This page has tips, links and resources for students learning how to create 3D models. Check back frequently as more awesome content will be added.
If you want to be impressed by the possibilities of additive manufacturing and 3d printing, check this story about printing houses from mud and rice hulls, or this organization that is matching people who need but cannot afford prosthetics with people who will print them for free. We live in an amazing era!
To get started with the 3D printer, students must attend an orientation or hands-on workshop. Sign up here. Here is the orientation content with everything a student needs to know to get started, posted here for review.
We also have a new 3D Printer Problem Bank to match needs for custom fabrication with students ready for some challenging and truly useful work. Our first project is to make a maximum occupancy sign for Egan hall. A group of three St. John students are on it!
What’s Next? Once we have completed a few rounds of student orientations, Mr. James will schedule some hands-on modeling workshops for students who want to walk through creating a project step-by-step in the classroom. Until then, contact Mr. James for support with your specific project as needed.
It also goes without saying but I’ll say it anyways: the middle school robotics program will make extensive use of the 3d printer to upgrade our existing robots, and to craft entirely new robots from 3d printed parts.
Tips, software, and other resources
TinkerCAD is the recommended starting place if you don’t know where to start. They have good tutorials and there are a ton of TinkerCAD “how to” videos and articles on the web. Many projects can be completed entirely in TinkerCAD. If you don’t know where else to start, it could be all you need. I also appreciate that TinkerCAD’s website has measures in place to comply with federal laws protecting the privacy of our students under age 13.
TinkerCAD keyboard shortcuts. A must-have reference. Otherwise, how will you ever remember that to move an object up in the Z axis, you hold CTRL and press the up arrow key.
A nice TinkerCAD lesson or tutorial that walks through each step of making a rocket ship.
If you are interested in 3d printing your own fashion designs for jewelry, accessories, etc., check out the KiraKira YouTube channel‘s TinkerCad project tutorials. Sadly it looks like their fashion-focused 3d modeling IOS app and website with more free classes are defunct.
Using your Seattle Public Library card number and PIN, you can access the comprehensive and ad-free Lynda.com online course on TinkerCAD. Get started here.
If you have a picture or drawing you want to import into TinkerCAD, make it just big bold black marker on a white piece of paper. Crop your photo using Preview or whatever photo editor you prefer. TinkerCAD can only import pictures in the svg file format. Convert the picture to the svg file format at this website. Use the Import button in TinkerCAD to import your picture.
There are dozens of other 3d modeling software sites and applications available to achieve the goal of going from your idea to a .stl file for printing. The website All3DP has a good list of choices.
Thingiverse and My Mini Factory have many models to download and use as the basis for your project. Thingiverse is all free. My Mini Factory has a mix of paid and free content. My Mini Factory includes the cool Scan the World project, a collection of 3D models scanned from famous sculptures and other objects from around the world.
See Mr. James’ profile on Thingiverse for projects he finds interesting including simple machines, math projects, and Lego EV3 Robotics projects.
If you want a more artistic experience, try Sculptris, which is an application you need to download and install, or SculptGL, which is the simpler browser-based version for model sculpting, like shaping clay with a set of virtual tools.
If you want to customize your supports or try generating tree supports, check out MeshMixer. MeshMixer is also good for doing mashups or remixes of other projects. TinkerCAD can get bogged down and slow when you import complex objects. MeshMixer can be much faster, but it has a little bit of a learning curve. Mr. James uses this and can show you the basics.
Make Human is free software to create 3D models of people, similar to how you might design your avatar in a video game console. If you can design an Xbox avatar, you can make a model of a human in Make Human.
Photogrammetry is the practice of generating a 3D model from many 2D photos of an object. Here is a good “how to” article with accompanying YouTube video from Prusa Research. A bit of an advanced topic, but after watching that video you will have all the steps, and the outcome can be amazing.
The Museum in a Box project is an interesting application of 3d printing. We can build one one! They have done this for the British Museum and the Smithsonian, and it really doesn’t look that complicated to build. If there is a teacher who wants to partner on this project, they are taking applications for a “build your own” pilot program.
I get a lot of great ideas from the All3DP website. Here is a list they made of 3D print projects featuring Arduino microcontrollers. One if the items on their list is the Otto open source robot that can be 3d printed. Another open source robot with printed parts is the Vorpal Hexapod, which is programmed using Scratch.
Thinking of buying a 3D printer?
If you are looking for a 3d printer for home, there are some great bargains out there.
The school’s MakerBot Replicator+ has some good features for the education market and they provide excellent paid support. For home use there are printers with more capabilities at much lower price points from $300 – $800.
At home I have a Prusa Original i3 MK3 which I built from a kit. Assembled versions are also available. It mostly consists of parts that were 3d printed at Prusa Research in Prague. As it is an open source project, there are many cheap clones out of China. You can get a popular clone, the Creality Ender 3, for less than $200. These have heated build plates and can print many diverse materials including flexible filament, PETG, carbon fiber- and wood-infused filament and other exotics. That said, the Prusa is a legendary product with features the clones lack, and the company does quite a bit of general education, support, and R&D to advance the state of the art in 3d printing, which are all things I value and don’t mind paying for. Fun fact: Prusa has a 3d printing farm of 300 printers running 24×7 making parts for the 6,000 printers they ship each month.
If a kit isn’t your thing and you want more of an appliance than a hobby, in the same price range as the MakerBot, Ultimaker and LulzBot also make reliable turnkey printers with capabilities for advanced materials beyond what the MakerBot offers.