TinkerCAD is an online tool that gives users the opportunity to design custom 3D models, for free! These designs can then be exported for 3D printing. Unlike other CAD programs, TinkerCAD is very easy to learn and uses a simple three-step design process. Tinkercad uses a simplified constructive solid geometry method of constructing models. A design is made up of primitive shapes that are either "solid" or "hole". Combining solids and holes together, new shapes can be created, which in turn can be assigned the property of solid or hole.
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In TinkerCAD (www.TinkerCAD.com) all design work is done and saved on the web; there’s no expensive software to install on your computer. If you don’t have a TinkerCAD account, sign-up for one using the signup button on the homepage.
Once you’ve completed the sign-up process, you will be welcomed by the TinkerCAD tutorial screen. You can skip the tutorial for now by closing it. Instead, go to the home page, and click the “Create new design” button.
This will open up a new 3D design workspace:
The workspace is a 3D version of a drawing canvas. We will do all our designing on this “workplane.” When 3D printing a model, the workplane represents the printer’s “print bed.”
The “Shapes Toolbox” on the right contains the basic building blocks for everything we will design, including; basic shapes, text, and custom shape generators.
The menu items in the top bar are used to perform important operations such as grouping objects, aligning shapes, and exporting your design for 3D printing.
The “View Toggle” and “View Pane” help you navigate the workspace. Right click and drag your mouse to change the 3D perspective of the work plane (also called orbiting). Scroll up and down with the scroll wheel of your mouse to zoom in and out.
Designing your 3D Model
The first step of the design process is to re-size the workplane to the size you need for your model (lower-right corner). For this model, you can select the "MakerBot Replicator" option to ensure you have the correct area for the printer's print bed.
To create the body of your model, drag the desired shapes from the “shapes toolbox” on to the workplane. Many shapes (like US States) have additional shape options.
When selected, your shapes should have five white square handles which control its size: four of these are on the workplane and control height and width and one of these is above the center of the shape and controls its depth/thickness. Click once on any handle to display the current measurements, then drag the handle or manually enter the desired size.
You can also rotate your shape using the curved black arrows along all three axes. TIP: hold SHIFT when you are rotating shapes to rotate them in 45˚ increments.
To align multiple shapes, hold SHIFT on your keyboard and click to select all the desired shapes. Next, click the “Align” icon in the top menu bar – nine black circles should appear around the two shapes. These circles will align the two shapes to the right, center, or left along either the x axis, y axis, and z axis.
Using “Holes” to Cut Out Designs
To create unique designs or inlaid text in your model, TinkerCAD’s “hole” setting allow you to turns any shape into a negative space that can be removed from the rest of your model. By adding a shape to your workplane and then turning it into a hole you can, in a sense, “cut away” any part of the solid model it touches.
To cut-out text, drag the “Text” shape from the basic shapes list into your workplane. Use shape options to change the text, choose a font, and to set the text to hole.
For some designs be careful not to allow holes to extend all the way through a solid shape; this sometimes leads to loose sections that are not connected to the main model. For example, if the text below extended all the way through our keychain, the small triangle within the letter “A” would be detached from the body of the keychain and would be printed as a separate piece.
To prevent a hole from extending all the way to the workplane, use the black conical arrow to raise the shape off of the build plane.
Grouping Shapes to Create a Solid Model
To finalize your model – and ensure it prints correctly – we will next need to “group” the various adjoining component shapes together into a singular solid model.
To group your shapes together, first hold Ctrl + A on your keyboard to select all the shapes on your workplane (or use SHIFT to select a series of adjoining shapes).
At this stage you should double-check to make sure all shapes are overlapping – if any of your component shapes do not overlap then they may print as separate objects.
Select the “Group” icon in the top menu bar to unite the shapes into one. This will also unify the color of the object.
Exporting a .stl file
To export a 3D print-ready file first be sure to group all your shapes in TinkerCAD. Hold down SHIFT on your keyboard and select each shape, then select “group” in the top menu to solidify the final model.
Click “Export” in the top menu and then choose the “.STL” format. Save the file to your computer. The model is now ready to be sliced and printed using a 3D printer.