Design for 3D Printing 101: Intro to Design for 3D Printing

Welcome to Design for 3D Printing 101: Intro to Design for 3D Printing.

Design for 3D printing 101 Shapeways

When you are designing for 3D printing there are two main factors that you really need to take into account before you start.

  1. What application to design with
  2. What material you are designing for

In this first introductory session, we are going to look at choosing the right type 3D modeling software.

There are now many 3D modeling applications you can use to 3D model your designs to 3D Print, ranging from very expensive professional engineering software to free online tools to get you started. Choosing the right software is an important first step in ensuring you can realize your ideas with 3D printing.

If you want to create organic, sculptural forms and characters to 3d Print, you may want to start with freeform surface modeling software.  This modeling process represents the surface of the object, not its volume. With this method you will manipulate the surface of the model to create the form with points and curves. This gives you the freedom to do flowing forms, but can sometimes make it harder to achieve tight tolerances if your design is made to integrate an external object. 

Test Sculptris "mostro"

Above is a screenshot from Sculptris, free surface modeling software. Image via Flickr

If you are looking to engineer a product (or robot) for 3D Printing, you are better off using Solid Modeling Software. This process defines the volume of the object you wish to model, by creating solid geometry, which you then modify by extruding or cutting away mass. The “Design for 3D Printing 101″ image above was modeled using TinkerCad, a browser based 3D modeling application with drag and drop functionality to make it very easy to get started.

Autodesk 123D to 3D Print wit Shapeways

Above is Autodesk’s 123D App, a solid modeler with which you can 3D Print direct to Shapeways. 

You can of course experiment with each to to find what works best for you, but often the tools within the application are designed for a specific kind of geometry.  There is a relatively steep learning curve when you start to learn to 3D model, but once you hold your first design in your hand, it makes those challenges a pleasure.

There are a number of free applications in each type that you may want to download and play around with to get a feel, watch tutorial on YouTube and ask questions in the Shapeways forums as there is a wealth of knowledge within the Shapeways community. 

In the next Design for 3D Printing 101, we will look a little closer at some of the 3D modeling software options available to get you started 3D printing.

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