Category Archives: Education

CAD vs. Modeling: Which 3D Software to Choose?

One of the most common questions we get from those who are new to digital manufacturing is “If I want to design something, which software should I learn?”

The answer to that is a little complex, but it hinges on one simple idea: What are you trying to make? There are lots of great software packages for 3D design out there, each tailored to a different type of product design. Knowing what you are trying to make will dictate the type of software you will use.

Overall, design software falls into two camps: CAD and 3D Modeling. CAD software is used when creating industrial, mechanical objects. Alternatively, 3D modeling packages more commonly used for making organic elements used for film special effects and video games.

Depending on the goals of your design, you may use both types of software at different stages of the design process to make the final 3D-printable design.

Below, we’ll go over how they are different and provide a few examples of each software type.


CAD (Computer Aided Design/Drafting)

CAD programs ask the user to “draw” a 2D shape and then turn those drawings into 3D forms, as either solids or surfaces. Drafting software comes from a long lineage of product designers, architects and engineers who would draw 2D plans, complete with measurements, which would be handed over to technicians or craftspeople who would interpret the designs and make the said object. This could be done manually or with a successive process of machining. Nowadays we have tools like 3D printing so that the design can be interpreted by other software (CAM or Computer-Aided Manufacturing) to create the tool path or slicing for 3D printing.

CAD programs take these 2D drawings and digitally translate them into 3D rendered “objects.” In some cases these are just “shells” or surfaces, while other programs treat the object as mathematically solid material. Simple shapes can then be added or subtracted to create more complex forms.

Because CAD software takes its roots in 2D drafting it is mainly for functional, measured 3D objects. Any functional object around you (your phone or computer that you’re reading this blog on) was designed in CAD software.

Examples of CAD:

Solidworks: Industry standard CAD software


Fusion 360: Free for students, startups, and makers!


Tinkercad: great for beginners


Onshape: Cloud-based with free option


3D Modeling

CAD software is great for functional objects, things that need to work mechanically or fit to a real world device. That said they may not give direct enough control over a design to allow for freeform, artistic work. This is where 3D modeling software comes in. Long used by the film and video game industry to make animation and special effects, you can also use these programs to create printable 3D models.

Modeling softwares are based around surfaces created from 3D geometry. This may be based around a system called NURBS, or may be simple polygons composed of vertices, edges, and faces. In many cases, programs will let you switch between these systems with ease, depending on your workflow. These points and surfaces come together to form the edges of a 3D object.

The advantage of modeling over CAD is that modeling software gives users direct input into each vertex or surface individually or as groups. This always for different ways to manipulate the shapes, often in ways that look more organic.

Some programs are even designed to treat 3D models as if they were lumps of clay so that designers can take a more sculptural approach. Using tools that emulate traditional artistic techniques, artists can get the most out of the geometry of a digital object.

Examples of 3D modeling software:

Sketchup: Free and popular


Maya: Industry standard for film and animation


Blender: Free, open source, and runs some of Shapeways’ backend tools


ZBrush: Professional digital sculpting software


Sculptris: Simpler, free version of ZBrush for beginners

Overall, knowing what you want to achieve with your design is vital to choosing the right tool for you. If a design needs to be functional, fit to other real-world objects, or have specific measurements, starting with CAD is the way to go. If a design needs to emulate a real-world or imaginary object or showcase your artistic vision, modeling could be a solution. If a design wants to do both, try mixing and matching software within your process.

Shapeways at Dutch Design Week 2016

Dutch Design Week is here! Based in Eindhoven (Shapeways’ hometown), this annual nine-day festival draws designers and design-lovers from around the world. Each year, we join forces with our community of independent designers to showcase their amazing creativity. And in keeping with this year’s theme, The Making Of, we’ll be opening our factory to visitors — giving them a chance to see where (and how) the magic happens, get 3D scanned, and take part in workshops and presentations by some of our Dutch Shapeways designers.

