Learn the basics of how to design and edit 3D files using free online tools: Tinkercad and Meshmixer.Read the complete slide transcript
Hello and welcome to Vaughan Public Libraries’ online 3D Design course. Today we will be showing you how you can use free online resources to design and edit your own 3D files which you can later print using one of VPL’s 3D printers. Now let’s get started.
Today, we will show you the basics of designing a unique item in TinkerCAD and editing a 3D file in Meshmixer and will be shown free online resources for further training.
TinkerCAD is an online computer-aided design software created by a company known as Autodesk, who creates all sorts of professional grade design tools for all sectors of media and production. TinkerCAD is their educational tool aimed at introducing computer aided design software to people of all ages and skill levels and can be used to create 3D objects and electrical circuits. Since TinkerCAD is web-based, you can use just about any device to access it, such as: a windows PC or laptop, a mac, a tablet, or even your phone. Though do be aware that the touch-based controls are still early in development and can be more difficult to use than the traditional keyboard and mouse.
At its core, TinkerCAD uses an interface that works like many paint and art software that many will be familiar with. This allows users to place and interact with objects selected from a palette of pre-designed 3D shapes to create something new. Once the object is placed onto the workspace, users will be able to move and adjust the sizes of the objects to create whatever they can imagine. Once the 3D designs are complete, they can be viewed in either the standard 3D form, as a Lego design or as a Minecraft map. They can then convert these 3D objects into Lego or Minecraft shapes or export the 3D objects as a 3D-printable file known as an STL.
All users of TinkerCAD must create an account with an active email address. It is important to be aware that there are 2 types of TinkerCAD Accounts, a children’s account and a parent/adult account. If the user signing up for an account is under 18, they will be signing up for a children’s account. This account requires the approval of an account held by an adult over 18 before it can be used and this approval process can take a few days. There is a way to fast track this, however, it requires the payment of a small fee.
In this section, we will go over the interface of TinkerCAD and give you a good idea of how to navigate the workspace and how to access your work.
This is the main dashboard you will be welcomed with once you sign into your TinkerCAD account. This will list all of the projects you have worked on previously and will give you access to the various blogs and webpages that you can reference to help you along your 3D design journey.
Let’s break the main dashboard page into 4 different sections. Section 1, the page navigation bar, has several tabs for you to click on to navigate to other sections of the TinkerCAD website. If you click on the TinkerCAD logo on the top left, it will always return you to this dashboard webpage, so it will serve as the home button. The Gallery button will take you to a large collection of recently created 3D objects from other TinkerCAD users. Learn will take you to a page with several different tutorials and the Teach button goes over several features that TinkerCAD offers educators such as teachers, parents, and librarians, on how to share the wonder of designing in 3D.
Section 2, the User Profile, has 2 access points. The user profile button on the top right-hand corner of the screen will take you to an area where you can switch over to another user’s account, log out of the current account or make changes to the account itself.
Section 3 is the Projects tab. Here you can organize your designs into different projects so you can keep multiple designs grouped together.
Section 4, the Recent Designs area, is where you will see a list of the most recent designs created in TinkerCAD. These will be listed from the most recent to the oldest. You will also see the Create New Design button in this area which is where you will click to begin a new file. Once you click on a file to continue working on, or have selected the Create New Design button, TinkerCAD will load up the workspace for you to use.
This is the TinkerCAD workspace and where you will use a set of pre-rendered shapes to create your 3D designs. To better organize and break down the work area, let’s split the screen into 5 different areas and explain what each of the icons do.
Section 1. At the very top of the screen we have the Upper Tool Bar which holds the tools to save your work, rename your file, log out of your account, and return to the main menu.
Below that is the Lower Tool Bar, Section 2. This contains the editing tools such as: copy, paste, duplicate, as well as the alignment tools and the options to import files and export your work to share it with others. The View tools are located on the left-hand side of the screen, Section 3. Here are tools that will help you get a 360-degree view of your work as well as zoom in and out.
On the right-hand side of the screen is the Palette, Section 4. Here is where you’ll find the shapes and objects you’ll be manipulating on the workplane to create your projects.
The last piece is the main work area itself, known as the workplane. Only objects placed on the blue grid are considered part of the project. If you export your project with 3D objects that are not on the blue grid, or attached to it in some way, they will not be exported.
In this next section we will go over how to place and manipulate objects on your workplane in order to create several different shapes. We will also demonstrate a few exercises to better explore these concepts and show how the tools and techniques work.
Placing objects onto the workplane is as simple as dragging and dropping. From your palette on the right, click on a pre-constructed shape and drag it onto the workplane. In this palette, there are two main categories of objects: solids and holes. Solids indicate an object that will be filled with material when printed and a hole signifies the absence of material. To make the cube hollow, let’s drag the hole (cylinder) into the cube.
When designing objects in 3D it is very important to be able to view your creation from different angles. Sometimes when an object looks perfect from one angle, it can be drastically off on another. There are two main ways of changing your view of the workplane and your project. The first is by using the view cube in the top left-hand corner. If you click on each side: front, back, left, right, top or bottom, it’ll take you to that view of your item. The second method of controlling your view is with the right click. Simply right-click on the workplane and drag your cursor around you can get full control of your view.
You can zoom in and out of your project using the + and – sings on the left-hand side in the toolbar. If your mouse has a scroll-wheel, you can zoom in and out of your project using that as well. You should make regular use of these tools to make sure that everything is properly attached. By zooming in, we can see that there’s a bit of space between the 2 objects.
