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TinkerCAD

Creators of Tinkercad announced earlier this week that they would no longer be developing the popular cloud-based CAD tool. We’re fans of Tinkercad here at MAKE, having written about and praised it on the blog and in our Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing, so this is sad news. It’s going to be replaced by new software, called Airstone, that’s meant for a completely different, professional, audience. You can read more about Airstone here.

The free version of Tinkercad is still available to use between now and the end of April, and paying customers will have access until the end of 2013 (you can read more about the timeline on the Tinkercad blog).

Here are a few other free alternatives to Tinkercad, starting with what I think is the most beginner-friendly and ending with the least beginner-friendly:

3DTin

An in-browser tool that started out as a simple shape editors, with specific blocks that you can duplicate and manipulate to make models. Now it’s become much more robust, with a multitude of modeling features. I’m looking forward to seeing this take over for Tinkercad as the go-to tool for learning 3D modeling.

3DTin

Try it here.

SketchUp

Originally created by Google and now owned by Trimble. Great for rectilinear things like creating a model of your home or future workbench. It’s not great for complex curves and spheres, but an all-around fantastic tool that’s definitely worth checking out. It also has a great community behind it that have created useful plugins for doing things like exporting directly to an STL file for printing or a DXF for 2D cutting.

SketchUp

Download it here, and check out a helpful tutorial for getting started here.

Autodesk 123D

Autodesk’s answer to Tinkercad. 123D is flexible, running on Mac and PC and available in-browser or as a downloadable app. Many users have found that the downloadable app is prone to crashing, but this is another simple CAD tool with a surprisingly large number of features.

AutoDesk 123D

Use it in-browser here or download it for offline use here.

Autodesk Inventor Fusion

A recent addition to the Autodesk arsenal, Fusion is a clone of the popular (but expensive) Autodesk Inventor. Fusion is feature-rich and therefore probably not a great place to start if you’ve never done 3D modeling before. However, if you started with Tinkercad and feel like it’s time for an upgrade, it may be worth checking out.

AutoDesk Inventor Fusion

As far as I know, it’s only available for OSX at this time. You can download it here.

FreeCAD

An open-source CAD program for Mac, Linux, and PC, built for Product Design and Engineering. Like Fusion, it’s also feature-rich and has a high learning curve, compared to the aforementioned options. Once again, check this out if you’re interested in upgrading from a simpler program.

FreeCAD

Download it here.

OpenSCAD

Described as “CAD for programmers,” OpenSCAD turns text into 3D Parts. If you’ve never done any 3D modeling or coding before, I’d be wary of jumping in here, but it’s a great resource for those of you who’re interested in creating parts with what’s essentially a 3D compiler, giving you full control over the model and each step of the process.

OpenSCAD

Download it here.

Did I miss anything? Tinkercad users, what are you going to move to in the near future? Please share with us in the comments below.

Eric Weinhoffer

Eric is a Product Development Engineer at MAKE. He creates kits and sources products for sale in the Maker Shed, focusing primarily on manufacturing. Occasionally he writes about cool things for the blog and magazine.


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Comments

  1. Mike Firoved says:

    Thank you, just what I was looking for !! When companies loose sight of the end user and abandon their entire customer base in one email, It boggles my mind.

    1. David Rysdam says:

      That’s free “cloud” services for you. For more, see here.

      1. Except that tinkercad stopped being free in any meaningful sense about 8 months ago.

  2. David Rysdam says:

    I love OpenSCAD but be aware there’s no way to produce dimensioned drawings from it. Seems like a major oversight, but it isn’t even on the drawing board (so to speak).

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      Good to know, thanks David! Do you know of any good resources for learning how to use OpenSCAD?

      1. David Rysdam says:

        I used a combination of videos and the manual.

        1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

          Great, thanks!

      2. Ed Lewis says:

        I used the series of tutorial my Makerblock on the Makerbot blog.
        http://www.makerbot.com/blog/2011/01/19/openscad-basics-the-setup/

    2. jpa says:

      I usually use OpenSCAD to create 3D models from the dimensional 2D drawings I have drawn in QCad. For example http://essentialscrap.com/plate/process.png .