Keep reading for a rundown of how you can join the fun at Dutch Design Week.

Visitors to Shapeways' Eindhoven factory during Dutch Design Week 2015

Visitors to Shapeways’ Eindhoven factory during Dutch Design Week 2015

Shapeways EXPO | Shapeways Factory | Oct. 22-30

Every day, we’ll be inviting visitors into our factory to explore how our community of independent designers is using Shapeways to break new ground in product design. We’ll also be offering:

  • A 3D scanning booth to bring more fans into the world of 3D Selfies. (11 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily)

  • Community Workshops and Presentations to connect visitors with Dutch designers and the products they’ve brought to life with Shapeways. (1 p.m. – 3 p.m. daily)

  • Factory Tours that provide a rare glimpse into how files are turned into finished products. (10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. weekdays; registration required)

A winning design from our 2015 Helsinki Design Week CHIL-DISH Project

Shapeways Presents: CHIL-DISH Project | Yksi Expo | Oct. 22-23

After our successful event with CHIL-DISH at Helsinki Design Week, we’re partnering up again to unleash kids’ creativity at DDW. At the CHIL-DISH Project:

  • Kids will be invited to reimagine everyday objects using paper and crayons.

  • We’ll then choose 10 designs to be 3D modeled by CHIL-DISH designers, turning the kids’ drawings into 3D printed porcelain objects. (11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., Oct. 22-23)

Wired Life Tiger by Shapeways Designer Dot San

Wired Life Tiger by Shapeways Designer Dot San, on display in our Eindhoven factory

Shapeways Presents: Community & Materials Exhibit | Yksi Expo | Oct. 24-28

  • Come explore some of the materials we use and check out how our designers are exploring these unique and versatile media. (Oct. 24-28, 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.)

A group of 3D Selfies

A group of 3D Selfies

Shapeways Presents: 3D Scanning | Yksi Expo | Oct. 29-30

  • Don’t miss your chance to get scanned for a 3D Selfie.

  • We’ll take a scan of your head and shoulders using Occipital’s Structure Sensor and an iPad. Then, you can easily order your mini likeness through Shapeways. (Oct. 29-30, 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.)

If you make it to Dutch Design Week, be sure to come to one of our events and say hello! And if you can’t make it, keep an eye on the the blog, where we’ll be highlighting talented Dutch Shapeways Designers throughout the week.

Gravity Sketch Launches a Kickstarter Campaign

We’ve been huge fans of what the Gravity Sketch team has done to make 3D design more accessible to everyone through their iPad app, Gravity Sketch iOS, which is being used by thousands of creators across the world.

As a result of all the user feedback from the app, the Gravity Sketch team embarked on developing a more advanced tool to even further lower the barriers to 3D literacy by creating a desktop and virtual reality version and have just launched a Kickstarter to fund the project.

The new experience offers users a “what you see is what you get” interface where users can interact with 3D creations in real time, in a truly three dimensional space. The team was inspired to extend this fully immersive creation experience, allowing you to tap (literally) into simple tools that enable you to create complicated shapes in seconds– all of which are sketched the exact size as you see it.

Ready to take 3D modeling into your own hands? Gravity Sketch is ready to make this possible with this VR experience. As a fun bonus, for a limited time, backers that support the Kickstarter campaign for about $19 (£15), you’ll be able to pick and receive a Shapeways 3D printed ornaments that was designed by a Gravity Sketch artist, right in time for the holidays! Check out the gorgeous options below, they’re printed out of strong and flexible plastic, with some nifty little interlocking parts!


Shapeways At The First South By South Lawn: A White House Festival of Ideas, Art, and Action

The first South by South Lawn was held at the White House on October 3rd, 2016. After visiting the tech and music festival South by Southwest® earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama was inspired to give the call for action to all citizens to roll up their sleeves and discover their own way to make a positive difference.

