Deciding on which software to use for your 3D design is an important choice because if you’re a beginner, you will want one that is easy to learn and to use. However, if you’re an advanced user, you will want to take out the big guns.
Blender, SketchUp and OpenSCAD are three popular options among those looking for a free software, while Rhino3D is the preferred choice for those who consider 3D designing to be more than just a hobby and are ready to spend some serious cash for it!
Rhino3D is a tool that many professionals and intermediaries prefer to use, especially if they are already proficient with AutoCAD, since their interfaces are similar. As a matter of fact, Rhino was supposed to be an AutoCAD plug-in, but it eventually ended up being a stand-alone program. Rhino3D provides the required tools to model your designs without fault for processes like engineering, rendering or manufacturing.
It’s capable of analyzing, creating, editing and interpreting NURBS curves. NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines) curves are mathematical representations of three-dimensional geometry which can faultlessly describe any 2D shape, whether it’s a line or a circle, to a solid or free-formed 3D object. Unlike the triangular meshes supported by Blender, Rhino3D goes for the polygon ones.
As for Blender, don’t be fooled by the fact that it is free software. This doesn’t mean it’s not capable of playing with the big guys. Blender is a solid modeling and animation tool. The designs this program creates are made of triangle meshes that you can sculpt and incorporate into your own designs. This cross-platform is capable of dealing with the complete 3D pipeline, from modeling and rigging to animation and rendering.
Since it’s distributed under a GNU license, users can edit its code and improve it or fix its bugs. As for OpenSCAD, the SCAD stands for solid 3D CAD objects. It’s a CSG (constructive solid geometry) modeler and unlike Blender, it’s less art-oriented and more mechanical, its main focus being the design of parts and pieces for appliances, using parameters. OpenSCAD uses a code-like design process instead of sculpting the desired object. In a nutshell, if you want to create works of art, you will use Blender and if you want to print a replacement part for your washing machine, you will use OpenSCAD.
So where does SketchUp stand? This is the software for all those who are architects at heart. This isn’t even a dedicated CAD program, yet it works like one. SketchUp is an architectural modeler which can be employed for 3D printing too. One interesting idea behind the concept is that you don’t have to model everything from zero and use their 3D Warehouse instead which is a huge collection of 3D models where you can both share and store yours.
The most important thing you need to ensure when designing is that your model is manifold. This means that every edge of your model has to be shared by exactly two faces. Never forget that your model will face the laws of physics once it’s printed out therefore, for it to be usable strength and volume is required.
Printing Downloaded Models
Most models available for download come in the STL format, but just because it’s the most common one it doesn’t mean that you can print the model right away. First, the 3D printer needs to understand what to do with it and for that, it requires a layer-by-layer description. This means the model has to be sliced into layers, resulting in a G-Code file which the 3D printer will finally be able to process. The G-Code is a text-based protocol containing the XYZ coordinates attributed to 3D shapes.
There are good free slicing software available for that, like Cura or KISSlicer.
You know what you want to do and you have everything ready. Well, almost! One key ingredient is still missing: the material. But don’t sweat it, since Google is your friend, it will help you out finding stores where you can buy printing material, also known as filament. Even on Amazon you can find 3D printing materials on sale. What you need to look for are the PLA and ABS thermoplastics, but first you need to know which one is compatible with your printer. It could be the former, the latter or both.
It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself an artist or a technician, if you want to 3D-print a sculpture or a new table foot, 3D designs can handle these requests as long as the software you use is the one you need.