So, we have a new 3d printer. What to print first! That’s always the biggest question I would imagine on everyone’s mind when they first unpack the box of joy. For me, it was certainly the question. I was excited to see how this thing worked in person. For weeks, I had been watching countless videos online about how the printers were built, how the plastic extrusion process was developed, and how simple designs could come to life in a matter of hours.
I started looking in to some software systems that would make it easy for me and my students to get making, and get printing right away. I had some experience working in 3D with programs like Maya and Lightwave (back in the day) but it had been a while. I had also never designed anything specifically for printing. My background in 3D design has always been geared more for art, character design, or animation. Sure, I had done some object design, but more for environmental attribution or for addition into a 3D world space of some kind. Still, the process of designing in 3D for print or for animation is based on many of the same principles and theories. I wasn’t really worried about my success rate. I was, however, a bit worried about my students’ ability to pick up on the terms, the rationale, and the design theories involved in 3D.
I needed to be able to structure projects for them that were challenging, but were also able to be completed quickly. It was pretty critical that they were able to design things quickly and easily that could be printed – and the failure rate would be minimized – at least at this point in our project.
I thought maybe we would start with Blender 3D, a free design program. However, if you haven’t ever played in 3D, Blender is way too overwhelming. I found this out the first day of training when I showed them the interface and operational controls. Even at the high school level, the students were quickly overwhelmed by the number of shortcuts, menus, options, and even simply the interface of Blender. Day two I said to them, “Oops…my bad guys, let’s start over…”. Let’s take a look at Tinkercad.com instead.
Tinkercad (http://www.tinkercad.com) was a great choice. Not only is it free, and available in the cloud, when you start your free account, the system steps you through a series of tutorials to get your feet wet and get your mind oriented to working in 3D space. Tinkercad.com is one of a few options you should consider for any level of designer looking to start in designing and building in 3d. Other options include; Meshmixer (http://www.123dapp.com/meshmixer) , 3DTin (http://www.3dtin.com ), Autodesk’s 123D (http://www.123dapp.com ) builder for iPad. Any of these services is very good – we decided to start with Tinkercad because of its simplicity.
The first step my students had to take was to step through the four or five simple tutorials offered by Tinkercad. They are very easy, take only a few minutes each, and within about a half hour, my students were on to building their own first ‘thing’.
Tinkercad.com offers three key elements that I had liked right out of the box. First, the interface is very simple and easy to use. Second, any of the files you create in their interface can be downloaded in a number of formats to prepare for 3D printing. And third, artists can upload files into Tinkercad that have been designed in other software. More on that idea later…in Project 2!
So what did we build first? Take a look at some of the objects in this gallery, then read on about our first few builds and troubleshooting.