Simple CAD Program for Simple Design

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I think it is rather inevitable that fully immerse in 3D printing world, one needs to have certain level of CAD program skill. It is to fully appreciate how a digital design gets created, modified and manipulated. The skill is also important to be able to manipulate some 3D file to be more suitable for 3D printing- because certain design needs processing before being able to print out.

I came to the world of 3D printing from the hard technical world of ‘IT’ or ‘Information Technology’- where we deal a lot with stuff like servers, cloud, cybersecurity, java, javascript, phyton and the likes. But not stuff like Autodesk, meshes, workbench, union, gcode and the likes. In short, I don’t have any CAD skill when I started with 3D printing- but along the way I picked some rudimentary skills on my own that I am now able to create and edit simple design. That’s also why, I am probably the most suitable user to write out this article for a total CAD noob. I will share some little insight about some of the CAD programs that I used and what is the good and the not-so-good about the program.

1. TinkerCAD

“From mind to design in minutes”

That’s the motto from TinkerCAD- and it’s not so far from the truth. It is one of the- if not the easiest CAD software available on the market now. If you don’t have any experience with CAD design before, this is truly the software you should start with. It is a web-based application and all you need is a free account to start creating right away. Its interface is very intuitive and you can probably make something the first time you visit the website.

But don’t be fooled by its simplicity and the fact that it is a free application. It is capable of creating complicated design with accurate size. Some form of trainings are certainly recommended and there are plenty of freely available high quality tutorials out there. For a start you can start with official Tinkercad YouTube channel here or this video– and you will be tinkering with digital design in no time.

Apart from using TinkerCAD to create 3D design, I also use it to edit STL file. I use it for cutting or joining parts for easier print. At times use it to simply measure the size of 3D design because the ruler function is readily accessible. All in all, it is a very solid application. The only drawback is you need an internet connection to use the application.

2. FreeCAD

There are quite a number of free CAD software out there, such as QCAD, Blender, Meshmixer and among others. But FreeCAD offers complete features, open source with wide community support and with readily and freely available tutorials online. In addition, FreeCAD is more for geometric shapes mostly rectangular and circular shapes. These shapes are more suited for industrial designing/ machinery parts prototyping. These are the shapes that are more likely get churned by 3D printers. QCAD is more for 2D drawings, Blender is more for 3D designing organic shapes for animation. As for Meshmixer, it is getting only a little support lately. So FreeCAD is probably one of the better free CAD program for 3D designing.

That said, FreeCAD is a full-fledged CAD software more suitable for someone with some experience in using CAD program. If you don’t have any experience with CAD program before, you may well be better off going through some tutorials on FreeCAD first. Good news is that there’s an entire Wiki page created for FreeCAD program. It is where you can find complete materials to learn about FreeCAD. It comes in multi-language as well. If that’s not sufficient, there are plenty of other online forums and video tutorials like this FreeCAD Academy.

FreeCAD is a solid program, and I used it quite regularly. But because I don’t have any prior background in any CAD program, it’s been a bit of struggle to use FreeCAD as compared to TinkerCAD. But if you are willing to put in the time and efforts, it would be a great investment to be able to use FreeCAD proficiently.

3. Blender

Blender is a super solid 3D modelling software. It is amazingly also an open source program that is free to use. It also has extensive community of users, developers, contributors and reviewers like me. Blender software is very strong in 3D modelling, sculpting, animation and rigging- especially for organic shapes. Organic shapes are natural, free flow with curving appearances. This is different from geometric shape which is consists of rectangle, angles and circles. In my opinion, organic 3D shapes are more suitable for movie or video animation. If you are dealing a lot with organic shapes- like figurine, anime models or pets miniature- blender is the software you should use.

Blender is not an easy program to use and master. It is a very comprehensive and extremely capable software- but it comes at a price: learning process is very, very steep- especially if you are new to this whole CAD game. However, fret not- thanks to the strong community- there are literally thousands of training courses available online- paid (via Udemy, etc) or free (YouTube, etc). What you need to do is to know what you want to design, pick up the right course and get going.

I took this free Blender course on YouTube to get started with 3D modelling. But after 2 or 3 tutorials, I realized that Blender is not really what I was looking for. I am primarily interested in mastering 3D CAD software for geometric design for 3D printing, and not so much organic design. So once I got a bit of taste of Blender, I decided to spend my time of efforts and time on FreeCAD instead. Now don’t get me wrong, Blender is probably better than FreeCAD quality- and support- wise. It’s just that I was looking to learn to design geometric shapes and FreeCAD is the better option for that purpose.

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