Script-based modeling with OpenSCAD

Posted by in Software, Tutorials

OpenSCAD is a 3D modeling tool with a twist: it doesn’t use an interactive 3D interface for its modeling, but a scripting language.

You’ll use text commands to add basic shapes, move and scale them and apply operations to them. This may sound cumbersome, but I’ve found it’s a lot of fun to work with. Changing your model is as easy as going back to your script, editing it and hitting ‘render’. Done!

OpenSCAD uses ‘constructive solid geometric modeling’ – you’ll use operations such as ‘union’, ‘difference’ and ‘intersection’ to combine objects into new ones. And the good part is: your models are always printable! (Well, if the size and wall thickness are ok, that is).

You can load external (STL) objects in your file and work with them, so you can always do the modeling of more complex shapes in other software.

Did I mention yet that OpenSCAD it open source, and free? I’ve added a bunch of links below to get you started. Enjoy!


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  1. Stony Smith

    Bart, I love OpenSCAD. It is the tool that “opened the door” for me at Shapeways. When I tried other tools, I was constantly getting the “Maniifold” and “Model is not watertight” errors. I have since learned how to use other tools effectively, but OpenSCAD is still the simplest (for a programmer like me). About a third of the models in my shop were built with OpenSCAD.

    Here’s a few examples:

  2. Mark Shoulson

    I started using openSCAD fairly recently; it is really good for doing more mathematical models, since you get to specify things precisely. I made my Meissner Tetrahedra with it. It sometimes seems to do weird things and freeze up my system in ways I would not have expected of an app; not exactly sure why that happens. It’s also useful for intersections and differences, since I’ve found that Blender’s boolean operations (in 2.49 at least) are sometimes buggy.

  3. Glenn Slingsby

    Uhm, yeah, I’ll give this one a miss! Years (and years!) ago I started in ray-tracing using POVRay’s text-based programme. Oh, the fond memories of spending hours and hours and hours writing code to produce images that I could do in minutes, now! To have to go back to this would make me pull my hair out!


  4. Mark Shoulson

    Ah, yeah, I’ve used POVRay too. It’s kind of a shame you can’t convert POVRay into STL or something Shapeways can print. OpenSCAD may not be as powerful as POVRay, and doesn’t have any support for all its color and texture and lighting… OpenSCAD builds shapes; POVRay makes pictures. There isn’t much basis to compare them.

    And certainly, scripted shapes can be infuriating when you’re trying to make something semi-real. But conversely, if what you’re doing is purely mathematical, it can be helpful to work by scripting (whether in OpenSCAD or Blender, etc) instead of moving points by hand.

  5. Glenn Slingsby

    I agree with you about the mathematical side of this programme – I have to admit that does intrigue me but not enough to have to learn programming all over again 🙂
    … and yes, I know the two prog’s achieve different ends, I was just referring to having to do coding again.


  6. Christina Westbrook

    I started learning programming a couple of times, but unfortunately ended up getting bored. I’ll agree with those who mentioned how many things can be done much faster in other programs.

    I love the program I already use (Rhinoceros), and still have to find the time to use the add-on I purchased for organic modeling (T-Splines).

    About 1/4 of my friends are programmers, I’ll leave it to them and perhaps refer them to that software.

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