3D Modeling Applications

3D Modeling Applications

Well, the time has come… For years I ignored the third dimension, working only in 2D. Even then, I typically favored raster graphics in Photoshop over vector graphics in the likes of Illustrator. Of course the Egg-Bot brought with it the need to dig into Inkscape, and I’ve done well enough there, finding it useful enough for my vector-based tasks… but now comes…. 3D!!!

Now that I’ve got access to a MakerBot, I have this need to deal with 3D modeling software, starting out with converting formats, and eventually designing things on my own, and actually output STL files. So begins my journey, and a look at some of my options:

I mentioned in my last MakerBot post, and while it’s a great way to get started and have something usable in less than 10 minutes, I don’t know that it will be a serious tool for what I’d like to do. It seems to have no concept of converting formats. It’s still a great (although limited) tool, for what it is…

Google Sketchup
Our pals at Google have Sketchup (the free version) which seems pretty darn popular, and thanks to a few awesome plugins, I’ve been able to import and export STL files. (I haven’t tested the printing of any yet, but that will happen soon.) Sketchup confuses me. I should probably spend some time with a tutorial and figure it out. Is the free version limited? I know that they took out the ability to export DXF files in the latest version, and to get that back you’re expected to buy the pro version for $495. Yikes!

I must say, that without a doubt, Blender is one of the most confusing pieces of software I’ve ever used, and I’ve used Windows… at a large corporation even! I know Blender is powerful, and in the hands of @knellotron or another skilled operator, great things can be done. But even just trying to import and export a file was too difficult. The “File” menu kept disappearing!

From the folks at Autodesk comes 123D. Windows only. I won’t even look at it unless they create a Mac OS X version.

Well, there’s always OpenSCAD, the “Programmers Solid 3D CAD Modeller.” But it’s all codey and programmey, and not visual, which may be cool for some things, but it’s probably not the best to start out with…

I even went so far as to fire up Processing and write code to output STL files via the unlekkerLib library, which is outdated anyway and I should be looking at the ModelBuilder library. Argh…..

So that leaves me with a “???” which should be obvious is a question to you: What do I do?

8 replies on “3D Modeling Applications”

I say suck it up and learn Blender. I came from a 3d studio max background, and it was difficult to adjust, it did take some time, but after the initial steep learning curve I feel pretty comfortable with it nowadays. Yeah, with every other application you will get the instant gratification of seeing rendered 3d faster, but when it comes time to do a more complex operation you’re going to hit a brick wall. That’s my $0.02.

I have an old license of AutoCAD 2001, which does have a rudimentary but usable set of 3D solid modeling tools. Enough for Makerbot/RepRap stuff anyway. You can’t even find a used copy these days, though; and even versions 2007 on up are expensive unless you’re a student. Mainly, I need the combination of pointer and CLI based design (part of the reason I like Eagle).

However, a lot of the stuff I have designed for 3D printing benefits from parametric generation, and I was an old hand at POV-Ray, so OpenSCAD has been very useful. I like to put objects in the exact numeric location I need them…not making art objects, but useful things like brackets and mechanical parts.

One feature of OpenSCAD you can’t afford to forget: it can import and extrude and transform a 2D DXF outline. For the parts that would be difficult to model out of primitive shapes in OpenSCAD, that’s a valuable shortcut.

Cheetah3D may be worth looking into. It is commercial, but if the ease-of-use is such that it’s the best candidate, that may be a compromise I’m willing to make.

Comments are closed.