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This Instructable is for Workshop Users at Pier 9.

A question that many people ask is: which Autodesk software should I start with?

If you are a Student, Designer, Engineer or Artist in Resident at Pier 9, Autodesk has an impressive portfolio of 3D design programs to choose from.

These programs are built for different design needs, industries and workflows.

This Instructable quickly introduces and outlines Autodesk's Free and Professional 3D design tools. Hopefully, this will help you decide which program's tools will best help translate your idea into a 3D design.

This Instructable's Contents

  • Overview of 3D Modeling
  • Autodesk's Free Software Overview
  • Autodesk's Professional Level Software Overview
  • Autodesk's CAM Software Overview
  • Autodesk Software Overview
  • Conclusion
  • 3D Modeling Terminology

Step 1: Introduction to Modeling

Modeling Styles:

There are many different types of 3D Modeling. The one you choose depends on what you want to model and what you want to do with that model.

  • Primitive Modeling: allows you to transform, stack and combine different primitive shapes to create your model. This is a very basic form of modeling used in TinkerCAD, 123D Design and many other programs.
  • Solid Modeling: uses volumes to represent a 3D object and has properties such as mass, center of gravity, and moment of inertia. This modeling technique is useful for mechanical designs that have defined dimensions. Dimensions or parameters can be updated continually because all distances and angles are defined within a model. This type of modeling almost always results in a very clean and watertight model, but can be difficult to use for creating organic textures on a model.
  • Mesh Editing: consists of vertices, edges, and faces that use polygonal representation (including triangles and quads) to define a 3D shape. In a Mesh Editing Program, you are able to select the surface and push and pull it to manipulate the shape. This type of modeling allows you to sculpt more organic shapes. Usually, mesh editors do not store parametric information, giving you the freedom to move the mesh without limitation. However, this free form modeling is not ideal for mechanical designs and it can result in broken meshes that are hard to 3D print. As long as you are careful with your mesh, you can create some beautiful models and add detailed organic textures to your design.
  • Polygon Modeling: is used by Maya and 3ds Max. These models are made up of a number of polygon surfaces that you can manipulate using different tools, effects or modifiers. You can pull and expand polygons into your desired shape. This modeling style will allow you to create dynamic models but like mesh editing, they do not use parametrics and can result in some messy models if you are not careful.
  • Surface Modeling: creates a thin shell that does not have mass or volume. This is great for creating very organic forms because surface modeling is not limited by an enclosed 3D form.
  • Generative Modeling : Uses programming to generate a 3D Model. This will often be used with Mesh Modeling and has the power to create complex 3D Models.
  • 3D Scanning: There are a number of different techniques you can use to capture a 3D Model of a real world object. A common technique is photo-geometry which uses a program to generate a 3D mesh from a number of different pictures. Other programs use a laser scanner to generate a model.
  • Modeling Workflows: refers to the series of programs that might be used in the creation of a single model or project. To create a desired effect or model, you will need to utilize multiple programs, modeling styles and/or plugins.

Learn More at : Autocad Introduction to Mesh vs. solid,

Step 2: File Types and Terminology

File Types

There are many different file types. Knowing which file format to save can be confusing and hopefully this will help.

General Files

These file types are some of the most commonly used 3D Model types.

You will often export one of these file types to move between programs.


.STL - Mesh file type. Common use: 3D Printing.

.OBJ - Mesh File Type- can have color associated with it. Common use: 3D Printing.

.PLY - Mesh File Type- can have color associated with it. Common use: 3D scanning data/models.

.STEP/.STP or .IGES- Universal Solid Modeling Format.

.DXF - AutoCAD's original file type, universal 2D drafting/vector files type.

.DWG - AutoCAD File type, can be used to hold 2D and 3D Files.

Autodesk Software Specific Files

Most software programs have a propriatary file type. When you save this file type, you store all the settings you have saved in that program, making it easy to open up the file and continue to edit your part in that program.


.IPT - Autodesk Inventor Single Part File.

.IAM - Autodesk Inventor File for Assemblies (Multiple parts).

.MIX - A mesh File for saving Meshmixer files.

Step 3: Free Programs: Tinkercad

Free Programs

These programs are available free to download. Most are great for beginners and many have very sophisticated abilities that you will come back to use as a skilled designer.


Tinkered

Cost: Free.

Difficulty: Beginner, very basic modeling.

Intended Audience: Complete Beginners, Young Students.

Modeling Type: Primitive Modeling.

