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.
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
Are you creating a work of art? A chess set? A 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!
Step 2: PART 2: Building the Flight Base!
It is a specific size (40mmX40mm) and needs a place to hold the ship, the ship’s number counters and the stat card. Because I want things to be exact, I used Sketchup to create this piece.
It may look different than what you have. That’s because I went into VIEW-> TOOLBARS and turned on only “Large tool set” “Styles,” “Shadows,” “Views,” and “CADspan.” This is my default view for working in Sketchup.
You may want to select and delete the girl, she is just there for scale and can get in the way.
Then I started drawing out a base square. Click once to start drawing. Start dragging your mouse and you should see the box appearing on the ground plane. You should also see the dimension numbers in the lower right of your screen changing as you move the mouse. This is one of the best features of Sketchup. At this point you can reach over and type “40mm, 40mm” (without the quotes) and hit enter and it will create a box of that size.
Unfortunately, one of the quirks of sketchup is that larger models tend to need less repair at the end of a project. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s annoying to have a model with problems. I counteract this effect by multiplying my measurements by 100. So I am going to make a 4000mm by 4000mm box instead.
For this, I measured the basic height of the base (4mm) and used the push / pull tool to raise the dimension of the box 400mm (remember, I’m multiplying by 100).
Now I have a 3D object!
First is the ability of sketchup to snap to midpoints. I can take the pencil tool and draw lines across my cube to find the center. One thing I want to be careful of is that the line I’m drawing changes color. If it is parallel to the red axis, it will be red. If it is parallel to the green axis, it’ll be green. If the line is black, that means it’s probably going off in some crazy direction, but you can’t tell because we are looking at a 3D space on a 2D surface and sometimes optical illusions occur.
Please note, the line WILL turn black after you click to finalize the line.
Alternatively, click down on the mouse wheel as though it were a button and you will automatically get the orbit tool.
Then I used the tape measure to start to put guidelines in for myself. For example, there are two small walls that hold the stat card in place that are 34mm apart. I used the tape measure to create guides 17mm (1700 with my scale) from the center point.
This let me place lines across the base and raise them using the push/pull tool.
Next, I used the circle tool to draw out the space where the ship’s post attaches to the base.
There were a couple spaces to hold numbers there too, so with some careful measuring and some use of the pencil, I was able to draw them and push /pull inwards.
First, 3D models have a face orientation. There is a side that needs to point inside and one that needs to point outside. If you click on “Preview style” in the CADspan toolbar , you will see the outside faces turn gray and the inside faces turn red. This makes it very easy to fix.
For example, This cup will not print as the walls have no thickness.
There are a couple things I do just as a general check of the model. First, I run a repair by clicking on the red cross in the upper right corner. Make sure you click “apply repair” in the bottom left and remove the old part when prompted.
It’s also at this point that I check the scale. Often it’ll be at a different size than I intended, especially coming from sketchup. Right now, for instance, the length and width are both more than 157mm. I can go to the PART dropdown menu, select SCALE and add a value of .254 to get it back to the correct scale.
Next, I want to be sure that the part is in the correct position (at the origin of the axis) so it’ll fit perfectly at the center of the build platform. From the PART dropdown menu, select MOVE and click TO ORIGIN. End the operation by clicking MOVE.
Lastly, I go back to PART, and select EXPORT PART-> as STL. At this point it may prompt you to do a few more repairs before saving.
Once it’s saved it’ll be ready to print!
Step 19: PART 3: Building the Spaceship
For me, it often helps to start with a quick sketch of what I have in mind when designing something art-oriented. It doesn’t have to be detailed, just a basic idea of the look I am going for.
Here is the design I started with.
The workplane is in the center. That’s where you will create your model. The shapes that you can use are on the right. You can drag them onto the work plane to make your models.
Once there, you can orbit around the object by right clicking on the non-object area of the window, zoom in and out by rolling the mouse wheel, or slide your view by clicking the mouse wheel like a button.
You select shapes by left clicking on them. Once selected, you will see black dots, white dots, 3 curved arrows and a black arrow on the object.
The black dots make the object bigger or smaller in one dimension.
The white dots make the object bigger or smaller in multiple dimensions. When you hover over the dot, you will see which dimensions are affected.
You can hold down the shift key while you click on a dot (either white or black) to scale the shape in all 3 dimensions equally.
The curved arrows will rotate the part around one of the 3 axes.
You can move the part by clicking on any part of it that is not a dot or arrow. This will slide the part only on the surface of the workspace.
The black arrow will raise or lower the part in space.
In the lower right hand corner of the workplane window there are dropdown menus which will allow you to change unit of measurement and snap grid. Unit doesn’t really matter – use whatever you are comfortable using. Snap grid defines how far things will move when you move them. You may need to set this to a low value (or turn it off completely) if you are having trouble getting your shape in exactly the right place.
You can set color from the upper right corner of the workplane window. Unfortunately the color doesn’t really translate into printing when your model is printed.
In this case, I made the model using 3 spheres, 1 cone and 4 cylinders.
First, you add new objects. In this case, I added new spheres for eyes.
Click group (right above the hole button). The eyes will “carve” out space from the head.
So, I grabbed the parts that I thought I would need...
The big print painted up fairly well, though!
I recommend loading up the spaceship model, ungrouping it and messing around with it a little bit to see exactly what parts are involved and how they all fit together. The spaceship model is here. Also available is the snowman model.
If you do, click on STL under “Download for 3D printing.” You will get the option to save. Once you do, open up in netfabb and go through the same steps that we did for the flight base (step 18).
Step 30: PART 4: Printing
You will get a pop-up window that looks something like this:
These are the settings I use for models that I want to be fairly detailed. Many people talk about the benefits of raftless printing, but I find that rafts help the plastic adhere better and can get much better prints as a result. Support material is only needed if there are severe overhangs on the model (like the top engine arc of the spaceship).
You may need to play with the settings a little bit as every machine is different, but this can at least be a jumping off point.
Once the computer generates the GCode needed to run the printer, you can hit build!
You’ll have your object in your hands in no time!
Step 31: PART 5: Online Repositories
I highly recommend joining these sites and adding your own models to the mix.
The models from this instructable are available for download on Thingiverse in .STL and Sketchup formats.