Have you heard of 3D printing? It’s likely you have. You might think it’s a tool for professionals, businesses, and manufacturers who need to make prototypes for their big projects. Or you might think that the only way to use 3D printing is to have personal access to a 3D printer and a high-tech CAD design program. Many architects, engineers, and designers use 3D printing and have access to their own printers, but 3D printing is becoming increasingly available to anyone who is curious about using the technology. There are several resources including online sites, programs, and communities that allow you create basic (and sometimes even complex) designs, view and print other designs, and offer more information about advanced 3D printing. A few of those resources are listed here:
Tinkercad (www.tinkercad.com): If you’re just getting started or want to get your child interested, Tinkercad is a great resource. This free site allows aspiring designers to build up basic 3D shapes into any creation they’d like. All you have to do is set up an account and get started! As you get more advanced, you can render vector lines into 3D shapes. Tinkercad is dedicated to inspire and teach people about the possibilities of 3D printing. Their site also gives tutorials on how to get started with 3D designs. What about printing? If you don’t have access to a 3D printer, tinkercad will actually print your design and mail them to you!
Thingiverse (www.thingiverse.com): Thingiverse is another site where you can sign up and begin designing your own 3D objects. If you’re not interested in creating your own objects just yet, Thingiverse has a great online community that allows anyone to sift through and view hundreds of pre-designed objects. This is great for inspiration and just checking out what other people have done. These designed objects are usually licensed to allow others to print them, so if you do have access to a 3D printer, these are super fun to print!
YouMagine (www.youmagine.com): YouMagine is another site that allows you to search through collections of high quality pre-designed objects. It is free to sign up, browse, and download the designs on the site. You can learn a lot by seeing what other people have been able to design and again, it’s always great for inspiration.
Sketchup (www.sketchup.com): Sketchup is a more advanced tool but is very versatile. You can download it onto your computer and begin experimenting with all kinds of 3D designs. Sketchup prides itself on its ability to be intuitive and easy to use. If you or your children are feeling confident in your 3D design skills and want to challenge yourselves to create more complex designs, go ahead and give Sketchup a try!
Blender (www.blender.org): Blender is a free software that you can download and create designs. It is more tailored to advanced designers but is dedicated to help the world community of designers, artists, and engineers reach their fullest potential. Blender may take more experience, but the possibilities are endless with this program. You may start with 3D printing, but this program could expand the horizons of anyone aspiring to become an expert 3D designer.
Printer Access: It is understandable if you don’t have a 3D printer available to you in your house, most people don’t. Luckily, there are a lot of resources online and even in your community that may allow you to print your 3D designs. Often times public libraries, universities, and organizations dedicated to inspiring youth about technology will have 3D printers that they allow the public to use for a very reasonable price. This may take some searching, but the resources are often available. Another option may be the Toybox(www.make.toys), a 3D printer just for kids! The Toybox was made specifically to encourage kids to experiment with designs and creativity. Not only can kids choose from premade toy designs, but they can also design their own. It could be a great investment as it encourages kids to explore the possibilities of 3D design.
These sites, programs, and tools are only just the beginning. There are several other learning tools out there and it may take a little searching to find out what’s best for you. The sites and resources listed above are well-known, widely used and should provide you with an extensive base to begin 3D designing and printing. Have fun getting started!