Website: TinkerCAD

How To: Keyboard Shortcuts, Basic Walkthrough

About: TinkerCAD is one of the most beginner-friendly modeling programs out there. You are given a wide array of basic primitive shapes that you can place in the modeling environment and scale. You can select two objects, group them or use one to make a hole through the other and easily play around.

Step 4: Free Programs: MeshMixer

Free Programs

These programs are available free to download. Most are great for beginners and many have very sophisticated abilities that you will come back to use as a skilled designer.

MeshMixer:

Cost: Free.

Difficulty: Beginner - Intermediate

Intended Audience: 3D Mesh designers, 3D Printing.

Modeling Type: Mesh Editing

Website: Meshmixer

How To: Meshmixer Walk-through, Meshmixer BlogTutorial Links and Keyboard Shortcuts

About: Mesh Mixer is a powerful Mesh Editing Program. You can import 3D Mesh Models, edit them and combine them. There are lots of different tools you can use to transform your mesh. There is also a powerful mesh inspector and healer to prepare you models for 3D Printing.

Step 5: Free Programs: 123D Design

Free programs

These programs are available free to download. Most are great for beginners and many have very sophisticated abilities that you will come back to use as a skilled designer.


123D Design:

Cost: Free.

Difficulty: Beginner

Intended Audience: Beginner Designers.

Modeling Type: Direct Shape Modeling.

Website: Design

How To:Quick Start Guide

About: 123D Design is the next step up from TinkerCAD. You are able to start with primitives or Sketch shapes out and extrude them into 3D Shapes. There are a number of other tools that you will use in more advanced programs like Fillet, Chamfer, Sweep, Revolve, Split, Pattern, Group, Combine and more. You can also Import Vectors from a program like Illustrator and extrude geometry from them.

Step 6: Free Programs : Fusion 360

Free Programs

These programs are available free to download. Most are great for beginners and many have very sophisticated abilities that you will come back to use as a skilled designer.

Fusion 360 :

Cost : Free for Enthusiasts, as long as you are not selling your creations, you can use for free.

Difficulty : Intermediate - Expert

Intended Audience : Product Developers.

Modeling Type : Solid Modeling and T-splines

Website : Fusion360

How To : Learning Center : MyIGetIt Education Center

About : Fusion360 is a 3D modeling program that combines Solid Modeling for very precise mechanical parts, with free form modeling using T-splines, which allow you to quickly prototype organic shapes. Fusion360 also has CAM360 built into it, which allows you to create custom CNC toolpaths. It also comes with basic animation and render tools.

Step 7: Free Programs : 123D Catch

Free Programs

These programs are available free to download. Most are great for beginners and many have very sophisticated abilities that you will come back to use as a skilled designer.

123D Catch :

Cost : Free

Difficulty : Beginner - Intermediate

Intended Audience : Schools, Hobbyists and Professionals

Modeling Type : 3D Scanning

Website : Catch

How To : Quick Start Guide and Video Tutorials

About : 123D Catch allows you to use any Camera (Including your smartphone) to take pictures of an object and then convert those pictures into a 3D model. It will export out a 3D Mesh that you can then edit in another program.

Step 8: Free Programs : 123D Make

Free Programs

These programs are available free to download. Most are great for beginners and many have very sophisticated abilities that you will come back to use as a skilled designer.

123D Make :

    Cost : Free

    Difficulty : Beginner

    Intended Audience : Hobbysits, Artists.

    Modeling Type : Slices Models for CNC.

    Website : Make

    How To : Instructional Videos

    About : Make allows you to upload your 3D Models, input a material thickness/dimensions, and create slices of your model for laser cutting or other CNC. There are a number of different methods to slice the model and you can tell it to include dowels for support. It will export Vector files that you can upload and send off to your CNC machine.

Step 9: Free Programs : 123D Circuits

Free Programs

These programs are available free to download. Most are great for beginners and many have very sophisticated abilities that you will come back to use as a skilled designer.

123D Circuits:

Cost : Free

Difficulty : Beginner - Advanced

Intended Audience : Hobbysits, Professionals

Type : Circuit Design

Website : 123D Circuits

How To : Instructable Links

About : 123D Circuits lets you create and visualize your electronic experiments. Create digital breadboards, circuits, drag and drop components and discover if it works! You can even design circuit boards and have them made.

Step 10: Free Programs : Dynamo

Free Programs

These programs are available free to download. Most are great for beginners and many have very sophisticated abilities that you will come back to use as a skilled designer.

