In our last article we talked about the 7 different types of additive manufacturing processes and how to choose the appropriate technology based on your needs. By now, you may already have chosen the right 3D printer for yourself. Are you wondering how long it will take you before you can make your first 3D model? If you are staring at a blank screen with no idea what comes next, there is nothing to worry about. At Tripodmaker our mission is to make 3D printing accessible to everyone. The process of preparing a 3D model for printing is often unique to everyone, but hopefully these guidelines will provide a foundation for you. So go ahead, read our article or download our e-book now!
GENERATING YOUR CAD MODEL
To get started with 3D printing, you ﬁrst need to design the 3D object. In the additive manufacturing industry people say: “If you can draw it, you can make it.” A great deal of items can be made with 3D printers. You can draw them yourself or you can easily download object ﬁles from various websites.
DRAW IT YOURSELF
If you want to draw/design the 3D object yourself, there are free and paid software available online, which range in complexity. You can review Wikipedia for a list of 3D modeling software applications or read our selection below. You can learn how to 3D model starting with free 3D modeling software like Rhino, Blender or SketchUp. It will take you some weeks to be familiar with 3D modeling tools such as the aforementioned. To become a professional user will take you at least half a year to study and practice.
This is a fun, free and easy to use software. To build models in SketchUp, you draw lines and shapes using a few simple tools that you can learn in a short time. With the Push/Pull tool, for instance, you can turn surfaces into 3D forms. Very easy to learn and intuitive, it offers the possibility to be productive within a couple of hours.
3DTin is a free web-based program for creating three dimensional models. You can draw directly from your browser. 3DTin offers templates that you can use to develop models or you can just as well design a model from scratch by placing cubes of different colors on top of each other. The service is free to use as long as you allow your models to be labeled with a Creative Commons license and put them in the 3DTin gallery. The gallery is a great place to find examples of what can be created in 3DTin. Models that you create can be exported in standard 3D file formats (STL for instance) in order to be used in other modeling software. You can also save the sketches in cloud. 3DTin could be a great tool for engineering or architecture activity or even for teaching students.
If you are looking to create an artistic 3D model, this is the right software program for you. Blender is the free open source 3D content creation suite, available for Linux, Mac and Windows. It is a powerful software offering lots of design freedom and endless design options, however it might be quite difficult to learn. It is typically used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, interactive 3D applications and video games. This software is a nice tool for fixing and making simple changes to STL files.
OpenSCAD is a software for creating solid 3D CAD (Computer-aided design) objects. It is free software and available for Linux/UNIX, MS Windows and Mac OS X. It might be the application you are looking for when you are planning to create 3D models of machine parts since it does not focus on the artistic aspects of 3D modelling but instead on the CAD aspects. It is something like a 3D-compiler that reads in a script file that describes the object and renders the 3D model from this script file. This gives to the user full control over the modelling process and enables him to easily change any step in the modelling process or make designs that are defined by configurable parameters.
If you are just starting and want an easy to use option, TinkerCAD is the perfect 3d printing companion for you! It is a new and faster way of creating designs for your 3D printer. By creating an account and following tutorials you can learn to design basic parts quickly. With only three basic tools you can create a wide range of useful things. Once your project is ready simply download the STL file and start your 3D print. Tinkercad supports all 3D printers on the market that accept standard STL file formats. You can also download VRML files for color printing. There are limitations to the program but it is a great place to get started.
Commercial software such as CAD software AutoCAD and Pro Engineer, as well as software packages Rhino, Maya, and SolidWorks are all pretty good for designing 3D models, if money is not the issue. Rhino is incredibly easy to use, thanks to its combination of a command-line and toolbar interface, and extreme flexibility regarding order of operations. The end result is a 3D software that feels intuitive and solid. Maya is the current king-of-the-hill in high-end 3D animation software. It offers a comprehensive creative feature set on a highly extensible production platform. When it comes to SolidWorks, it is simple enough to deduce and work with limited to no experience but still powerful enough to model any engineering problem that might crop up.
If you want to look into what other designers or artists have created and released to the public, both free and paid, search the internet to discover what is out there. And like everything on the internet, there’s a great deal more than you’d expect. Here are some websites with 3D models database:
The site operates as a clearinghouse for 3D artist works. For each and every copy of the model that you cut using your tools, you must buy a license from 3DMarvels.com. You are not allowed to remove the 3DMarvels.com logo or otherwise modify the file. You must purchase a license before printing.
GrabCAD is a startup that has created a free cloud-based collaboration solution that helps engineering teams manage, view and share CAD files. It has recently released Workbench, a free cloud-based collaboration solution that helps engineering teams manage, share, and view CAD files.
TRIMBLE/GOOGLE 3D WAREHOUSE
Users first need to create and account. Then they can search models and collections and download a 3D model for free. Designers can upload their designs to share with other users. Just click on Upload, accept the terms of service, upload the file, and then fill in the fields for title description, logo, and tags.
PONOKO PRODUCT PLANS
Choose and buy a design and download the files to your PC. You can also edit and mashup the product plans you download from Ponoko to create something completely original. Just remember to abide by the designer's copyright license. The site offers the possibility to produce the items you order using Ponoko’s make-on-demand technology. Products can be shipped to your door.
SHAPEWAYS 3D PARTS DATABASE
The Shapeways 3D parts Database is a resource where you can download files from. The files are free under a Creative Commons license and you can use them to work quicker and build exciting models. The site offers compression springs, gears, gearboxes, coil springs and leaf springs for users to download and use for their projects.
Thingiverse is a DIY 3D printer kit making company, with an almost endless repository of 3D models that you can use to test the limits of your printer. The models cover categories such as 3D printing, art, hobby, models, tools etc. Many of the objects shared on Thingiverse are also for the purpose of repair. Next time you have a broken zipper make sure to check Thingiverse, the design for printing your replacement part may already have been posted there. What’s even more interesting is getting involved with the community. You can learn a lot by following and interacting with some of the more advanced users.
TurboSquid offers a great selection of 3D models and other tools like textures and plug–ins that have passed rigorous testing procedures to ensure they will work with your software. They work with thousands of artists to generate a maximum of creative possibilities making the user’s creations as imaginative as possible.
MyMiniFactory is a curated social platform for 3D printable objects. It doesn’t use the business model that is emerging as the industry standard – the upload for free, download for fee -concept. Instead, they offer users free downloads, category and catalogue extensions by request, yet still offer suitable monetary incentives for the uploaders. The community platform connects 3D designers, makers, users and brands: 3D designers can upload and share their creations, promote them and earn money from sales. Makers can print for others and earn money while users can download thousands of 3D printable objects for free, buy printed objects, or follow their favorite designers and makers. Brands can reach out to the community with contests and other features.
How long will it take you before you can turn your idea into a 3D model? Well, that is really up to you and how much time you want to spend doing it. There are certain people who want to absorb as much knowledge as they can and choose not to apply it until they have a good sense of understanding. Then there are some eager users that may actually get started too quickly, but that is ok too, since they will learn by doing it. The next step of making a 3D printing design is to understand STL files and how to create a good one. Are you struggling with faulty STL files? Stay tuned for our next article explaining how to fix your CAD (Computer-aided design) files and how to prepare them for the slicing software.