3D Modeling for 3D Printing: Understanding Modeling Software – Part 2

 In 30 days of education

A comparison of different 3D modeling programs available for free that can be used to help create or prepare models for 3D printing.

For information on the different types of software, see Part 1.

Programs I’ve Used:

TinkerCAD – Wonderful program for those with no experience in 3D modeling at all. Simple and user-friendly. This Blog Post Cover Image was taken of that program.

  • Free
  • Parametric modeling
  • Cloud-based – no download necessary
  • Built-in tutorials
  • Includes community 3D models
  • Great for anything with TEXT.
  • Complexity – 1

Blender The primary software I use, this full-powered animation program is capable of even the most-complex models. Includes sculpting capabilities.

  • Free & Open-Source
  • Subdivision modeling
  • Tutorials
  • Complexity – 4

Meshmixer – My go-to software for generating supports, it is also remarkably robust for sculpting and fixing bad models.

  • Free
  • Triangle Modeling/Sculpting Software
  • User-Manual
  • Great for supports!
  • Best for editing and fixing pre-created models.
  • Complexity – 3

123D Catch – A free 3D scanning software, it offers the ability to bring the real-world into the computer.
(In our experience, any consumer-level 3D scanning software/devices, paid or free, are only so-so. Do not expect to get a perfect replica of what you are scanning. Each type of scanner is optimized for a very specific object size and finish. Additionally, scans require cleaning up post-scanning to be ready for any further uses. There are still great limitations when it comes to 3D scanning at this point. However, there are times it can be very useful and this free program did nearly as well as the paid devices we’ve tested.)

Other Programs:

SketchUp One of the most common programs used in schools.

  • Free for educators
  • Parametric modeling
  • Tutorials
  • Includes 3D models
  • Complexity – 3

AutoCAD Another very popular software.

  • Students can receive this for free for 3 years
  • Parametric modeling
  • Complexity – 4

123D Sculpt – Part of the 123D Suite with aforementioned TinkerCAD and 123D Catch.

  • Free
  • Sculpting Software
  • Mobile App
  • Includes 3D models
  • Complexity – 3

123D Design Part of the 123D Suite with aforementioned TinkerCAD, 123D Catch, and 123D Design.

  • Free
  • Parametric modeling
  • Tutorials
  • Includes 3D models
  • Complexity – 2

FreeCAD

  • Free & Open-Source
  • Parametric modeling
  • Tutorials
  • Complexity – 4

Wings 3D

OpenSCAD

  • Free & Open-Source
  • Parametric modeling
  • Requires coding knowledge
  • Code information
  • Complexity – 4

NaroCAD

  • Free
  • Parametric modeling
  • Complexity – 3

Sculptris

  • Free
  • Sculpting software
  • Complexity – 4

MeshMagic

  • Free
  • Complexity – 2

This list comprises most of the free software options available to educators interested in 3D modeling for 3D printing. There are hosts of other software programs that you can use which cost money to purchase. Depending on your purpose, you may want to consider looking into one of those. For the most part, however, this collection of free software will serve most any purpose.

Keep in mind that no matter which program you decide to tackle, it will take a little bit of getting used to. Within a few days or weeks, however, you’ll be surprised at how comfortable you feel using the program and amazed at what you or your students have created. And don’t forget to look for YouTube videos or forums with helpful tips and tricks when you run into difficulties. The internet is a wonderful tool to use to understand 3D modeling. (And so are your students!) We’ll also be posting a walk-through video showcasing how I do my modeling in Blender later in this series. But why wait – get started today!

Ready to bring 3D printing into your school in a meaningful way? Click here to sign up for the package that best suits your needs!

Know of any other free 3D modeling software available to teachers? Tell us below in the comments or provide your input on some of the software discussed in this article!

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