It’s been a while since I completed my first 3D print project. Since then, I’ve printed many other great models, worked with several 3D printers and experimented with different filament materials (we have something very special coming out soon).
So it’s time to take another step out of my box and start creating my own 3D printable designs. I tried some of the most popular modelling tools and I wouldn’t say using them is a piece a cake for a design novice but hey, we all need to start somewhere, right?
Here’s my overview of some of the most widely used 3D modelling software.
The most beginner-friendly 3D design software
Tinkercad is extremely fun and easy to use. On their website you can find a repository with free video tutorials and manual guides. However, the software is so intuitive and easy to navigate through, that you can start making your own models straightaway. If you are a 3D design newbie like me, this tool is the perfect one to start with.
Tinker with other users’ ideas
With Tinkercad you don’t even need to build a model from scratch. Simply browse the platform’s library which contains more than four million user-generated models. Choose which one you like the most, copy and play with it.
Tinkercad is browser-based tool so you can’t use it offline.
It has limited functionality. It is simple and fun to use, but if you’d like to design a more complicated model with intricate details, you’d need to use another, more advanced software.
It requires a registration to use.
Let your creativity flow
Blender is one of the most powerful 3D software out there. Once you know your way around it, you can create pretty much anything. Blender offers innumerable tools in a unified pipeline; you can model, render and animate your designs within the same file. Not only that, but you can customise the application itself and code your own specialised tools.
Support at every step
The Blender community is big and keen to share and collaborate. There are loads of free tutorials, manuals and help forums (my personal favourites are Blender Guru and CG Cookie). With daily updates and translation in several languages, they are very helpful educational resources for both newbies and advanced users.
Blender is released under the GNU General Public License (GPL); it’s free to use for all purposes, including commercial. Further, it is an open-source project, driven by community contribution.
We talked about the importance of collaboration in a previous post, but for me, Blender’s flourishing development over the past few years just goes to show that open-source projects deliver great results.
Although there are many great learning resources, I’d still say that Blender has a steep learning curve. It has a complex interface and even the basic features take time and practice to master (still working on that).
Exporting designs to STL files is not as easy and straightforward process as I thought it’d be. You need to fix overlapping mesh figures, make sure they contain no holes and scale your object properly. The procedure is quite fiddly and takes a lot of time.
No trade off between quality and simplicity
SketchUp is powerful but relatively easy to use 3D design software. It has an user-friendly interface and it definitely takes a shorter amount of time to figure out its main features than it takes with Blender.
Design for the physical world
SketchUp offers a variety of tools to design precise and elaborate geometric figures. A five-part tutorial series are available on their official website, along with reference guides and video tutorials.
Easy to make your models 3D-printables
SketchUp is collaborating with 3D Warehouse and Materialise to facilitate the preparing and sharing of 3D-printable models. SketchUp has added a printable checkbox which appears when uploading a file to 3D Warehouse. If you tick the box, your model will be transferred to Materialise, converted to an STL, tested and then it will return print-ready. Unfortunately, this is available only for users who have purchased a SketchUp Pro.
Free version – limited functionality
SketchUp has two versions; a freeware SketchUp Make and SketchPro which costs $695. The free version has a limited functionality and the worst part is that it doesn’t allow you to export your designs to stl without using an additional plug-in.
You cannot use SketchUp Make for commercial purposes.
Which 3D modelling software do you use for your designs? Don’t forget to check our blog next week, when I will show you my first models and take you through the designing process.