Dynamo :

Cost : Free

Difficulty : Expert

Intended Audience : Design Nerds

Modeling Type : Node based Programming

Website : Dynamo

How To : Video Tutorials

About : Dynamo is a node based programming system that works as a stand alone app or as a plugin for Revit / Vasari. Dynamo allows you to perform a complex set of actions by stringing together different nodes. It is open source and has a growing community and development team before it.

Step 11: Professional Program : Inventor

Professional Programs

These Professional Programs are powerhouse tools which are designed for professional 3D Designers in different Industries. They take more effort to learn but can acomplish a lot!

Inventor :

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Intermediate - Expert

Intended Audience : Mechanical Design, Engineer, Fabrication.

Modeling Type : Solid Modeling, Assemblies and T-splines

Website : Inventor

How To : Official Learning Center : I get It Education Center

About : Autodesk Inventor is a stable, fully parametric, Solid Modeling Program. This is useful for designing precise mechanical parts with dimensions you can update as you go. A typical design workflow is to sketch out 2D geometry and extrude it to create a part. You can then combine a number of different parts in an assembly. There is also a large part library that you can use to design your assembly and then export a part list. Inventor HSM is a add on that can be used to create tool paths for CNC machines.

Step 12: Professional Programs : Maya

Professional Programs

These Professional Programs are powerhouse tools which are designed for professional 3D Designers in different Industries. They take more effort to learn but can acomplish a lot!

Autodesk Maya

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Intermediate - Expert

Intended Audience : Animators and 3D Modelers.

Modeling Type : Polygon Modeling and Animation

Website : Maya

How To : Official Learning Center

About : Maya is a complex modeling program and an industry standard in character modeling and Animation. It uses Polygon Modeling and a number of effects to build the model. You can then add animation joints and fully animate a scene. There are a tons of plugins and the ability to model via code.

Step 13: Professional Programs : 3Ds Max

Professional Programs

These Professional Programs are powerhouse tools which are designed for professional 3D Designers in different Industries. They take more effort to learn but can acomplish a lot!

Autodesk 3Ds Max

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Intermediate - Expert

Intended Audience : Animators and 3D Modelers.

Modeling Type : Polygon Modeling and Animation

Website : 3Ds Max

How To : Official Learning Center : I Get It Education Center

About : Like Maya, 3Ds Max is a Polygon Modeling program used in Animation, Games and Architecture. It has you start with a primitive and edit the polygons that make up it’s surface into something else. There are ton’s of modifiers to apply and stack some cool effects to your model design. It is also used to Render Scenes.

Step 14: Professional Programs : Mudbox

Professional Programs

These Professional Programs are powerhouse tools which are designed for professional 3D Designers in different Industries. They take more effort to learn but can acomplish a lot!

Autodesk Mudbox

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Beginner - Intermediate

Intended Audience : Texture Modelers, Character or Sculpture Modelers

Modeling Type : Mesh Editing

Website : Mudbox

How To : Learn and Explore

About : Mudbox lets you import a mesh model and apply some powerful texture editing tools. You can quickly increase the number of triangles in your mesh by increasing the resolution of your model. You can then import bitmap pictures of fur, Water or other textures and paint them into your mesh. You can also apply color to a model by importing a picture and applying it to a section of the model. It is useful to model in another software and then do detail work in Mudbox.

Step 15: Professional Rendering Program : Showcase

Professional Programs

These Professional Programs are powerhouse tools which are designed for professional 3D Designers in different Industries. They take more effort to learn but can acomplish a lot!

Autodesk Showcase

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Beginner - Intermediate

Intended Audience : Anyone who want's to Render a 3D Model.

Modeling Type : Rendering

Website : Showcase

How To : Learn and Explore : I Get It Education Center

About : Showcase let’s you import your 3D Model and Render it. You can add in different backgrounds and apply different visual materials.

Step 16: CAM Programs : Inventor HSM

Programs : CAM Packages

CAM (Computer Aided Machining) programs are used to create tool paths that a CNC machine will follow to mill, turn or sculpt your 3D Model.

Inventor HSM : Inventor

Cost : Free for 2.5 milling and drilling, Professional Costs for 2.5D- 5 Axis Milling.

Difficulty : Intermediate - Expert

Intended Audience : CNC

Website : Autodesk CAM

How To : Official Learning Center, How to CNC Instructable

About : Inventor HSM is a CAM add on that is fully integrated inside Autodesk Inventor. After you design your part in Inventor, you can use Inventor HSM to create tool paths for any CNC machine.

