Tinkercad Basics: Create Your First 3D Printable Model in Minutes!
There are seemingly endless numbers of free downloadable models for 3D printing. Sites like Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory lead the charge in huge libraries of free models. As a 3D printer owner though, sometimes you just want something more.
One of the most exciting ideas when it comes to 3D printing is using the printer to create your own original designs. Most people think that it is an extremely difficult task to create 3D models. I thought that myself but as you'll see, that couldn't be further from the truth.
I can almost guarantee that after reading this article, you will be able to design and start printing your first model in under an hour, even with zero previous experience in 3D modeling. What makes this possible is a piece of software called Tinkercad. The best part? It's completely free to use!
How I Got Started with Tinkercad
Almost immediately after getting my 3D printer up and running I wanted to design and print my own objects. How cool would it be to tell this little desktop robot to build something that I designed myself? The answer to that question is, very cool.
As much as I wanted to do that I had no idea where to start. My only experience in 3D modeling was using an old version of SketchUp to help me design a rudimentary bench that I was working on. Just a flat top and four legs. How was I going to take this extreme lack of experience in 3D modeling and turn it into the ability to create a 3D printed physical object?
I immediately assumed that it was simply over my head for the time being. I would just continue to print other people's models and keep my own ideas as just 2D sketches on a page, never bringing them in to the real world. CAD software and 3D modeling software looks so complicated and I didn't think I had the skills or time to learn to be effective using them.
I continued to work on my 3D printer using other people's designs that I found online. I focused on getting the best quality prints and honing in the settings. This is a good thing to do in general, but I wasn't quite fulfilled with the promise of my 3D printing dream. In the back of my mind I still had an itch to be creative and work on my own original projects.
When I was up late one night researching various 3D printing topics, I came across a really easy to use and free tool call Tinkercad. After reading up a little on it, I immediately went to the site to create an account. It sounded too good to be true!
Well as it turns out, it actually was true! Within about an hour I had designed and began printing my first ever (very simple) original model. It was a true breakthrough! I went from not knowing hardly anything about 3D design software to watching my little machine create something I had just designed entirely by myself.
What Exactly is Tinkercad?
Tinkercad is a completely free to use 3D modeling/CAD tool built for almost anyone to use. The interface is so simple that even a child can put some shapes together and design their own 3D model.
The best part of all of this? There's nothing to install and it works on any computer inside of a web browser window. Also, all of your models get saved for free in the cloud so you can always come back to them later to edit or re-download for printing at any time. All you need to do is sign up for an account.
Tinkercad uses a simple drag-and-drop interface. It provides all of the basic shapes you would expect like cubes, spheres, cylinders, and more. In addition to the basic shapes there are also some unusual ones with new shapes being added all the time by users. By combining all of these different shapes and using the ability to enter exact measurements if you like, it's possible to accomplish a lot of impressive things with this simple tool.
That's not to say this tool is just for beginners though. Even after I learned a more advanced 3D modeling software, I still use Tinkercad for certain tasks. With the built-in ability to import models that you've built in other software, you can use the drag-and-drop tools to make certain edits much more easily than in the more complicated professional software.
Importing and editing models can be a fun way to make some unique creations and is a great way for beginners to have some fun. For example you could put a T-Rex head on top of a Darth Vader body within a few minutes and begin printing a hilarious custom desk trophy!
Using Tinkercad: A Quick Start Guide
First, go to tinkercad.com and create an account by clicking the "Join Now" button in the upper right corner. I am not affiliated in any way with this company or software, I'm just a fan of this product. Please refer to their terms and conditions before sign up. Now that you're signed-up, you will be able to start your first design!
Start a New Design & Get Familiar With Controls:
Now that you're signed in open a new design by clicking the button near the top of the screen. You should be presented with a blank canvas and a series of shapes down the right side of the screen.
Let's go over a few sections to be aware of:
In the center is your design space or "workplane".
To navigate it you can use the center mouse button (scroll wheel button) to click and drag, or right click and drag to rotate.
In the upper left you will see a box that can also be used to easily rotate by clicking and dragging, or simply left-clicking on a face or edge.
On the right side of the screen are your drag and drop shapes.
These are what you will be using to create your model. Simply find one you like, left-click it and drag it on to the workplane to use it.
Above the shapes you will see several toolbar options. They are pretty self explanatory, simply hover your mouse cursor over each one to remind you of what it does. I'm going to go over my most commonly used ones here:
Group: This combines separate shapes in to a single model. Simply left-click and drag to select multiple shapes and click the "group" button to combine in to a single model.
Ungroup: This will undo the "group" option if you change your mind and return the selected larger model in to it's original component shapes.
Align: Select two shapes as you did with "group". This will bring up a simple left, center, and right alignment options for the shapes you have selected.
Flip: Pretty self-explanatory, this option flips the selected shape over an axis.
Import: Use this to import an existing model. Do you want to edit something you got off of Thingiverse? Just download it from Thingiverse to your computer, then import it to Tinkercad using this option.
Export: Once you're happy with the model you've been working on, select the export button to save it to a file that you can send to your slicing software and prepare for printing.
Dive right in!
Now that you're familiar with the most important controls and options, get going! Click and drag shapes on to the work surface, and create yourself a simple first 3D model!
Note that when you add a shape to the work space and select it by left-clicking, Tinkercad will show boxes around the edge of the model that you can click and drag to adjust height, width, and depth of the shape. To move the shape, click and drag, and to push it up and down, use the small arrow that appears either above or below the shape.
Once you're happy with your model, export it in the format you like (.STL if you want to go right to getting it ready for print) and you will be holding your first 100% original 3D design in your hand as soon as your printer is done!
Keep your first model simple, get used to the controls. Even a small abstract sculpture will mean a lot to you if you're the one who made it!
In this quick guide, I hope that I've helped you unlock the ability to create your own original designs, and that you were able to produce your first ever 3D model in minutes!