How To: Create an Object and Prepare for Printing

This is intended to be a relatively tool-agnostic guide, which means some places may sound vague. This is a feature, not a bug.

The first step in getting a 3D-printed object is to find or make a design that can be translated into a file that the printer can use. You may elect to design your own using any number of free design tools, or you may elect to use a published object from one of a growing number of object repositories. You can also mash-up existing objects with those of your own design. (Note: 3D objects are often referred to as “meshes”, because their surfaces are composed of meshed triangles.)

Designing Your Own Object

This is probably the option that has the greatest risk/reward ratio. Modeling software is very powerful, but is also expensive and has a learning curve that approaches vertical.

Studio M's wiki keeps a generally current list. If you find new and better options, contact Studio M and we'll have a look.

Some good options: <ul> <li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>Tinkercad</a>: Popular browser-based app. Centers around creating composite objects from primitives. Very easy to pick up, but requires a fair amount of time for true mastery.</li>

<li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>3D Tin</a>: Also Web based, but offers significantly better tools than Tinkercad. Think of it as Tinkercad's older brother.</li>

<a href=“”><img class=“alignnone size-medium wp-image-27” src=“” alt=“Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.28.33 PM” width=“300” height=“289” /></a> <li> <a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>SketchUp</a>: Very familiar to many as a drawing tool. With the proper plug-ins, SketchUp can easy output complex STL files. SketchUp's user interface can feel unfriendly to newbies.</li>

Often, the hardest thing about 3D printing is figuring out where to start. Sculpt something and take pictures later? Learn the software and make my own forms? Buy a ready-made model, or see if something has free models? <li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>MeshLab</a>: Free and open-source option. MeshLab offers a truly useful mesh repair function that can quickly fix overlooked mesh errors.</li> <li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>Blender</a>: Another of the free and open-source power tools. Blender is targeted at professional designers, and can be difficult to pick up. But the rewards of deep knowledge of tools are considerable..</li> <li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>OpenSCAD</a>: This is easly the most sophisticated tool in this group. Where the others rely on a generally graphical interface, OpenSCAD uses equations to define every object, in a code that resembles JavaScript. This has the enormous bonus of allowing you to create “parametric” object – that is, objects defined in a purely mathematical way, and modifiable by altering those equations: In other words, you can print a simple 1-inch cube, twiddle a setting on the model, and reprint the same cube 10 inches wide. Parametric objects are incredibly useful.</li> </ul> As time allows, we'll be posting a how-to for basic objects using each tool. You should spend some time with each before settling on a single tool.   All valid questions. Fortunately, there are a variety of choices to answer those questions. Hit the wiki to learn more! <em>Using a Published Object</em> This option is commonly used when you just want to get a feel for how the printing process works. It gives your a usable object, with a minimum of your time invested. This tutorial relies on a published piece from Thingiverse. Thingiverse is essentially the 800lb gorilla of object repositories. Here's a quick list of options. <ul> <li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>Thingiverse</a>: The single most extensive  object repo available. Good toolset for tracking your objects as they are favorited or made by your readers. Objects in the repo are free. The MakerBot store offers additional for sale objects, which typically sport more detail than their free cousins.</li> <li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>Yeggi</a>: Less a 3D object repository and more a meta-search engine that trawls other repositories for your search terms. Results may be free or for sale.</li> <li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>Youmagine</a>: has an object repository, but is clearly trying to position itself as a social hub for 3D printer owners, and is worth investigating on that  basis alone. That's an important thing, because as you learn 3D design, other users quickly become your best self-help option.</li> <li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>GrabCAD</a>: Most of GrabCAD's options are for sale, and like Youmagine, GrabCAD is working hard to create an active user community.</li> <li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>Turbosquid</a>: Aside from a name designed to provoke a raised eyebrow, Turbosquid offers a <em>tremendous</em> database of very detailed 3D object for sale. TS often feels more like they're catering to other modeling markets aside from hobby printing.</li> <li><a class=“urlextern” title=“” href=“” rel=“nofollow”>Trimble SketchUp 3D Warehouse</a>: Like Turbosquid, the 3D Warehouse clearly caters to users to want highly-detailed, lifelike objects. That said, they <em>are</em> largely free, which is a plus.</li> </ul> So if you want to start with a reprint or mashup of someone else's design, you have not shortage of options. Let's walk through the simplest level of the technology, so you can use it as a springboard for more complicated works. Be aware that all of these practices and options have their detractors and acolytes, and that discussions of “the best tool” for a particular job  can escalate to biblical levels, so unless you're prepared for that, seek information on forums with care. <ol> <li>Go to, and</li> </ol>