Up until recently, to design something for 3D printing (opens in new tab) you had to be skilled in a fairly hard-to-learn CAD package such as Solidworks (opens in new tab) or Rhino (opens in new tab) - and then get all the settings right so that your object would be printed correctly.
Recently, though, companies have been making available a variety of different programs that allow people who have little to no experience in 3D design to create their objects easily.
Tinkercad (opens in new tab) is another big step forward: it's the world's first 3D design editing program to run in your browser. And it has an easy to use interface to boot.
Creating something is as simple as selecting what shape you want it to be then entering the dimensions you want it to be. Objects can be copied and pasted for repeated patterns and dragged anywhere in space to create other more complex objects
Most of what you need to know should easilly be able to be picked up over time, although if you are having trouble or just want learn the ropes there are free interactive tutorials you can do in minutes and some more complex ones which are available if you subscribe to a paid account.
One of the features Tinkercad showed off at the recent 3D print show (opens in new tab)in London was the ability to have upload a template from an .stl file (iPhone cover in this case) and customise it to your liking then save it ready for it to be printed.
Once you're happy with your design it's time to get it made. As well as having your object 3D printed you can also get it as a 2D .svg file ready to be cut on the laser cutter if your object ican be applied to a flat piece of material.
When it comes to 3D printing you're offered the four big 3D printing outsource sites - Sculpteo, Ponoko, Shapeways and iMaterialise - which offer a wide variety of materials you can get your design printed in. Alternatively, you can download the file yourself if you have access to your own 3D printer
There is an online community for people to see what you have created and if you have a paid account you can copy other peoples designs and print them for yourself. You can also upload it to Thingiverse (opens in new tab) - a 3D printing design community owned by Makerbot - and see what other people think of your design.
Words: Christian Harries (opens in new tab)
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