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Top 3D Services: Part 1

3D Printing & Imaging CAD Technology
Top 3D Services: Part 1

3D Thursday is a feature about CNC Machining, 3D Printing, 3D Scanning, and 3D design that appears in MAKE every Thursday.

Like Tinkercad, 3DTin is completely browser-based. There's a large number of pre-built shapes that you can edit and drop right in. Try it here.

Let’s be honest, 3D CAD (computer aided design) is challenging to learn. Training your brain to manipulate and visualize parts in three dimensions is a learned skill. So where do you start? Thankfully, there’s a multitude of free tools available for everyone to try their hand at 3D design. And many of them don’t even require a download anymore. A simple web app will get you pretty far.

I’ve compiled the best resources I know of for dealing with 3D parts and I will list them here in two parts. This week I’m going to focus on 3D part creation and slicing, the two first steps in printing out a part on a 3D printer. Everything listed in the slideshow below is free to use (at least to a certain extent).


Keep your eye out for part 2, which will cover controlling 3D printers from computers or over wifi as well as more “advanced” options like 3D scanning.

Did I miss your favorite CAD or slicing software? Let me know with a comment below.

34 thoughts on “Top 3D Services: Part 1

  1. Aurock says:

    Again with the slideshow format? :(

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      Thanks, added!

  2. James says:

    I can’t even see that a slideshow is available to look at. I literally just thought this was an article extolling the virtues of tinkercad and nothing else. Chrome on MacOS.

    Really dudes, blogs are not exactly a new technology. I’m pretty sure you guys can figure out how to post content.

    Is the issue that you’re all trying to use morse keyers attached to Arduinos to try and write articles?

    Is it that you simply yearn for the bygone days of yester-year when we had to dial up to our local TXT files site and then uudecode things in order to read them?

    Maybe we all have a solid hankering for those days of proprietary document formats that nobody could ever read?

    I recognize that recreating antiquated user experiences is really hip right now, ever since the goths discovered the color “brown.” But seriously? a slideshow?

  3. jstults says:

    I like BRLCAD, it’s Free Software, scriptable (not as easily as OpenSCAD), and mature (read / convert / write lots of formats). FreeCAD is good, but unfortunately the license for the OpenCASCADE libraries is encumbered enough that Fedora will not include it.

    Makers and hackers should own their tools! SaaS crippled-CAD-in-the-browser and apps that only work in proprietary walled-gardens exploit the community more than they contribute to its flourishing.

    The slideshow: I kept looking for a link to the rest of the article, and didn’t know there even was a slide show until I got to the comments. If the blog post is really just a ‘list of 10 things’ kind of post, then just list/link the 10 things! Better yet, write a whole paragraph to go along with a picture for each of the things (that sounds almost like an article worth reading).

  4. gazpix says:

    Yup – no visible slideshow link on iPad in Newsify.

    1. gazpix says:

      Oh… Spotted the ‘view all’ link. That’s better.

  5. David Smith says:

    It would be great to get a review of each of these pieces of software rather than just a list. “Check it out here” is a good start, but a little information would be helpful: pros and cons, best for…, etc.

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      Thanks for the feedback, David. I’d like to do a more in-depth review of each, but the slideshow captions don’t offer much room to expand. Maybe I’ll dive into a few of these in the near future.

  6. macegr says:

    There’s no slideshow visible on Firefox, on OSX. If that’s not one of the bare minimum browser configurations to test and support, I don’t know what is.

    1. macegr says:

      Nevermind, it’s there…but really hard to tell the slideshow from just a screenshot until mousing over the alpha-transparent arrows. Not a fan.

  7. maldar says:

    I like to use Sketchup for 3d printing.
    I do it in this way:

    1.Import the STL from Thinginverse with plugin [url][url]
    2.Always when importing STL in Sketchup,the model is messed up so I fix it with SuSolid plugin
    3.When the model is solid,I export it again with [url][url]
    4.Print from Pronterface program [url][url]

  8. Steve DiBartolomeo says:

    I am working on a slicing program for lithography (using IC manufacturing techniques for very small objects) and I sometimes get STL files that are very large. Is there any tool you know of that can be used to view such large files. I do have SolidWorks but as soon as the file gets complex it only provides a “graphics” view and does not allow me to suss out any problems with the STL – and I see a lot of problems with numerical precision, overlapping triangles and such.

  9. Maker says:

    Autodesk, no capital D.
    And Inventor Fusion is PC & Mac.

    1. Eric Weinhoffer says:

      Thanks Maker! I removed the capital D, but can’t find information on Inventor Fusion for PC anywhere…can you link me?

  10. clide says:

    It’s not free, but for anyone looking for a (relatively) affordable 3d CAD program that has most of the capabilities of the professional ones like Solidworks you should check out ‘Alibre’.

    Except for individual quirks in each program Solidworks, Inventor, ProE, and Alibre all have pretty much the same type of modeling methodologies, so if you take the time to learn one of those it’s not too hard to jump into the others. This is something I haven’t been able to find in the free programs yet. Although it’s been a while since I tried FreeCAD and it looks like it is getting there, maybe time to give it another shot.

  11. poodull says:

    Yea, I second the vote for an actual review of each. At least a pro/con like:

    Sketchup cons:
    Free version can’t export STL without plugin. plugin doesn’t export perfect stl.
    Can’t do non rectilinear work as easily as one would expect/hope.

    FreeCAD cons:
    Metric only.
    Somewhat buggy.
    Weird Middle-click+left-click for rotate?

    123D cons:
    minimalist design is strikingly intuitive, but limited.
    crashes randomly and without warning/explanation.

    You haven’t mentioned truespace (discontinued, thx msft) or blender. Both are free. But I would understand omitting them because of how complex they are. –at least they’re not feature limited on purpose.

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Eric is a Mechanical Engineer with interests in machining, mass manufacturing, product design and kinetic art. While not building things, he enjoys skiing, cycling, and juggling.

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