As we have mentioned before in previous articles, one of the reasons why 3D printing is not quite a Mainstream Technology yet, besides the obvious cost issue, is that most people have little or no CAD design skills.
Ok, so it’s easy and fun to search out and download printable 3D designs from repository websites like Thingiverse.
However, it’s much more fun and rewarding to print out something you designed completely by yourself. That raises the question, how difficult can it really be to design your own objects so they end up in a format (.STL for example) where they are ready to send to your 3D printer?
I decided to find out first hand. Having used some basic CAD tools around 20 years ago and only really used SketchUp since then I can honestly say I’m not that great with CAD tools myself.
My mission was to try to find a very simple, free tool which would be ideal for beginners to learn the basics of CAD design and hopefully design something and have it ready to print in a few hours.
There are lots of free, cheap or very expensive CAD design tools to choose from, so I won’t waste your time with the details of my research, but lets just say there was one tool which kept cropping up called Tinkercad.
This is a web based, free and simple CAD tool which is supposedly very easy to use and can export to a number of different formats (.STL, .OBJ, .X3D, VRML and .SVG).
What I really liked about this website (Tinkecad.com) is that the first thing it asked me to do was take the free tutorials. Not so sign up, not to enter credit card details, just to take the free tutorials, so I did.
The tutorials are addictive, they start really simple with detailed step by step instructions and progressively build on what you’ve learned to create more impressive objects.
I took the first 9 tutorials and soon felt like an expert. After only an hour I can now create chess pieces, dice, glasses cuff links and key rings. I just went back and clicked on “Learn” and it seems there are over 40 tutorials so I’m no where near done yet.
After an hour of training I designed the little house you see in the picture (top left of this post). I removed the porch and roof so you can see it better but they’re very easy to regroup again. I’m really looking forward to taking the remaining tutorials and also printing out what I’ve created.
To save your progress and work on your own projects you do need to create a free account which takes seconds. There’s no pestering to create a premium paid account either, so to be honest I don’t think there even is a paid version because it’s not mentioned anywhere.
Tinkercad became part of Autodesk in 2013 so maybe Tinkercad is intended to raise awareness of their other paid products and bring beginners onboard.
What I did notice at first is that Tinkercad doesn’t work on all browsers. When I used Google Chrome on Windows 7 it worked fine, but older systems and internet tablets might struggle. The reason is that it uses WebGL, which is a Web Graphics Library for rendering 3D interactive graphics. Not all computers/devices will have this installed.
Try it though and if it works for you I highly recommend setting aside an hour to try some tutorials, it’s addictive and you can start creating some Amazing 3D Printed Objects yourself. If you have kids I’m sure they’d love it too and it really is that easy.
Just for the record I’m not affiliated with Tinkercad in any way, so the only way I’ll benefit if you use it is the knowledge that I’ve passed on this great tool to someone else who will appreciate it too.
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Happy tinkering and thanks for reading.