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3D Printing

A guide for PPLD's 3D printers

3D Modeling Resources

This guide provides an overview of some recommended 3D modeling tools and tutorials. Many 3D modeling software options can cost several hundreds or thousands of dollars, this guide has some free tools that you can use to get started. Some of these tools may have paid upgrades or optional subscriptions, but their free versions still provide a lot of functionality.

Where do I start?

The first thing you want to do is choose the 3D Modeling program that's right for you. There are many programs out there for creating 3D models, but Tinkercad, Onshape, or Fusion360 can be good starting points, depending on your experience level and learning style. Click the links below to go find in-depth resource guides for each software option.


Tinkercad - Recommended For Complete Beginners

With Tinkercad you can make cool stuff while developing core skills like moving in a 3D environment, moving/rotating/scaling objects, and using boolean combinations to fuse objects together.  Several tutorials are built right into the software, allowing you to learn interactively as you model.  

The downside is that Tinkercad is not suited for sophisticated designs.  Once you've mastered Tinkercad, you will likely want to upgrade to a program with more features and design tools.  


Fusion360 - Recommended for Professional-grade Design

Fusion360 is a professional-grade 3D Modeling software.  Compared to the other free tools available, it offers a more comprehensive set of features than Sketchup, a more user-friendly interface than FreeCAD, and with fewer restrictions on privacy than Onshape.  Fusion 360 is is our recommended tool for tackling sophisticated design challenges.  

However, learning how to use Fusion360 from scratch requires a bit of patience and focus, so it's good to have some basic 3D Modeling experience before moving to Fusion360.


Onshape - Recommended for Learning Serious 3D Modeling

Onshape is a newcomer to the scene with a lot of great things going for it.  It is a free, professional, and fully functional CAD software that runs in your browser, meaning your designs are always saved in the cloud, and you can use it anywhere without an installation.  There are a few catches with regard to privacy though, so you'll want to make sure you read the terms and conditions before putting your next patented invention on their servers.  

On the positive side, the developers of Onshape have created a simple, seamless, integrated learning experience for serious 3D modeling.  So even if you don't like your documents being public, it's worth giving Onshape a try just for the learning process. Since the software is similar enough to other professional design suits, once you learn Onshape you'll be able to handle most of the industry big-names with ease.


Other Free 3D Modeling Software

Looking to do something that Tinkercad, Onshape, or Fusion 360 can't handle?  Check out some of our other favorite free 3D modeling tools.