In the TED Salon video I posted here recently, Lisa Harouni noted that 3D printing technology has been around for 30 years but only now is it becoming accessible to the masses. One of the reasons she cites for the delay in it reaching us is the fact that most of us previously have had no access to the technology (hardware, software) that can create the data that a 3D printer needs. Several powerful 3D design programs are available for free now and have evolved into rather user-friendly tools. Here are a few of the ones I’m aware of – listed by order of complexity:
- Blender – free and open source software for 3D graphics design; often used by game designers (video introduction)
- Sketchup – a free 3D modeling program; formerly owned by Google, but recently bought by Trimble; premium version available; (view introduction video)
- Tinkercad – claims to be “the world’s first browser CAD”; free and premium versions; (view introduction video)
- 3D Tin – a free web-based 3D design tool; (view introduction video)
Whichever tool you choose to design with, be sure the one you design with has the ability to save the file to a format compatible with your 3D printer. For example, the online 3D printing service I used allows for designs to be uploaded in these file formats: STL, VRML2/97 (.wrl), COLLADA (.dae), X3D and OBJ. In my next post, I’ll review some of the services available for printing 3D objects.
Tutorials and videos can readily be found online for learning to create 3D designs. I will not attempt here to give my own tutorial, but rather provide a sense of the steps I followed.
So, for my first exercise in 3D printing, I decided to create the design using Sketchup, which I’m fairly experienced with. I gave myself a challenge to take the 2D logo of my university (right) and transform it into a 3D design. I decided to aim for a final product that would be about 8 cm x 5 cm x .05 cm.
After importing the 2D .jpg file into a new Sketchup file, I worked to pull out elements of the logo. Sketchup has a handy “3D Text” tool that maked it easy to create the words I needed. For the 3 quadrant design above the words in this logo, I had to be a little creative in drawing squares and then eliminating spaces before pulling it out.
In the end, I couldn’t decide whether to “pull” the details out of the logo or to “push” them in. Pushing in turned out to be more difficult in Sketchup, but I was able to get it done eventually.
For some quick tips on things to keep in mind while designing for 3D printing, see this web page by Shapeways.
Next post… how I chose a 3D printing service, uploaded my design and placed an order.