SXSL at the White House

I was lucky to represent the Shapeways community there because of our effort to enable everyone to bring their ideas to life. Our community is dedicated to allowing everyone to become a maker by simply supporting independent designers or by embarking on bringing a product to market. I was even able to catch a panel with not one but two community members speaking about the how making real change is a huge challenge and takes a whole community working together: Nina Tanden, founder of EpiBone, who is wearing a Kinematics necklace by Nervous System and Jukay Hsu, founder of Coalition for Queens, a tech nonprofit in our home borough here in NYC.


The festival was packed with amazing speakers and exhibits, a performance by The Lumineers and a discussion between Mr. Obama, climate scientist Dr. Katherine Hayhoe and actor Leonardo DiCaprio who was also premiering his new documentary film Before the Flood.

that's a wrap at SXSL
The SXSL letters were made with the help of Myth Buster’s Adam Savage and the hard work and ingenuity of several student and community makerspaces in the Washington D.C. area.

From Ugly Sweaters To Pretty Pendants: A Maker Story

Having recently joined the Shapeways team as PR Lead I was extremely excited to be delving into a world of digital design and manufacturing. While my DIY background was limited to making Halloween costumes and very, very ugly Christmas sweaters (actual creations below)– the possibility of taking more complex ideas and printing them was something I couldn’t wait to tackle.

The problem was that I was a little apprehensive of where to start with tackling the world of 3D design, because it’s kind of a huge departure from my familiarity with hot glue and felt. Fortunately Shapeways has some pretty cool tools to help ease beginners into the world of digital manufacturing. My colleagues suggested that I start with the easy Custom Pendant Creator– a tool that would allow me to create a pendant either from a drawing or using one of their existing templates. Being in the market for a new signature necklace, I immediately was intrigued by the possibility of being able to create something that was undeniably something “me”. The inspiration stemmed from a PR pun I’d made, that while by no means the first, was something that became a bit of a cheeky mantra, “Pitch, please.”

While I’d been wanting to create something with this pun for years, I never had the tools or capabilities to create something quality-enough that I’d feel comfortable wearing. The pendant creator and digital manufacturing seemed like it would do just the trick here. Because I’m not particularly proud of my handwriting, I recruited my boss to write out “pitch, please” in Sharpie on a blank piece of white paper. She also added two little loops, one on the first “p” and the other on the last “e” so that I’d be able to turn it into a necklace.

I snapped a photo of the design and used Afterlight to crop the image and improve contrast between the paper and ink, ensuring the pendant creator would have an easy time identifying the outline I wanted printed.

After uploading it to the pendant creator, the automatic system check identified a few issues with my design– namely that the walls were too thin for printing in most materials. Fortunately the creator also makes it effortless to fix, giving me the option to automatically “Fix Thin Walls” at the click of a button.

Once my design was fixed and passed an initial check for printing in polished brass (my choice for this one), all I had left to do was order it and wait for my package. Two weeks later…

Yahoo! I got to hold my sassy, classy little pendant in my hand! I’m extremely excited to find the perfect chain to turn this into a necklace and proudly tell everyone, “I made this”– because it’s a huge upgrade from my DIY ugly Christmas sweaters.

Get Schooled: Featured Student Grant Recipient – New Materials

Are you an undergraduate or grad student pushing the boundaries of 3D-printing technology? Apply now for the Shapeways EDU Grant and you could receive up to $1000 in Shapeways credit to realize your idea. Learn more about the Shapeways EDU Grant and apply at

Grant winners Alexandra Ion, Johannes Frohnhofen, Ludwig Wall, Robert Kovacs, Mirela Alistar, Jack Lindsay, Pedro Lopes, Hsiang-Ting Chen, and Patrick Baudisch from the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany have recently published the completion of their research on Metamaterial Mechanisms and boy, were we blown away!

