape, Search Powered by Algolia

Pinshape, a collaborative 3D printing design community based in Vancouver, has made creating the top marketplace for 3D artists to sell and share their designs their focus because they know designers are fueling and inspiring the 3D revolution. But it’s not always easy to create a superior product and user experience with the limited resources of a startup. With the help of search powered by Algolia, Pinshape is now able to provide the truly collaborative website experience necessary for powering the 3D printing design community.

Who is Pinshape?

Pinshape is a global marketplace built to enable designers to collaborate on and share 3D printed designs, enabling downloads straight to a customer’s printer. We offer more than 10,000 unique 3D printing designs, all available to download or stream, and each design comes with step-by-step printing instructions so the person using the file prints the best possible product.

In 2014, Pinshape was accepted into 500 Startups, a startup accelerator in Silicon Valley, and the business really took off. Since then we’ve worked hard to build our website into a creative community with thousands of designs and collaborators from 130 countries around the world. Pinshape encourages collaboration to make 3D printing easier for people everywhere, and community and shared learning is part of our culture. We’ve got big plans, and we’re just getting started.

Why 3D printing?

When we founded Pinshape in 2013, 3D printing technology was still in its early stages. We kept hearing more and more about it and saw huge potential for the technology to have a global impact. We knew we wanted to be in the 3D printing industry, but we really had to narrow down what specific area to enter.

3D printed designWe didn’t have the technical skills to build 3D printers or the materials science background to innovate in the field, so we had to think of something else. After spending time in the 3D online community, we noticed a lack of quality printable content; for those who could not create their own designs, it was extremely difficult to find good 3D print files to download. Our solution—create a community and marketplace to connect 3D printer owners with 3D designers so that everyone can access great 3D print files.

3D Printing Industry Barriers

3D printing technology is still foreign to the general public. One of the most common questions we get is “sure it’s cool, but what do people actually print?”.  For 3D printing to reach mass adoption, the applications of the technology need to be clearer to consumers. Let’s be real, before Apple and Microsoft came along, no one really knew what to do with personal computers. Similarly, we need to show consumers the killer applications of 3D printing for them to realize its true potential.  

Another challenge is that the user experience of 3D printing is relatively complex. There are numerous steps and software programs required to get from idea to physical product, and there is a steep learning curve when it comes to actually using the printer because of the technical difficulties associated with running and maintaining a complicated piece of hardware.

We want to bring this technology mainstream by creating a place for makers and designers to share and explore quality content. We also help 3D printer owners get the best prints possible by providing printing instructions from the community.

The Importance of Search

For a printer or maker, the fun is in the printing, not searching for a specific design. Technical challenges aside, we want to make it easy and fast for users to find amazing designs to print. Since our site has so many different 3D print files to sort through, we need to provide a search experience that’s fast, easy to use, and powerful.

One of our challenges was creating a product and user experience that is superior to that of our competitors, but with the limited resources of a startup. Before Algolia, we were using a free tool called Elasticsearch. Elasticsearch had some great qualities, but it took a lot of time to manage and code. We ultimately needed a tool that managed tuning performance and the search ranking algorithms so that we could focus on UI and UX. We heard other startups were using Algolia to fine tune their search rankings, so we had a good idea that Algolia had the technology we needed.

Algolia’s Impact

With Algolia, our search load time is approximately 160% faster than with our previous search tool. Our users can now quickly find what they are looking for with filters that update without a page refresh. It makes our site more aesthetically appealing, and the autocomplete makes the search time even faster. We also love the Algolia analytics page that allows us to see popular searches so we can figure out exactly what our users are looking for. This gives us valuable insight into our design community. Since launching Algolia, our searches have increased by 91.23%, and our transactions have grown with it.

Since we were spending a lot of time on our search functions, we know there are others out there who are experiencing the same problem. We estimate that using Algolia instead of developing the search code internally has saved us at least two months of work.

With Algolia, we deliver improved search functionalities at a lightning quick speed. Searching has gone from a bit of a chore to something that’s delightful to use, and it keeps people coming back to find their next print, which is what Pinshape is all about.

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Illustration by Justas Galaburda