3D Design (or 3D modeling) is the process of using computer software to create a mathematical representation of a three-dimensional object or shape. The resulting object is called a 3D model. 3D models can also be displayed as two-dimensional images in games and media through a process called 3D rendering or physically created using a 3D printer that form 2D layers of the model with three-dimensional material.
Three-dimensional (3D) models represent a physical body using a collection of points in 3D space, connected by various geometric entities such as triangles, lines, curved surfaces, etc. Being a collection of data (points and other information), 3D models can be created manually, algorithmically (procedural modeling), or by scanning. Their surfaces may be further defined with texture mapping.
3D Design Processes
There are a number of different processes that can be used to create 3D models:
Polygonal modeling – Points in 3D space, called vertices, are connected by line segments to form a polygon mesh. The vast majority of 3D models today are built as textured polygonal models, because they are flexible and because computers can render them so quickly.
Curve modeling – Surfaces are defined by curves, which are influenced by weighted control points. The curve follows the points. Increasing the weight for a point will pull the curve closer to that point.
Digital sculpting – Still a fairly new method of modeling, 3D sculpting has become very popular in the few years it has been around. Digital sculpting methods allow for very artistic exploration as the model will have a new topology created over it once the models form and possibly details have been sculpted.
3D Design Repositories
Don't want to design or scan your own 3D model? No problem! There are a number of free and paid online repositories for pre-made 3D models that you can download for 3D printing. We recommend the following:
The best open source print files and designs available for you to build upon or simply download and 3D print!
3D Design Software
If you're a bit more tech-savvy and want to design your own 3D model from scratch, the Cline Library MakerLab's two PC workstations offer a number of CAD software programs (Computer Aided Design) that you can use to design 3D models for 3D printing:
A free and easy-to-use web-based tool for creating objects that are ready to be 3D printed. If you haven’t done 3D design before, this is a great place to start. Visit TinkerCAD.com to sign up for your free account.
SolidWorks is a solid modeler which utilizes a parametric feature-based approach to create models and assemblies for a variety of engineering fields. This is a professional level software that requires advanced skill to operate.
A free professional 3D computer graphics software product used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, interactive 3D applications, and video games. While Blender is primarily used for 3D computer graphics it can also be used to create 3D meshes for 3D printing.
AutoCAD (by AutoDesk) is a 2D and 3D drafting program used for engineering and manufacturing applications such as structural blueprints, architectural models, and mechanical assemblies. This is a professional level software that requires advanced skill to operate.