Getting started with 3D modeling and 3D printing can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. The easiest place to start is with a simple shape, like a box. Additionally, it can help to create something useful (or at least marginally useful) to act as motivation.
Downloading a part from Thingiverse and printing it is a good place to start, especially if you want to test your printer or want something awesome that someone else has made. But what if you’re ready to start designing your own models? Where do you go? There are scores of 3D modeling programs out there, and some of them work better with 3D printing than others. Here are some of the ones I’ve had experience with:
- Tinkercad - Free, web-based modeling software from Autodesk that’s great for beginners. Great for making models for 3D printing, but is limited in features.
- SketchUp - There is a free (now web-based) and a paid (Pro) version. Easy to learn and use, but has trouble producing 3D printer-friendly models.
- Fusion 360 - Full-featured modeling software also from Autodesk that’s free for students and hobbyists. Favored by many hobbyists.
- SolidWorks - Full-featured CAD software that has a large professional following. Expensive.
- Blender - Free and open-source modeling program with a steep learning curve.
If you are just getting started with modeling and printing, I highly recommend giving Tinkercad a shot. You can whip up simple designs in a matter of minutes. Do note that it is lacking some advanced features, like being able to add chamfers or fillets (you can technically subtract a round shape out of another shape and then use that to create a fillet on your design’s corners, but it’s a pain).
I’ve created a quick guide on getting started with Tinkercad. In it, I show how to design a box, import it into a slicer, and then print it. It’s a great starting place, especially if you’re looking to create custom enclosures for your electronics projects. That being said, it’s meant as a starting point; putting just a Pro Mini is box is a fairly useless exercise. Feel free to modify the dimensions to fit your own project!
Getting Started with 3D Printing Using Tinkercad
April 30, 2018
Also, the instructions for printing were written for a LulzBot TAZ 5 printer (now retired in favor of the TAZ 6), mostly because that’s what I had access to. Most of the LulzBot printers should work similarly, but if you have a different printer, you’ll want to follow that manufacturer’s guidelines for which Slicer program to use and how to print.
For those of you out there with more 3D printing experience, what other modeling or troubleshooting tips can you recommend?