To put it succinctly Metamaterial Mechanisms is an exploration of material forms as a way of building a mechanical behavior in to the material structure of a solid object. With this custom-developed software the students were able to generate 3D-printable mechanisms out of what is essentially a solid unit of material. The research group calls them metamaterials but they prefer “to think of them as machines. We demonstrate metamaterial objects that perform a mechanical function. Our metamaterial door latch, for example, transforms the rotary movement of its handle into a linear motion of the latch.”

The software allows “users to place different types of cells, including the shear cell, to add mechanical functionality to their objects. To help users verify their designs during editing, our editor allows users to apply forces and simulates how the object deforms in response.”

meta material software


The research team explained that nothing about this project could have been realized without access to 3D printing. “Being able to experiment with more complex structures printed on Shapeways’ SLS printers helped shape our understanding [of the direction of the project]. This research has taught us that materials can be machines and materials at the same time. Materials can be ‘smarter’ than what we think they can be—without the need of batteries, motors or microchips. ”

Are you an undergraduate or grad student pushing the boundaries of 3D-printing technology? Apply now for the Shapeways EDU Grant and you could receive up to $1000 in Shapeways credit to realize your idea. Learn more about the Shapeways EDU Grant and apply at

Get Schooled: Featured Student Grant Recipient – Problem Solving

Posted by in Education

Every year, about 2,000 children are born missing at least part of one leg, and every year, about 185,000 people lose part of their leg to unforeseen circumstances. These adults and children have historically missed out on many athletic activities, including swimming, because of their disability. While there are prosthetics available for running and walking, and others with a flipper for swimming, there does not exist one prosthetic that can function as both, making it cost-prohibitive for most people to buy the separate flipper prosthetic for swimming.

Shawn Jones, a Shapeways education grant recipient from Spring of 2016, has set out to fix this problem and give children born as congenital amputees, as well as those who have lost part of their leg later in life, the opportunity to walk, run, AND swim. Inspired by his own love of scuba diving and experience with amputees during his military service, he designed a prosthetic flipper-foot hybrid that can be fully submerged in water for diving and swimming, as well as function as a traditional prosthetic leg for land use without any modification.


Shawn learned how to scuba dive through a non-profit organization called Operation Blue Pride (OBP). Through OBP, Shawn teaches paraplegic, blind, and veterans with amputations how to scuba dive as a way to cope with both the physical and mental trauma of combat. Seeing how therapeutic scuba diving could be for these vets, yet also how difficult and expensive it was for them to learn, Shawn wanted to make scuba diving more physically and financially accessible for amputees all over the world.


Because Shawn is a designer by training and not an engineer, he had to teach himself 3D modeling in order to take his sketched 2D prosthetic designs to the next digital level. Nevertheless, Shawn was committed to his cause and quickly became an expert in 3D design.

In fact, Shawn has already created his second prototype and is moving quickly towards a finished and fully functional product, which he hopes to make available to the public by December 2016. He plans to use his Shapeways grant to print this final design and launch his foundation on a scalable level. Soon, thanks to Shawn, children and veterans all over the world will be able to explore the underwater world– and come up for a walk in the sun after.

Are you an undergraduate or grad student pushing the boundaries of 3D-printing technology? You could receive up to $1000 in Shapeways credit to realize the designs of your dreams through the Shapeways Education Grant program. Learn more about the Shapeways Education Grant and apply at

National Parks 100th Anniversary

Posted by in Education

It just so happens that today in 1916 the US government signed into law the National Parks Service Act. That means today is the 100th anniversary of the US National Parks. You can read more on the National Parks Centennial website.

