OpenSCAD: Awesome 3D Modelling Software for FREE

by Jason King on April 11, 2015

OpenSCAD ModelA few of my blog post ideas start with me browsing Thingiverse and finding something amazing to write about.

This one is no different and to cut a long story short I was browsing some of Emmetts creations when I found OpenSCAD.

Emmett is famous on Thingiverse for his Gear Bearing amongst many other things.

What I noticed is that a lot of his creations are fully customizable and are created using something called OpenSCAD. I’d heard of this tool before but had little idea about what it actually was, so I took it upon myself to investigate.

It soon became apparent that OpenSCAD is a free software tool released under the General Public License, which uses a scripting language to develop 3D models.

If like myself you are used to using simple CAD tools like Tinkercad to build up 3D objects visually, then the idea of using a scripting language is interesting, but worlds apart from what we’re used to.

Having been a Software Engineer for the last 16 years, I’m quite familiar with scripting languages, so I downloaded the software and tried a few simple examples. The image below shows a bowl I designed, along with the code I used to produce it.

OpenSCAD BowlIncidentally it’s available for Linux, UNIX, Windows and Mac OS X, so no-one should have to miss out on this great little tool.

The first thing I noticed is that it installed quickly and ran just as quickly too. I have to admit I really don’t like bloatware (software which eats all of your resources), so if it took forever to install or ran slowly then I’d have given up immediately. To me it was just the opposite, small, simple and fast.

Having only discovered OpenSCAD yesterday I’m not pretending to be an expert in it, or to even have much of a clue how to use it, but my first impressions are good and I’ve really enjoyed learning to use it and being able to export my designs (although very simple ones so far) as .STL files and 3D print them immediately.

3D Printed BowlOpenSCAD isn’t for everyone or for every application, but it has it’s place for real CAD work which requires precision, power and complete parameterization.

Personally I love it, but I’m already very familiar with the fundamentals of programming and if you’re not then this is something you’ll need to learn along the way.

The first thing I created with it was a simple little Twisted Vase Prototype which I posted on Twitter. Ok so this isn’t that impressive but I’ve since elaborated on it and turned it into a fully parameterized bowl. I’m more into eating nuts and crisps than growing flowers, so a bowl is far more useful to me than a vase.

I’m currently printing it out in clear PLA on my MakerBot Replicator 2 so expect a picture of it too if it turns out ok. My first version didn’t print too well, as the walls were too thin at the bottom and some slopes on the sides were less than 45 degrees from horizontal. See my YHT Example on YouTube for more information about why this can be problematic.

Emmetts Automatic TransmissionFor more of an idea of the potential OpenSCAD has, you should look at some of Emmetts designs, like his Automatic Transmission Model on Thingiverse. These are amazing.

As well as precision designs, OpenSCAD is excellent for creating twisty, turny, curvy objects too, which you just cannot create easily in tools like Tinkercad.

I still plan to use Tinkercad for some applications, but I’m happy in the knowledge that OpenSCAD is a great new addition to my 3D design toolkit.

What’s the best thing about OpenSCAD for me? It’s so much fun to use, oh and it’s free which helps. I’m really looking forward to creating more complex models with it, especially since I found out it supports recursion. Now there’s an entire blog post subject in itself, so watch this space.

Thanks for reading and if this inspired you to dive into 3D designing and printing yourself, feel free to download my Beginners Guide to 3D Printing at Home eBook. Also, please Like, Share and leave a Comment if you found this article interesting.

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