Tutorial Tuesday 4: Using OpenSCAD to Design With Code

Welcome to Tutorial Tuesday! This week, we speak to the geeks. Did you know that you can create 3D-printable designs with code — no 3D modeling required? OpenSCAD is a programming language for solid modeling, specifically built for creating designs that are exportable as triangular meshes for 3D printing. In this post, we’ll walk you through the basics and show off some Shapeways designs created with this powerful parametric modeling software.


Getting Started With OpenSCAD

If you’re an experienced programmer, then you’re going to love this. But even if you’ve never written a line of code before in your life, you’ll be able to learn the basics of OpenSCAD and get started modeling right away! Start by downloading a free copy of OpenSCAD and bookmarking the very useful OpenSCAD User Manual and OpenSCAD Cheat Sheet.


For a quick start, check out the Hello OpenSCAD one-page starter document with OpenSCAD sample files. For extensive documentation and examples, see the Thingiverse OpenSCAD Jumpstart page and OpenSCAD discussion group. Or, get started in less than 10 minutes by watching and playing along with the video PolyBowls – A simple OpenSCAD code walk-through.


If you like learning by video, then you should also check out Patrick Conner’s video playlist of OpenSCAD tutorials. This playlist is how I initially learned about OpenSCAD and the videos are very clear, simple, and easy to follow.


OpenSCAD Models on Shapeways

OpenSCAD is particularly good for creating models based on equations or data, or that are procedurally generated. Here are four beautiful jewelry models on Shapeways that were designed with OpenSCAD:


sponde  tentacle

rhumb  lorenz

Going beyond jewelry, OpenSCAD is also a great tool for making abstract sculptures, processing and modifying data, and even creating household objects. Here are four more Shapeways models made with OpenSCAD:


12star  loxodrome

sappho  dyson (1)

Do you create with OpenSCAD? Let us know what you’ve made in the comments. If you’re just getting started and have any questions, let us know that too. See you next week!

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  1. Geoff Buttsworth

    You may be interested in my partially complete web resource for quadcopter aerodynamics at https://quadynamics.wordpress.com/

    All the graphics have been done using OpenSCAD. I have developed fairly sophisticated models that enable me to illustrate the various vectors, conditions and concepts that relate to this emerging field.

    1. Laura Taalman

      Hi Geoff,
      That is pretty cool, using OpenSCAD for illustration. I hadn’t seen that before and it works really well for what you’re doing. Have you ever tried printing any of the things that you designed for those illustrations?

  2. Geoff Buttsworth

    I have considered trying to print out the basic quad, but I would have to reduce it to its component parts I guess.

    I’m more focussed on designing and printing for trivial things 😉 Like http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1937473

    1. Laura Taalman

      Haha, I was just yesterday asking my son if he could put quarters in for the outer bearings since they would be cheaper! So cool that you did this!

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