3D printing has changed the way I think about how I interact with the world.  As I have learned to use the tools, I think a lot about how to use printing to make my world more functional, more exciting or just cooler!  Being able to make something that doesn’t exist or that costs more than I want to pay has been inspiring and fascinating.  And really, once you learn a few simple tools, it’s EASY and FUN!!

There are many ways to go about making 3-D Models for printing.  Some of these ways involve putting forth a lot of money into high cost software with esoteric control schemes and then a lot of effort into learning how to use them.  I don’t know about you, but I have neither in great surplus, so in the past several years, I have been exploring the easiest and cheapest methods available on the web to design and create things. 

This instructable focuses on giving you a crash course into the most simple ways I have found to get you making physical objects from your computer.

Tools needed to make a 3D model:
    • Computer (hopefully, you already have this)
    • Sketchup (with CADspan resurfacer).
    • Tinkercad (web-based).
    • NetFabb Studio (get the free version for repairs)

Basic Software for printing your 3D model:
    • 3D printer (Makerbot makes some great desktop models.  Not free, unfortunately)
    • Replicatorg (also free at Replicat.org)

I'm lucky because I have access to a 3D printer at work.  If you don't, there are several print-on-demand services that can make your models into reality!  If going this route, check out Shapeways, Sculpteo, Ponoko or i.materialise.  Even if you have access to a low-end 3d printer, don’t disregard these services.  If  you need more detailed / higher resolution prints of your designs, they could be the way to go.

Part 0:

Before we begin, it will be important to download and install the current version of Sketchup on your computer as well as get and install the CADspan sketchup plug-in. You will need to make an account to use CADspan, but it makes taking 3D models into a state that can be printed easy!  Sketchup will mainly be used for the “mechanical” model of this instructable.

Next, make a tinkercad account.  Tinkercad is a web based design program, which is easy to use and can be used for more “artistic” projects.

Although I tend to think about Sketchup as “mechanical” and tinkercad as “artistic,” either program can be used to achieve similar results, but the workflow of each program is quite different as you will see.

While not technically necessary if you don’t have a 3D printer, it’s a good idea download and install Netfabb studio basic which I use to repair anything that might be wrong with the model.  There are places you can send your models to be printed, so having this program is still a good idea if you are going to go from digital design to printed object.

Finally, if you do have access to a 3D printer, you’ll need the software to run it.  I use ReplicatorG.

Whew!  That’s a lot of installing!

On to the fun stuff!

Step 1: PART 1: Defining the Design

The first step is figuring out what you want to design.

Are you creating a work of artA chess setA new ring to hold on your shower curtain?  Each idea might need a different program in order to help it turn out well with a minimum of headache. 

For this instructable, I decided to design and run through one of my current projects to show two different ways of working, artistically and mechanically.  This will allow me to talk about a couple of the options and workflows open for budding designers. 

I recently bought the core set for a tabletop board game called X-Wing Miniatures.  Based on the Star Wars license, the game is a fast playing ship combat game which is really quite a lot of fun.  The downside is that the ships are rather expensive and building up a good size army is out of my price range.

Also, I would love to use the mechanisms of the core system, but start pulling in my own ship designs or building ships from other franchises.  Why not Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica?  I would love to have an X-Wing vs Viper battle!  And with 3D printing, I can make this a reality!

For the first part of the project, let’s talk mechanical, detail-oriented building.  In this case, I decided to work on reverse engineering a flight base for the game x-wing miniatures to allow me to use Micromachine ships (of which I have several from both Star Wars and Star Trek) in the tabletop game. 

For the second part, I thought I would keep with the theme and design a spaceship of my own to use in the game. I can have fun with the design and not have to worry about it looking perfectly like something already existing.

Now, table top war games might not be your cup of tea.  My passions very likely aren’t your passions  However, the concepts I will go over in this instructable can be applied to the things you do care about!  That is the power of the 3D printing revolution!
I should say, it's for the 3D design contest. I just saw that Digital Fabrication was a different one. I'll have to enter that one too. <br> <br>Thanks for the heads up! <br> <br>
This is a pretty good instructable, i think you should enter it in the digital fabrication contest.
Thanks! <br> <br>That's why I put it together,actually. I have entered it and am waiting for it to be accepted! <br>

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More by zxqueb:From Concept to Reality:  3D Design and Printing for the Common Man. 
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