Step 17: CAM Programs : CAM 360

Programs : CAM Packages

CAM (Computer Aided Machining) programs are used to create tool paths that a CNC machine will follow to mill, turn or sculpt your 3D Model.

CAM 360 : Fusion 360

Cost : Free for Enthusiast

Difficulty : Intermediate - Expert

Intended Audience : CNC

Website : CAM360

How To : Autodesk CAM Learning Center, How to CNC Instructable

About : CAM 360 is Autodesk's cloud based CAM solution. It runs in Fusion 360 and allows you to create CNC tool paths for Fusion 360 designs.

Step 18: CAM Programs : Feature CAM

Programs : CAM Packages

CAM (Computer Aided Machining) programs are used to create tool paths that a CNC machine will follow to mill, turn or sculpt your 3D Model.

Feature CAM

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Intermediate - Expert

Intended Audience : CNC

Website : Feature CAM

How To : Videos, How to CNC Instructable

About : Professional CAM software for milling machines, turning and turn/mill centers, and wire EDMs.

Step 19: CAM Programs : Art CAM

Programs : CAM Packages

CAM (Computer Aided Machining) programs are used to create tool paths that a CNC machine will follow to mill, turn or sculpt your 3D Model.

ART CAM

Cost : Hobbyist - Professional

Difficulty : Beginner - Intermediate

Intended Audience : CNC : Sign Makers, Woodworkers, Engravers and Jewellers

Website : Art CAM

How To : Videos and Tutorials, How to CNC Instructable

About : Art CAM allows you to bring in vectors or Images and turn them into 3D models. It is tailored towards artist who want to take their designs and create 2D or 3D tool paths for Manufacturing.

Step 20: Other Programs : AutoCAD

Programs : Other Autodesk Programs

Autodesk Offer's so many different programs for different Industries. Here are a few other highlights that have some powerful functionality for their targeted users.

AutoCAD

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Intermiediate - Expert

Intended Audience : Architects, Drafters, Engineers

Modeling Type : Drafting to Modeling

Website : AutoCAD

How To : Official Learning CenterI Get It Education Center

About : The original Drafting program. This program has been around for ages and has a ton of different versions and powerful functionality tailored to different industries. It can design in both 2D and 3D.

Step 21: Other Programs : Sketchbook Pro

Programs : Other Autodesk Programs

Autodesk Offer's so many different programs for different Industries. Here are a few other highlights that have some powerful functionality for their targeted users.

Sketchbook Pro

Cost : Low

Difficulty : Beginer - Expert

Intended Audience : Digital Artists

Design Type : Digital Painting

Website : Sketchbook Pro

How To : Troubleshooting and Tutorial Links : I Get It Education Center

About : Sketchbook Pro is an online drawing program. Download on your Tablet or Computer, and paint incredible works of art. Use the many tools that come with Sketchbook Pro or create your own brushes and pens, to bring your dreams to life.

Step 22: Other Programs : Revit

Programs : Other Autodesk Programs

Autodesk Offer's so many different programs for different Industries. Here are a few other highlights that have some powerful functionality for their targeted users.

Revit

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Intermediate - Expert

Intended Audience : Architects, Construction Managers.

Modeling Type : BIM

Website : Revit

How To : Official Learning Center : I Get It Education Center

About : Revit allows you to design structures with the components that make up a building. Although it has a basic modeling tool, you primarily create structures from a list of established components such as windows,doors, walls ect. You choose an object such as a door, edit it’s dimensions and place it into your model. Then, the construction team can look up where everything needs to go.

Step 23: Other Programs : InfraWorks

Programs : Other Autodesk Programs

Autodesk Offer's so many different programs for different Industries. Here are a few other highlights that have some powerful functionality for their targeted users.

InfraWorks

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Intermediate - Expert

Intended Audience : City Planners

Modeling Type : Data Driven Topography Modeling.

Website : InfraWorks

How To : Official Learning Center

About : InfraWorks allows you to quickly create Geographical models from Aerial image data. You can import an images and data sets and have the program create 3d Models of homes, water ways, roads, and other topographical data.

Step 24: Other Programs : Simulation

Programs : Other Autodesk Programs

Autodesk Offer's so many different programs for different Industries. Here are a few other highlights that have some powerful functionality for their targeted users.

Simulation

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Beginner - Expert

Intended Audience : Nerds

Modeling Type :

Website : Simulation

How To : Moldflow Learning : I Get It Education Center

About : There are a number of different Simulation tools that Autodesk offers to test your Designs. You can test liquid flows, Structural analysis, test out for week points and load distribution with these incredibly powerful tools.

