Introduction: Make More of Tinkerplay With Meshmixer and 123D

Tinkerplay (formerly known as Modio) is a great mobile app that lets you design articulated creatures and make them on a 3D printer. It's a lot of fun to use on iOS and Android, and pretty much guarantees excellent results.

However, what if you want to make an extra-special creature, going beyond the parts in the app? Say you want to make a shark robot, or a flying dinosaur? Perhaps you want to discover the... nocturnal... sibling of the Pixie character from the app?

Well, Meshmixer is an amazing 3D editing program that will let you import and modify almost any 3D print ready file, and combine it with others.

This instructable will show you how to:

  1. Download 3D printable files from the Tinkerplay app and other sources
  2. Use Meshmixer to cut out the parts of a 3D model that you want to use
  3. Add the Tinkerplay connector

Step 1: Assemble Your Tools and Resources

First, you'll want to get your tools together, apps and models:

For this tutorial, we'll be using the Reef Shark from 123D to build a shark bot, but there are a lot more models in the 123D Content Library. Here's a page of shark related models. You'll need a free 123D account to download models.

Check out the dinosaur or animal category for inspiration too!

Step 2: Get Your Files From Tinkerplay

In order to use the Tinkerplay connectors, you'll first want to sketch out a basic creature using the app. You'll then download the printable files, and edit those in Meshmixer.

Make a simple Tinkerplay robot using the parts that you think you'll want to use. In this case, I've sketched out a torso, legs and arms. I'll be getting the head and tail from a 3D model.

Tinkerplay has two ways to get files out of the app:

  1. A web server that runs on your own mobile device
  2. By exporting to Thingiverse, Makerbot's 3D file sharing website

To use the first option, press the export icon in the lower left corner of the Tinkerplay app. Adjust the size of your model using the controls provided. (I prefer using 100%) Press the green button. It will now show you an IP address, a set of 4 numbers separated by periods. Try entering this into a browser on a computer that is connected to the same network as the local device, and you should see a page that lets you download either .zip or .thing files. Pick either one, and download it to a known location on your computer.

For the second option, you will need a Makerbot account. Press the export icon in Tinkerplay, then press the gear icon on the far right. Choose Makerbot Cloud as your export option, and enter your Makerbot username and password. Confirm your selection. Now when you press the green button, it will give you a progress report as it builds your files and uploads them to Thingiverse. You can now visit your Thingiverse account on your computer, and download the .thing files.

Step 3: Unpack the Files From Tinkerplay

To access the individual parts, rename the .thing file as .zip. You can now open them using your preferred .zip file opening utility, and see the individual parts inside.

Unfortunately, the filenames are not very helpful! You should open up the parts using Meshmixer to figure out what they are, and give them memorable names.

Step 4: Load Your Files Into Meshmixer

Now it's time get your files into Meshmixer!

If you don't already know Meshmixer, you should take some time to go through the Meshmixer 101 tutorial videos. They are practical, helpful, and made by a really good person who cares about the product.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • The way you navigate around a model in Meshmixer can be set to work in two ways: the Meshmixer default relies on mouse + Alt or Command, and the 123D style uses the right mouse button to orbit the object. Check the keyboard shortcuts under the Help menu. You can switch navigation styles in the Preferences.

Launch Meshmixer, and press the big "Import" button on the opening screen. First, you'll want to open the model you want to work with, in this case the shark. Use the Analysis mode in Meshmixer, and the Units & Dimensions, to size the model appropriately for your print. (You'll be able to fine tune it later.)

Now you'll want to load a Tinkerplay file that you will get the connector from. We want the socket connector in this case, so we'll import a Tinkerplay leg part (it has a ball on one end and a socket on the other). Press the Import button in Meshmixer. You'll be prompted to Append or Replace the existing parts. You want to Append! You may get a warning about resizing the parts or moving them. Say no - you don't want to resize the Tinkerplay part, since then your final model won't work with existing parts.

Save your Meshmixer project. Get into the habit of doing this often.

Step 5: Slice Off the Parts You Want!

This is where it gets fun. We're going to isolate the shark's head as a separate part.

First, a pro-tip, and something you should make a habit: since Meshmixer operations are destructive (don't be scared, that just means that parts are altered directly), you should make a duplicate of the model you're working with first, in Meshmixer.

First, enable the Object Browser in the View Menu. This gives you a list of all the models in your project, in the lower right hand corner. You can move it around and resize it. Go ahead and make it wider, you'll see some icons shaped like an eye in the right.

Select the shark model, and click the little icon that looks like two overlapping squares in the Object browser. Now you have a copy of the shark to work with, while leaving the original untouched. (BTW this doesn't affect the file you downloaded, only the copies within Meshmixer).

