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Sketchfab uses glTF to bring a search bar to the world of 3D

Sketchfab Searchbar

Since we started Sketchfab in 2012, we’ve been on a mission to help democratize 3D and make it accessible everywhere. The first step in that mission was to provide a best-in-class 3D viewer that makes it easy for 3D creators to reliably publish and share their 3D content on the web. We spent six years developing our robust platform to publish, share, and discover 3D content, and today we are integrated into more than one hundred 3D tools, with more than 1.5M users sharing over 2.5M 3D files on Sketchfab.

Sketchfab has become the go-to way to publish and share 3D content on the internet. Our growing library has increased demand for 3D content with new ways being developed to use it. This has made us look at content distribution in a new way. We realized making 3D content available everywhere also meant sharing it outside of Sketchfab so that it can be used in more ways and as part of bigger projects, so our next step is to become a search bar for the 3D world. This is the story about why we adopted the Khronos industry standard file format, glTF™, to help us get there.

The download feature we introduced in Sketchfab in 2014 has proven to be very successful, and today we see more than 200,000 downloads every month, for a cumulative total of more than 2.5 million downloads. We recently started looking into how to take our download feature to the next level, and started scoping what would become our download API: a solution to let any application integrate a Sketchfab search bar that will browse our huge database of 3D models and import content.

To execute our vision, we needed a file format that would meet our three main criteria:

  • Able to convert files from our proprietary format, which means ultimately offering a conversion pipeline from one of the more than 50 formats we support into one single standard format
  • Preserve features like animation and Physically Based Rendering (PBR) for portable and consistent description of materials
  • Be universally portable, and be supported as an import format in all the major 3D authoring tools

We followed the progress around glTF early on, contributing to the format specification by sharing feedback and insights based on our use case and expertise. As glTF matured, it became clear that the format met our criteria and that it had the potential to be exactly what we were looking for.

As a result, we introduced glTF support on Sketchfab’s upload side back in December 2016. Next, we released our download API and glTF export at GDC in March 2018, unlocking more than 150,000 glTF assetsthat are available for free download under Creative Commons licenses. As of May 1st, Facebook announced its partnership with Sketchfab to bring free 3D models to AR studio, allowing Facebook developers to access free glTF assets via Sketchfab’s download API.

Sketchfab API

Thanks to glTF, anyone can now search and import Sketchfab content using their favorite tool. Alongside the release of our download API, we introduced import addons for Unity, Unreal, and Godot, as well as native integrations with Torch3D, Minsight, Spatial stories, Selerio, StellarX, Valorem’s Holobeam, AnimVR, Plattar, Sketchbox3D, Looking Glass, and many more integrations in progress.