    3. Eric B says:

      An easy to use free alternative that can produce dimensioned Drawings is: Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express 4.0:
      http://www.ptc.com/products/creo-elements-direct/modeling-express/
      This is the free version of the Originally HP / CoCreate Modeling application. Now part of PTC.

    4. Julien says:

      It’s true: OpenSCAD cannot make good technical drawings and does not allow you to set units (mm or mils or whatever). However, you can use the projection function to create 2D DXFs which can be used with your favorite 2D CAD software (LibreCAD…) to print out dimensioned drawings. Also, though OpenSCAD does not have specific units, it doesn’t need them. As long as you input in mils, the output will be in (unlabeled) mils.

  3. SketchUp was originally created by @Last Software, then bought by Google and now owned by Trimble. I’m not sure what you mean by complex curves and spheres… SketchUp can be extended using Ruby scripts, there is a vibrant community producing great complex modeling plug-in tools.

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      Alexandre,
      I wasn’t aware Google just bought SketchUp as opposed to creating it, and didn’t know its been extended with Ruby scripts. Thanks!

    2. Daniel Kim says:

      Another thing that should be mentioned about SketchUp is the 3D Warehouse. This site may be the largest repository of free 3D models in the world.

  4. Cubify Invent – Free with 14 day trial – $50 after that. Let’s be honest. Tinkercad was a paid service in the end… There was a limited “thing” free account. Cubify Invent really is Easy To Use and has a lot of nice features. Much easier than 123D. Invent used to have a 60 day? trial. I used OpenSCAD first. I found I did a lot of printing and trial fitting… I needed something to measure the part on the computer. I tried 123D and then I tried Invent. The $50 for easier to use (and less processor intensive) is really a good deal. Cubify Invent puts out .FUN and .STL files. Give it a try… you will like it.

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      Good to know, thanks Chris.

    2. Bill Dempsey says:

      I’ll add a plus one to the Cubify Invent recommendation for $50. You don’t need to own a Cubify printer to use it. It outputs standard STL files. It seems to be a scaled down version of Alibre CAD. The user interfaces are SO similar. Plus, unlike Sketchup, your more complex part designs done with Cubify Invent won’t be full of model errors like non manifold edges.

      1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

        Well, two recommendations are good enough for me. I’ll check it out! Thanks, Bill.

      2. Just to add to Bill’s comment. I have never had a problem with errors in the STL files that Cubify Invent outputs. I would also like to re-enforce that you do not need a Cubify printer to use it. I have a Maker Bot Thing-O-Matic and it works great with it and Replicator-G. It has saved me more than $50 in plastic, time, and hair that it more than pays for itself when using it. It is also alot smaller (memory and hard drive) and therefore faster on older machines than 123D.

    3. It appears Cubify Invent is Windows only, sadly. I would have like to try it in my search for a Tinkercad replacement.

  5. There’s also http://shapesmith.net/ which is cloud-based but also open source. I’ve not played with it yet, but it’d be lovely if Tinkercad’s loss was (open source and) ShapeSmith’s gain.

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      Looks promising. Thanks Adrian!

  6. chuck says:

    Is this the new business model? Starting out as open source/community supported/cloud and then changing your model mid stream when the offers start rolling in seems to be more common these days. I understand that it’s their project to do what they want with, but turning your back on an established user base in order to pursue a place in the larger market seems like a gamble.
    Niche markets have a long memory and if you are perceived as abandoning them you’ll never get them back.

  7. Autodesk Inventor Fusion IS available for Windows. It rode in on the back of AutoCAD 2013 on my machine. It’s slick!

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      Tim,
      That’s great news! I’m still unable to find evidence of this online though…can you provide me with a download or website link so I can share it?

      Thanks!
      Eric

  8. BKNJ says:

    It amazes me that Solidworks has completely ignored the “recreational” 3D design market. While Autodesk should be applauded for their free tools, I really wish they would make their premier products available at a price that doesn’t require financing. I’ll check out cubify, but have learned to appreciate the precision of OpenSCAD.

