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3D Printing

A guide for PPLD's 3D printers

Other Free 3D Modeling Software

What else is out there?

You don't have to limit yourself to Tinkercad and Fusion 360 as your only 3D Modeling tools.  There is a wide variety of other software out there, and some of it may be better suited to the specific project you have in mind. On this page, we'll list some of our favorite freely available options, as well as some pros and cons to help you decide whether these tools are right for you.

Free 3D CAD tools

Like Fusion 360, these tools are best for creating objects based on measurable dimensions and geometrical parameters.  

SketchUp: Developed by Trimble, SketchUp is an easy-to-use 2D and 3D Drawing tool that excels at architectural drawings, but can handle a variety of other geometry as well.  SketchUp comes in two versions: the free SketchUp Make, and SketchUp Pro, which offers additional features for a price.

  • Pro: SketchUp can represent a comfortable middle ground between Tinkercad and Fusion 360 in terms of difficulty and functionality.  There are also various community-developed plug-ins that you can install to customize your experience and enable more advanced functions.
  • Con: Careless use of SketchUp can sometimes lead to models that exhibit glitches and errors when it comes time to 3D print.  You are also reliant on experimental plugins in order to unlock some functions that would otherwise be standard in a software like Fusion 360.
  • Learn: Access Lynda.com with your PPLD library card and search for the SketchUp 2017 Essential Training course.

 

​FreeCAD: FreeCAD is a 3D modeling software that uses history-based design to allow you to make changes to an object by editing a the parameters of its components.

  • Pro: The best feature of FreeCAD is right in the name.  Finding a fully-fledged CAD software that doesn't lock features behind a paywall or make you sign a restrictive license agreement can be tough.  FreeCAD is open source, so you're welcome to use it however you want, without restrictions.
  • Con: FreeCAD doesn't have the robust learning support network that accompany software like Fusion 360 or Blender.  You'll be doing most of your learning directly from its text-based manual.  It is also still in active development, so some new features may still have bugs that need to be ironed out.
  • Learn: The Getting Started page on FreeCADWeb.org is a good place to get familiar with the software.  Power Playground on YouTube also features a video tutorial series for beginners.

 

Free 3D Sculpting Tools

Polygonal Modeling refers to the art of creating objects out of many small triangular facets.  Polygonal modeling tools excel at creating organic shapes like faces, creatures, scenery, and sculptures.  If you want to make a character or object for a video game, an animated movie, or a lifelike miniature for a tabletop game, you'll want to use a polygonal modeling tool.

Blender:  Blender is the go-to free and open source 3D media creation suite.  It's not just a sculpting tool.  Blender supports the entirety of the 3D creation pipeline - modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, even video editing and game creation.

  • Pro:  Blender is one of the most flexible and comprehensive software packages available, and you can't beat the price!
  • Con: Blender can be very overwhelming for beginning (and even intermediate) users.  The controls and user interface can be intimidating, and it takes a few hours of dedicated learning before you'll feel confident with the tool. It also requires quite a bit of artistic talent in addition to technical aptitude.
  • Learn: Access Lynda.com with your PPLD library card and search for the Blender Essential Training course.

 

Meshmixer: What started out as an experimental product from Autodesk has now become a very capable introductory 3D sculpting and mesh-repair tool.  You can use Meshmixer to create fun simple creatures by mashing together premade parts or sculpt objects from scratch. You can also use its Inspector feature to clean up the gaps and cracks left by a 3D scanner.

  • Pro: Almost all the tools you need to get into digital sculpting, without overwhelming you with too many superfluous features.
  • Con: Still fairly new, with a manual that can sometimes be outdated or incomplete.  While the software is easy to use, it can be difficult to learn through any other method than simple trial and error, or careful reading of the manual.  There aren't too many good tutorials out there yet.
  • Learn: We recommend starting with the Meshmixer 101 tutorial on YouTube, but keep in mind that even Autodesk's official tutorial series will look outdated compared to the current version of the software.

 

​Sculptris: Developed by Pixologic, the makers of Zbrush, which is one of the most widely used professional 3D sculpting tools, Sculptris is a simple, lightweight application that can serve as your gateway to digital 3D art.

  • Pro:  Sculptris is quick to install, and so easy to use that you almost don't need a manual or set of tutorials.
  • Con:  The features of Sculptris are very limited compared to its paid counterpart, Zbrush, as well as other free software like Meshmixer or Blender.  It has also not seen an update since 2013, so it is unclear whether Sculptris will receive any future development by Pixologic.
  • Learn: 3DToons has a great introduction to Sculptris, teaching you all the tools you need while demonstrating how to make a cartoon head.