Step 25: Other Programs : Recap

Programs : Other Autodesk Programs

Autodesk Offer's so many different programs for different Industries. Here are a few other highlights that have some powerful functionality for their targeted users.

Recap

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Beginner - Expert

Intended Audience : Schools, Architects, Construction sites, Archaeologists....

Modeling Type : 3D Scanning

Website : Recap

How To : Workflows

About : Powerful algorithms help capture and integrate 3D Scan data into impressive 3D models.

Step 26: Other Programs : Memento

Programs : Other Autodesk Programs

Autodesk Offer's so many different programs for different Industries. Here are a few other highlights that have some powerful functionality for their targeted users.

Memento

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Intermediate - Expert

Intended Audience : Schools, Architects, Construction sites, Archaeologists....

Modeling Type : 3D Scanning

Website : Memento

About : Takes 3D Scan data and photos and converts into Models. Memento works well with recap.

Step 27: Other Programs : Dreamcatcher and Within

Programs : Other Autodesk Programs

Autodesk Offer's so many different programs for different Industries. Here are a few other highlights that have some powerful functionality for their targeted users.

Dreamcatcher and Within

Cost : Professional

Difficulty : Expert

Intended Audience : Advanced Manufacturing, New Materials, Additive Manufacturing.

Modeling Type : Generative Modeling

Website : Dreamcatcher & Within

About : These advanced programs are being developed in Autodesk labs. They are using algorithms to grow latices and organic like structures to meet your structural needs, at a minimum use of materials.

Step 28: Wait, There Is More...

There are many more Software versions and programs not included in this Instructable. If you are interested in learning more I suggest you dive into the Autodesk Product Page here.

Students :

Autodesk offer's the majority of it's software free to students. I highly suggest taking advantage of this and explore the many free-to-student programs available.

Free software for Students

Model Away,

Gabriel

Step 29: Modeling Terminology

Modeling Terminology

  • Mesh Model : A 3D model whose surface is made up of Triangles, Quads or possibly another Polygon shape. A mesh model only a surface, so if you make a hole in the mesh, the interior will be an empty space. This if often used for Sculpting Design.
  • Solid Model : A solid model refers to a model that has volume. If you were to cut a hole in a solid model, the model would remain closed around the hole you created. The model remains sealed. This type of modeling is often used for precise mechanical design and may have parametric design abilities.
  • Parametric : Refers to defined dimensions of a shape. Usually, you will choose the Unit (Inches, MM) you wish the dimensions to be recorded in when you create a new part. Most parametric programs will allow you to update the parametric values which will change the shape of the model.
  • Primitives : Basic shapes such as a sphere or cube that many modeling programs will allow you to create in one action.
  • Transform : This will allow you to select an object and change it’s Size, Position and dimensions.
  • View Cube : This is the Cube in the top right corner of many Autodesk Programs. You can a side of the view cube and the camera will move to that point in space around your model. You can also select the home button to move to your home viewpoint.
  • History : Some Programs record a history of your actions, this will allow you to go back to a point in your design and update a feature of your model. Often times, that update will then cascade through the rest of your design decisions changing the final product.
  • Extrude : This is a basic command that will take the geometry of a 2D sketch and expand it into space to create a 3D shape.
  • Fillet : This will take a sharp edge and convert it into a curved side.
  • Chamfer : If you apply a Chamfer to a sharp edge, the modeling program will create a sloping flat surface to replace that sharp edge.
  • Sketch : Refers to the 2D geometry you can draw on a flat plane.
  • Plane : A plane is a flat surface that can be created in the 3D Space. Oftentimes, you will use the plane as a reference point to perform an action or create a 2D Sketch.
  • Axis : In 3D space an Axis usually represents one of the X,Y, or Z directions in the coordinate space. You will often select an axis to give a direction to an action. Example, You will select the X axis to rotate a model in a particular direction.
  • Water Tight : If a model is Water Tight, it means that it's geometry is complete and doesn't have any holes in it. This is usually very important for 3D printing.
  • Normals : This is a term that represents the geometric direction perpendicular to a surface. It helps define where the surface, or polygon should face to correctly make up your 3D Model. Normals are very important in all Model Geometry but particularly in Mesh Models where an inverted Normal could break the Watertight aspect of the mesh.
  • Inverted Normals : If you invert a normal, you will turn a surface in the opposite direction that it originally existed in. Sometimes this will break a mesh.
Hey Gabrieltaft,<br><br>Thanks for this! Very informative.
<p>Thanks! </p>