If you want to get involved in the 3d printing madness and express your creativity in three dimensions, this guide is a great way to start with. Further down, some of the best, free 3d modeling and repair software are presented. Intuitive, easy to use but very powerful…
Applications for 3D Modeling
Probably the most famous and easy to use application for 3d modeling. Tinkercad is browser based which means that you need an internet connection to use it (make sure to have your WebGL enabled). There is no offline version so far. Don’t be fooled by its colorful interface, Tinkercad is a very powerful tool. It’s great for entry level users as well as for advanced modelers. Isaac Budman has published a very analytic tutorial about tinkercad, it’s a good way start.
The Design application of the 123Dapp series of Autodesk is one of the most complete free tools for 3d printing. There are both an online and an offline version which is really useful. It follows the classic design approach of Autodesk and has many great and easy to use and understand tools. I see 123D Design as the next step after Tinkercad.
SketchUp is a nice way to begin 3d modeling, however not as easy as tinkercad. It is a very popular tool and it’s on the market for a long time. It is mostly used by architects and builders, but it’s trying to work its way into 3d printing for good. There are two versions of SketchUp, the free one named “Make” and the advanced that is called “Pro”. The free version is just fine for a beginner. The good thing about SketchUp is the ability to draw polyline shapes directly on a plane or surface and extrude them.
Sculptris is the little brother of ZBrush (one of the best Organic 3D modeling software) so it follows the same principles. It’s free and it has many capabilities. The way it works is simple… it’s like sculpting clay! You start with a ball of clay and you create the shape and details with the use of different brushes. It is very easy to start with, but you will probably need many sculpting hours to master it. Check out Shane Olson’s Scluptris Demo to find out the possibilities..!
OpenSCAD is a constructive solid geometry modeling tool or the programmer’s solid 3d cad modeler since the user writes code to create objects. All the geometry is code driven and it’s a bit difficult if you don’t have any previous programming experience. OpenSCAD is among the best ways to create parametric objects and definitely the cheapest, since it is open-source. If you love programing, there is a big community online to help you with tutorials in order to start using OpenSCAD. The best place to start are the tutorials in openscad.org.
Meshmixer is a unique case, since it combines a bit of modelling, a bit of sculpting and a bit of repairing meshes and cleanup. It is mostly an editing application, I wouldn’t recommend it for creating objects from scratch. You can easily import you model and make changes on it, or tweak its mesh, its shape, or join meshes together, shell objects and so on. Meshmixer is not a standalone 3d modelling software, but it’s a great add-on in your tool chain.
Applications for Mesh Repair & Cleanup
Netfabb basic is probably the best free mess repair software. Very easy to use, even a beginner can repair its model in a few clicks. It has many automated functions and does not require to be a “nuclear physicist” to make a change or repair. Its basic version is free but there is an even more powerful version with more functions called Professional.
Meshlab is an opensource mesh repair & cleanup software. Initially it started as part of the computer science department of University of Pisa in 2005. However, since then it has grown a lot. It is a very capable software with many great tools. It inputs and outputs a great variety of files and its processing capabilities are endless. Its basic drawback is the complexity of its tools and features. It is very difficult to understand how all the different features (it has a lot) work and what they do if you are not an expert, but when you get the hang of it you can make magic.