We’ve chosen a list of some our favorite parks. Let’s start with Acadia National Park, the nation’s first national park on the east coast. A noted stop for migratory birds in spring and fall.
Poly Red Robin
Poly Red Robin
by edrice

Next we fly off to Arizona where the world-famous Grand Canyon National Park draws some five million visitors a year. Now you can take a tiny version of this UNESCO World Heritage Site everywhere you go.
Grand Canyon Terrain Model
Grand Canyon Terrain Model
by TinyMtn

Next stop, Denali National Park in Alaska, home to North America’s tallest mountain at 20,310 feet. Keep a token of the Arctic on your bookshelf with this gorgeous porcelain bookend.
Arctic Bookend
by sidnaique

Before email, before text, before telegraph even(!) there was the Pony Express, preserved in the Pony Express National Trail. Take a taste of the sites with you everywhere with this wheat bracelet.
wheat bracelet
Wheat Bracelet
by kasiawisniewski

Statue of Liberty National Monument is the Shapeways HQ national park of note and what better way to celebrate Lady LIberty’s welcoming stance than with your very own torch ice cream cone.
statue of liberty ice cream cone
Statue of Liberty Ice Cream Cone
by JoyComplex

We’ve got more products to celebrate your love of nature:

Click For More Wilderness-Inspired Goods

Get Schooled: Featured Student Grant Recipients – Fashion

Throughout time, the fashion industry has evolved with each industrial revolution. The clothing production process embraced new technology with the invention of the cotton gin, the creation of factories and mass production techniques, and, more recently, the Silicon Valley tech boom. Finally, our Nike sneakers could track our mileage thanks to those new, crazy Apple iPods.

alexis walsh lysis collection

However, the fabrics and design processes themselves have more or less stayed the same for hundreds of years. Though men no longer wear bloomers and women now don jeans and t-shirts, the fashion industry still used the antiquated practices of sketching on paper and producing with traditional fabrics from the days of petticoats– until now. Now, we are at the precipice of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” a period characterized by rapid change in industry as a result of new physical, digital, and biological technology.

In this new era, even fashion is keeping up with futuristic methods of manufacturing and materials, leveraging 3D-printing technology to bring innovative designs and production processes to the fashion industry. Here at Shapeways, many of our education grant recipients have created “fashion of the future” and helped to revolutionize the industry as a whole.


Continue reading

Students Compete in the Campus Battle 2016!

Posted by in Education

Hello students! It’s that time of year again. Yes yes, we’re all going back to school and starting a new semester and all of that but more importantly it’s the beginning of another…

Shapeways EDU Campus Battle Sign-up Challenge!

The gig is simple: Tell you friends and classmates to sign up for the Shapeways Education 15% discount program at and you could win free shipping for your school for the rest of the school year!

  • When a new student joins during the Campus Battle they get their First Print Free with Shapeways, up to $25.
  • The top three schools with the most new signups during the Campus Battle period will win Free Shipping for the rest of the academic year for all students enrolled there (not just those who signed up during Campus Battle).
  • All EDU members get 15% off orders of their own models all year round.


students working on a 3D print

The Campus Battle of First Print Free offers are available until October 31, 2016 so get to sharing! If you’re already a member of the Shapeways EDU program, recruit your classmates so they can benefit from the Shapeways Education discount also, while giving you the chance to win free shipping for all of your school and personal projects.

The campus battle shipping contest is only available to students in the US. First Print Free offer and EDU discount is available to students globally.

National Week of Making and Shapeways

The maker movement is no secret anymore and that’s a good thing. People the world over are recognizing the power of applying creative thinking to solve their unique challenges. Digital manufacturing tools like 3D printers only expand on the endless possibilities.

That’s why it’s exciting to be part of the 3rd annual National Week of Making (June 17-23). In his declaration President Obama states that “During National Week of Making, we recommit to sparking the creative confidence of all Americans and to giving them the skills, mentors, and resources they need to harness their passion and tackle some of our planet’s greatest challenges.” Our CEO Peter Weijmarshausen is at the White House for the Maker-to-Manufacturer Stakeholder event today to discuss the needs of makers looking to turn their ideas into full-time commitments. We’ll be sure to share notes from the event with our community once it concludes.

