3D design tips

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3D design tips

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Design Guidelines

3D printing gives you a lot of freedom of shape, but there are a few guidelines that help you design things that print nicely!

3D scanning programs

photo to 3D programs and services

There are some 3D scanning options. Reconstructme is the most impressive, because it works almost entirely real-time, creating a 3D model of things you view with a camera. http://reconstructme.net/

There's also a web-service called http://www.123dapp.com/catch). Use it to take pictures on trips, with your family, or of favorite places and turn them into a personal sculpture.

The many options for designers

Apart from 3D printing existing models, there is nothing like having an object that you've both designed and printed yourself. It means you're starting to master the skill of changing the material world around you, starting out with just thoughts, an idea. There are many choices of design software, but they can be very different in many respects. We've ranked the following list primarily from easy to hard and from affordable to expensive (secondarily).

3D design programs and services

Program name GUIDES! Ease of use Cost Limitations Comments
3Dtin.com VERY easy $ 0 Many You design blocky things from your web browser! Need to sign up to save/export.
tinkerCAD.com GUIDE VERY easy Unknown Many Easy, powerful and quick! Not open source. Not released yet!
Google SketchUp GUIDE Easy $ 0 Some, but very powerful Very useful for simple design, easiest to learn. A free plugin [1] is available to convert .skp files to .stl
OpenSCAD GUIDE Advanced/programming Free Few, can be cumbersome Very nice if you're a programmer. Free Software!
CloudSCAD INFO Easy, specify numbers to change designs Free Few, if you start changing code Web-based: work in progress, closed beta!
Blender GUIDE Hard Free Some Many tutorials to learn it. Is actually a mesh modeler, not a solid CAD tool.
Alibre GUIDE Medium/hard $ 99[1] Professional level CAD One of the more affordable, fully featured packages. Not free/open source! Notes: [1] The package is $ 99 but you must purchase one year of support at $ 99. You get free upgrades within that year.
Autodesk 123D GUIDE Medium/Easy $ 0 Is still a beta Performance on some computers is bad, only works on windows
VariCad GUIDE Medium $ 499[1] Professional level CAD One of the more affordable, fully featured packages; works on windows and on Linux (32&64bit). Not free/open source! Can save 3D objects in Step or STL format. Notes: [1] The package is € 499 (€599 if you want the upgrades within that year for free).


  • How to simplify a mesh (by Pieter Bos)
    Sometimes a mesh has too much detail and the printer will slow down in an attempt to include every detail. If you reduce the complexity of very detailed models, it will allow you to print them much faster. This video tutorial by Pieter Bos view here will teach you how to do this.
  • Designing for 3D printing: Guidlines

Other tips