In a previous blog I reviewed various CAD programs. If you are ready to start 3D modeling, but do not want to invest in a commercial CAD program, TinkerCAD is a good beginners program for you. As a CAD program, TinkerCAD’s strength is in its simplicity. It does lack some of the tools you need for advanced modeling (chamfers, rounds and fitting), but there are workarounds that I’ll provide the .stl files to.
I’ve used TinkerCAD in a basic computer class, and my students were making cookie cutters in a couple days.
When you first sign into TinkerCAD, they have an excellent tutorial that walks you through the basic controls. The tutorials take about 5-10 minutes to do, so it is worth your time to pay attention and really get some practice with them.
TinkerCAD works in terms of shapes and holes. You make more complex shapes by combining other geometric shapes, and make gaps and holes with the negative hole version of the shape.
To simplify the programming, all the shapes are controlled on the x, y, and z axis. They do not adjust together, so you have adjust each axis individually. This can make your shapes distorted if you do not pay attention.
When you start a project, drop the ruler tool into the
workplane. This will give you control over the dimensions of the shape.
You can also control the size of the workplane grid. While 1 mm grid is good for many task, you might have to drop it down to 0.5 mm grid for fine control.
Shift + Left Click will pan the workspace around.
Right Click will rotate the screen.
You can also use the on-screen controls to pan around.
You can drag and drop basic shapes from the Geometric menu. Like pictures, you can grab the white corner handles to adjust the size of the shape.
If you put down the ruler tool, you can type the dimensions you want on each axis.
When you work with cylinder, spheres, or anything round, watch your dimensions. TinkerCAD does not adjust the x & y axis equally by default. This will give you a lot of ovals if you’re not careful.
If you want to cut a shape out or make a hole through your shapes, click on the hole selection in inspector. It will give you the option to turn any shape into the negative hole.
If you want to make sure your shapes are centered or on the edge, select both shapes (Click drag, or Shift + Click) to highlight them. Then use the Adjust tool, select the align option. Then click on the center dots on each axis to align them as you want.
If you have a asymmetric shape, the Align tool may not be much use. It works only with the center of the cubic perimeter of the shape.
When everything is lined up the way you want, select everything and click on the group icon.
This will group all shapes together, and put all the holes you made in place. This is the part of drafting where you find out where you need to do a lot of revisions. TinkerCAD does not check tolerance or fit, so you have to build that into your designs from the start.
Save / Exporting
A strength of TinkerCAD is cloud – based storage, which saves your computer drive from your bad designs. TinkerCAD does a great job of exporting files for 3D printing.
Exporting files for 3D printing is easy in TinkerCAD. TinkerCAD will export files in .stl, or .obj format for single color 3D prints. For multicolor prints you can export in .x3d or .vrml. Desktop laser cutters can export in .svg. For anyone who plays Minecraft, you can export your designs into your server.
TinkerCAD is unique in that it can also link your files directly to 3D printing services. TinkerCAD can quickly export your files to 3DHubs, i.materialise, Ponoko, Sculpteo, and Shapeways. With this access, you can 3D print your designs in plastic, ceramics, or metals. You can also directly upload your designs to Thingiverse.
Rounding and Chamfer
One weakness of TinkerCAD is that there is no direct way to apply a round or chamfer to an edge. While you can search Shape Generator for user-contributed scripts, it may be easier to make your own, or import it from a set I’ll include here. I found it easier to make your own round and chamfer blocks to round an edge.
If you want a file to tinker with, you can click here for the tutorial file pictured in this blog.