In direct response to the White House call to action for National Week of Making that encourages organizations to empower a nation of inventors and entrepreneurs by providing access to technology, Shapeways EDU and the The New York Public Library’s TechConnect Program announced a partnership to introduce creative minded patrons of the New York Public Library to the entrepreneurial side of 3D modeling and printing technology through a free, open-source curriculum. Among the many goals is to educate the public so they can further engage in the current digital era and become entrepreneurs of their own 3D creations. The collaboration will kick off in the fall with a pilot program offering multiple courses over a ten-week period.

Shapeways is also proud to have sponsored the Department of Education Career and Technical Education Makerspace Makeover Challenge contest. All participants of the contest, some 300 schools from all 50 states, participated in the bootcamp to learn the skills needed to have successful careers in the 21st century. The trophy was designed by Shapeways community member Ashley Zelinskie. In addition to the trophies we are also giving a 3D printing scholarship to one of the ten winning schools that has shown a commitment to 3D printing in education.

You can check out other projects and add to the celebration on social media with the tags #NationOfMakers and #WeekofMaking.


Shapeways and New York Public Library to Launch Open Source 3D Printing Curriculum

We are announcing an exciting partnership with the New York Public Library TechConnect program to develop an open source curriculum for libraries and other public institutions to teach 3D modeling, printing and digital entrepreneurship skills. Below is our press release about the course. We will be keeping you updated on the progress as we make the program available:

IMG_0850 crop

In response to the White House call to action for National Week of Making (June 17-23), encouraging organizations to empower a nation of inventors and entrepreneurs by providing access to technology, Shapeways EDU and the The New York Public Library’s TechConnect Program today announced a partnership to introduce creative minded patrons of the New York Public Library to the entrepreneurial side of 3D modeling and printing technology through a free, open source curriculum. Among the many goals is to educate the public so they can further engage in the current digital era and become entrepreneurs of their own 3D creations. The collaboration will kick off in the fall with a pilot program offering multiple courses over a ten-week period. Continue reading

Teach 3D Design On Skillshare, Earn $100


Shapeways and Skillshare challenge you to create the 3D printing class you wish you could have taken when developing your design skills. From top tips for using CAD, to how to design 3D printed jewelry, to the best 2D to 3D design tools, we want you to share your 3D printing expertise with a global community of students two million strong. Go to Skillshare for more information and to sign up your class for “More Than Plastic: Teach 3D Printing and Design on Skillshare”.

As a teacher on Skillshare, you’ll build your brand and reputation as a designer while earning money for every student who enrolls in your online class. No prior teaching experience or special equipment is needed. To make a class, all you need is your passion and computer and Skillshare will give you the support and resources you need to create your curriculum.

Now is the time to jump in. If you complete and publish a class in June, you’ll be eligible for a $100 cash bonus.  And if your class is truly extraordinary,  it could also get featured here on Shapeways.

Designer For Hire: Who Gets the Files?

With the relaunch of the Shapeways Designer For Hire program, we are seeing more and more designers and clients coming together to create amazing 3D printed objects. While that is unquestionably a good thing, more people coming together also means more opportunities for misunderstandings. (Buzzkill sentences like that are a reason that lawyers aren’t always invited to parties.) Lauren covered some of big areas of misunderstanding with her 8 Questions Your Client Doesn’t Know to Ask You. This post is going to only address one area: who owns the files and the copyrights at the end of a design job? Continue reading

3D Modeling At Your Fingertips with Gravity Sketch

Drag. Pan. Scale. Rotate. Orbit. Pan. All these terms to match all these different key and mouse movements! 3D software can be a challenge to pick up quickly. Luckily our friends at Gravity Sketch have created an incredible app to make 3D design almost as intuitive as finger painting.

They have even gone one step further and created this awesome playlist of short tutorial videos to get you rolling with their innovative 3D modeling iOS app. (Android users don’t fret, they’ve got an app for you in their pipeline.)