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      I’d also love to see something free from Dassault Systems that focuses on 3D design. Draftsight is free and absolutely fantastic, but only 2D :(

  9. Jon Wolfe says:

    There’s a few more good free open source alternatives. HeeksCad/HeeksCNC has it’s quirks, but it’s one of the best open source CNC milling related packages I’ve found. For 2D layout work, you can’t beat LibreCAD, an open source fork of the commercial QCad. I’ve found it much faster to do layouts in 2D in LibreCAD, then import to 3D(FreeCAD or Heeks), that it is to use the “face sketch” features in the 3D packages. Also, even though it’s more focused on digital art than design, Blender is the 800 lb. gorilla of open source 3D, incredibly full featured, for the price of steep-ish learning curve.

  10. Robert says:

    I must say well done – 4/6 of the programs you recommend here have the exact same potential problems as tinkercad. Way to learn from your mistakes.

    How about people get behind something truly open source and Free where they don’t have to feel like they’re having to rely on crumbs from the table of an unpredictable company?

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      So which open source and free software do you recommend?

      1. Robert says:

        Sigh.

        It’s not really designed for it, but I have had some success using Blender to design things. On that note, it looks as though the next version of Blender is going to include a “3D Printing Toolbox” (http://www.blendernation.com/2013/03/27/blender-2-67-feature-3d-printing-toolbox/).

        Other than that, the previously (but not very prominently) mentioned FreeCAD certainly looks like something that could really go places if people were to get behind it.

        (In fact, Blender is a great example of how rapidly open source software can advance and how impressive it can become with the right community behind it.)

        1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

          Cool, thanks for sharing :)

        2. Bill says:

          @Eric, thanks for this article, I had no idea there were so many free or nearly free 3D modeling packages out there.

          -1 @Robert. Your first comment, loaded with unnecessary sarcasm, added zero value to the discussion. When asked to *contribute* to the conversation, you’ve actually got the balls to “sigh” before you bless readers with your knowledge:

          1. Blender, an extremely complicated package designed for computer animation (and one that is not at all easy to use).
          2. FreeCAD, something you say “looks like it could go places” with nothing else to back up that statement.

          It is stunning that for someone who blathers about the benefits of open source, you act like making a contribution is a (sigh) burden.

          1. Robert says:

            The *sigh* was because the available options aren’t as good/plentiful as I would like.

  11. andrew says:

    Anther alternative as i mentioned in previous post: Search ‘Design Something’ in Chrome Web Store, or try this link http://www.publishyourdesign.com/modeler

  12. korpx says:

    In-browser 3D CAD:s that are a bit like a new generation OpenSCAD;
    http://coffeescad.net
    http://openjscad.org

  13. Bill says:

    It looks like Inventor Fusion was a technology preview and might be going away in favor of Fusion 360: http://labs.autodesk.com/technologies/fusion

    Also, regarding evidence for a Windows version of Inventor Fusion, you can find that there:
    http://labs.autodesk.com/technologies/fusion/system_reqs

    I still haven’t found found the download link…

    1. Bill says:

      Found the download link for Mac or Windows: Give this a shot:

      http://labs.autodesk.com/technologies/fusion/downloadform/

  14. Filip says:

    I think Tinkercad’s strength was that you could import an .stl file, work in a very intuitive GUI with CSG processing, and then create an .stl file again. This allowed people to quickly improve and customize published objects (from thingiverse, for example). So far I have not found a really good replacement toolchain for this usage scenario. 3DTin does not allow .stl import. Sketchup has issues making solids.123Design does not allow .stl import and has limited CSG. Shapesmith, does not allow .stl import as far as I can tell. FreeCAD does have .stl import, but seems to require a few steps to convert a mesh to a shape and a shape to a solid. However, the Boolean operations are not as intuitive. Another alternative is to use a free translator like InStep to go from .stl to a .step format and then use FreeCAD or Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express. Creo is freeware, requiring signup, and has lots of features, but high learning curve. FreeCAD has the building blocks but could use a simplified UI. I wonder if the open source community have an incentive now to build a TinkerCAD-like interface on top of FreeCAD? That might solve this dilemma.