Rotating your objects works pretty easily once you get the hang of it. After selecting the object by clicking on it, you will notice several white and black boxes appear in and around the object. You will also see several arrows. These arrows allow us to rotate objects along the X, Y, and Z axis. You can do this by clicking on one of these arrows and dragging your mouse up and down. Don’t forget about your un-do button at the top toolbar. You can also click on one of the arrows and enter a numerical value.
You can also stretch and adjust the size of the object, making it wider, thinner, taller, or thicker for whatever your project requires. Just like before when we were rotating an object, you need to select the object you want to change. Again you’ll see the white and black boxes appear. By clicking and dragging one of the white boxes you will change the length and width of the item. You can affect the length or width separately by using the black boxes. There is a special white box located on top of the object that connects to the bottom of your object with a thin dotted line. This white box is the tool we will use to adjust how tall or short we want the object to be. If you need to be very precise with the size of your object, select one of the boxes and type it in manually. By default, TinkerCAD measures size in millimeters.
Grouping refers to combining multiple objects together to create one object. This means that any change you make to one object, will affect the other. For example, moving it on the workplan or changing the size or rotation. This will save you a lot of time in the design process. To group your objects, place them in the desired position, highlight them and then click on the Group icon in the top right. Now, these 2 shapes have become one shape and appear in one, solid colour. If you change your mind, highlight and click on the Ungroup icon.
TinkerCAD is an online software tool that uses storage known as the “cloud” and every time we make a change to our file, those changes are saved and sent to the “cloud” for storage. No need to click on save with each edit you make. Being saved in the cloud does not mean it’s ready for a 3D printer, though. To export your TinkerCAD design for 3D printing, select the Export option on the toolbar, and you’ll be presented with a few options. You can either select to print everything in the design, which means everything that’s sitting on the workplane, or just a single selected shape. For the file type, if you’re printing at VPL, always click on .STL. That is the file format we print with. Now your file is ready for slicer software.
Meshmixer is a free web-based software that works best for editing and manipulating already created 3D designs. We recommend using this software to edit 3D scans that you take using one of VPL’s 3D scanners.
This is the Meshmixer interface. The tools are on the left-hand toolbar and the workplane is where you will edit your design. That will appear in the centre once we have something to work on. The tools we are going to focus on today are the Edit, Sculpt and Export tools. But first, we have to import an item. After you open Meshmixer, click on Import and select your desired item. Now, raw 3D scans don’t look very good. But don’t worry, a few basic edits will have it looking printer-ready. You’ll notice that it’s sitting below the workplane. One of the first we have to do is bring it above the workplane and that’s why we’ll use our Transform tool. Click on Edit and then Transform and you’ll notice a series of arrows and a circle. Click on the green arrow and drag it above the workplane. To rotate it, we’re going to click on this red, curved line. Click and drag until it’s reached our desired position. Once it’s set, click on Accept. Just as an example, let’s click on the other arrows to see how it sits on the workplane.
The next tool we are going to use within the Edit toolbar is the plane cut. This will be a great tool to use to split 3D files into multiple parts if you need to do so for printing. For example, if your item is too large for one single print job. What we’ll use it for here is to give the bottom of the scan a fresh, even and straight cut. So, let’s click on Edit and then Plane Cut. Here’s you get to decided exactly where to cut your item by moving the blue arrow up or down. Here’s where you’ll decide exactly where to cut your item by moving the blue arrow up or down, which moves the grid. Whatever is below the grid will be removed from the design. Once it reaches the desired position, click Accept. You can make a plane cut on any axis and on any angle you wish. As an example, let’s try to cut this scan down the middle. Again, click on Edit, Plane Cut, and click on the red, curved line to change the rotation. We’ll change the rotation to about 90 degrees and click Accept. This doesn’t make sense for the purpose of our design, so I’m going to click on Actions and on Undo.
A very useful tool when editing a 3D scan is the Make Solid tool. Because 3D scans rarely come out perfectly, any gaps that the scanner didn’t pick up can be later filled in. Let me zoom into the design so you can see what I mean by a gap. To fix this, I am going to click on Edit, and then Make Solid. If your design has a lot of holes and gaps, this may take a couple minutes, but this design is pretty good. Now, you’ll notice that this hole has been filled in, so I’ll click on Accept.
Next, let’s talk about sculpting brushes. Meshmixer has a variety of brush tools that can really help you customize your item. I find it very helpful when editing 3D scans, particularly for the hair, because hair is always difficult for 3D scanners to pick up. Click on Sculpt, and then click on Brushes and you’ll see a wide range of brushed that pinch, shrink, flatten or drag out the file. I am going to select the Drag brush to correct the hair. You’ll also notice that you can select the size and strength of your brush for greater detail.
There is so much more that you can do on Meshmixer, but I’m pretty happy with how this scan turned out, so I’m going to print it. To prepare it properly for a 3D printer, click on Export. Make sure you select the proper format for Vaughan Public Libraries: .STL. That way, our printer’s software can read it.
We recommend using these free resources for further learning. TinkerCAD offers great, in-depth tutorials, because we only covered the basics today. They also have a Help Centre to help you with your unique issues. If you’d like to get better at using Meshmixer and editing your designs, Lynda.com, which is available for free from the library’s website, offers a Meshmixer Essential Training that covers every function. You can also use VPL’s 3D Certification course for further learning.
Thank you for taking VPL’s 3D Design course. We hope to see you printing at one of our branches soon.