You'll want to click the Edit icon on the left hand side, and choose Plane Cut. This acts like a knife, slicing through your part. You can use the colored arcs to move the slicing plane. Putting your mouse cursor over the tick marks that appear lets you move in precise increments. You'll want the slicing plane to be perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to the body of the shark, as in the picture.

Click accept!

Save your project again.

Step 6: Making an Object to Cut Out a Hollow

Now we want to hollow out the shark's head, so that we have a place to put the Tinkerplay connector. For this we are going to use something called Boolean operations, that let you add or subtract 3D shapes to each other.

The first thing we need to do is build the shape that we are going to use to "carve out" of the head.

Recent versions of Meshmixer have a super useful parts library. Go to the Meshmix icon on the left of the screen, and pick a cylinder. Drag into your workspace.

Use the "manipulator", the colored arrows, to get it into the right size and orientation. Remember - dragging the white square in the middle changes the size of the whole object, the colored squares resize the object along that dimension, the arrows let you move the object, and the arcs let you rotate it.

Once you've got the cylinder in position, add a sphere to make a rounded cap for it. Once again, use the manipulator to resize and position it so that it blends smoothly with the cylinder.

Now you want to turn them into one object. Select the cylinder by clicking on it, and also select the sphere by pressing Shift and clicking on it in turn. Go to the Edit icon on the left, click on it, and select Boolean Union. Click accept, and you should now have a bullet like shape like the one in the picture.

If you're going to be re-using this shape, say if you want to hollow out the shark's tail, or you want to apply it to a different style of head, you should duplicate it in your Meshmixer project. Otherwise, it will be "lost" when you subract it out of the shark's head in the next step.

Step 7: Subtracting the Shape to Make a Hollow

Now we're going to subtract that shape from the shark's head!

Put it into position. If you want to get a better sense of how the two shapes are fitting together, you can use X-Ray vision, by applying a different rendering style (called a "shader"). On the left side of the screen is a little icon that looks like a shiny metal ball. Clicking on it gives you a preview of different visual styles. One of them is transparent, the one on the top right of the palette: drag it onto your models, and they should become transparent.

You can now position your "cutout" shape accurately with respect to the shark's head. If you can't tell which model is actually selected, refer to the Object Browser window in the lower right.

Once everything is in place, select both objects, and Boolean Difference. You'll get a preview of the results: if it is not what you want, try canceling and selecting the objects in a different order.

One everything is good, click Accept!

Save your project, just in case.

Step 8: Add the Tinkerplay Connector

Now it's time to add the Tinkerplay connector.

Select the leg part that you imported earlier (don't forget your helpful habit: make a duplicate first!) and put it in the right place relative to the shark head.

Notice how I'm placing it: I'm going to be printing the head vertically, it will be resting on the flat surface where it was cut, and I'm placing the connector parallel to the flat surface (ie the printer's build surface). This will maximize the strength of the part. You can place the connector in another orientation, but it may not be as strong.

Once you've placed the connector, use Plane Cut to slice off the part that sticks up above the shark. Then select the shark head, and the connector, click Edit and Boolean Union, and you should have your parts combined!

For the rest of the project, I basically did the same thing to make the tail of the shark. I also used Plane Cut to separate the fins from the shark body, and added them to the back of the torso and to the arms.

Step 9: Print Your Creation!

To export your files from Meshmixer, select a part, and use the Export icon from the left hand side of the screen. Meshmixer exports 3D print ready STL files by default.

Once you're exported your files, add them to your 3D print software package of choice, orient them appropriately, and print!

Step 10: Don't Have a 3D Printer?

So you've got the app, you've learned Meshmixer, and you've made something great... but you don't have a 3D printer?

You can send your creation to be printed at a number of different services. Autodesk connects with four of the most popular services. They all have different options and materials, so take a moment to see what they offer.

If you're creating a toy, you might want to look into 3DHubs especially, since this service will connect you with someone in your area who will print your model for you. Not only can you get your model printed, you can also connect with someone local who is experienced with 3D printing and can share their experiences with you.

Step 11: More Customization Ideas

This is only scratching the surface of what you can do when you combine Tinkerplay and Meshmixer. Here are some other ideas:

  • Go through an online library of 3D models, and imagine how you can use parts of models to enhance your creations. For example, Dark Pixie combines the wings from this Snake Figurine with the Pixie model that is included in the Tinkerplay app.
  • Scan a friend's head using 123D Catch, create a printable file using Meshmixer, and add the Tinkerplay connector
  • Make your own crazy creations using 123D Creature or 123D Sculpt, and integrate Tinkerplay connectors
  • Create accessories (tools, jetpacks, etc) using Tinkercad and add them to your Tinkerplay creations
  • Download other models and scale them fit (see the yellow robots, holding tools from the 123D Content Library)
  • Design adapters between Tinkerplay and other devices, such as a camera (see picture) or other construction toys.

Have fun modifying your Tinkerplay!