  15. I did 3D CAD 15 years ago. We included the ability to download terrain data from from a survey (parsed it with Perl) so you could build on the surveyed actual site. While we had nuts and bolts, we allowed the user to create “standard assemblies” – a component that that contained other components that always were needed with it, i.e. metal plates, nuts, bolts, washers, other standard assemblies, etc. Each individual item was connected to a database (Oracle in my case) that contained every bit of information about it. For a bolt: metallic material, threading, torque specs, stress specs, part number, supplier, cost…everything. In the database, a design was essentially a tree of components and subcomponents. Graphically a standard assembly was a single graphic object for manipulation but could be opened for a change in a special case. Written in ANSI C with a graphics library.

  16. I was just about to get into TinkerCAD but now I’m a bit gun-shy using free software. I don’t want to invest time and energy into software only to have it stop development.

    What are the recommendations for “pro” software? I’m leaning towards AutoDesk 123 or SolidWorks…do these also work with CNC machines?

  17. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the tip sheet! I work at a children’s museum and was beginning testing for developing some youth-oriented 3D modeling / printing workshops. I had good experiences with TinkerCAD being super accessible for ultra-beginners and was glad I had the legacy account when they went paid. And then this happened, alas.

    I’ve followed 3DTin for a while and like where it’s at these days, though I think it’s still got more of a learning curve than TinkerCAD. If anybody out there has experience or suggestions for modeling with kids (ages… 8+ or so) either in 3DTin or other utilities, I’d love to hear!

  18. rojer says:

    I too was a legacy user of TInkercad, and had about 111 files that I had to download until I find something workable with my Mac. Although not free or open source, I have been trying my hand with Cheetah3D ($99) and the trial version of Bonzai3D ($500) – much cheaper than FormZ, but also from Autodessys. Both have a higher learning curve than Tinkercad, 3DTin, but far easier than blender or openscad. Bonzai3D has a good number of videos and tutorials from the company and they are well done too. Cheetah3D has books, written in Japanese and several videos on YouTube. I played a bit with DAZ3D and Hexagon2 but to no avail. They are supposed to have a path to save or create STL files, but they are both beyond my ability to self-learn. Tinkercad really did leave quite a void.

  19. GjS says:

    Anyone work with Creo Direct Express? I have done a little in an earlier (CoCreate) version. You do have to register to install it.

  20. Bill says:

    Tinkercad has found a new home at Autodesk

    http://blog.tinkercad.com/2013/05/18/autodesk_tinkercad/

    “The shutdown plan has been rolled back and effective immediately new users are again able to sign up for the site. Even better, at the request of Autodesk, we have supercharged the free plan. You can now create unlimited designs, all import and export functionality is enabled and ShapeScripts are turned on for free accounts. We have automatically upgraded all existing free accounts to this new powerful plan. This account will be offered for a limited time only so make sure you sign up as soon as possible.”

  21. Edu says:

    Hello, I need a software design in 3D, but that also allows to see levels or dimensions me in 2D of any type (not only of the dimensions of the objects) later to be able to work in the reality.
    I am trying it in Inventor Fusion and to see the levels of spaces (not of objects) is difficult, besides other disadvantages. That alternative there?

  22. Alishba Zia says:

    I was just about to get into TinkerCAD but now I’m a bit gun-shy using free application application. I do not want to get time and energy into application only to have it stop growth.
    http://www.lynairlogistics.com.au/services/3pl-warehousing‎

    1. Rebecca says:

      According to Autodesk, they plan to support it for the long haul now. I spoke with some Autodesk folks at our recent Mini Maker Faire and they mentioned that they’d had a team working on something similar, but when TinkerCAD became available for purchase it was in better shape and more robust than their project, so they decided to adopt it and make it their own. It sounds pretty solid that they’ll keep it going. Fingers crossed….

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