Introduction: TinkerCAD Tutorial

In The Forge, we love introducing people to 3D design using TinkerCAD, a free, shape-based, CAD program!

It's a relatively simple interface to learn and a great program for getting started with the basics of 3D design, and, as an extension, 3D printing. And best of all, it's free!

Have fun developing your designer skills and preparing your creations for 3D printing in The Forge when we reopen!

Keep making!


Step 1: Getting Started

Begin by opening the TinkerCAD software at

If you do not have an account, it is free to sign up but requires parental permission for younger learners. Don’t let this deter you- its totally free and family friendly! We love Tinkercad for a lot of reasons but this program is totally cloud based (therefore accessible from anywhere one has internet access) and it AUTOSAVES!

Now, open a new project by clicking the blue “Create New Design” button.

A blue workplane will appear as well as a shape library to the right. You will also notice Tinkercad auto generates a fun name for your new design (seen in the top left corner) with a cube underneath of it to change the perspective of the work plane.

Step 2: Workplane Perspective

You should become familiar with navigating the workplane first. In order to design in three dimensions, designers need to see all sides. TinkerCAD allows 4 ways to do this-

● When the cube in the top left corner is clicked, users can shift and tilt the cube to alter the perspective of the workplane. This cube is really helpful when you get lost navigating the workplane and don’t know how to get back to a more general, less confusing view of the model. By clicking the sides labeled “Top”, “Front”, etc, it’s really easy to reorient the workplane.

● Users can also tilt and spin the Workplane by holding down both the left and right cursors of the mouse (or pressing 2 fingers on a laptop trackpad) and then moving the mouse. Once the 2 buttons are released, the Workplane stops moving.

● Users can zoom in and out of the workplane by scrolling forward and backward on a mouse or trackpad. Go slowly at first, it’s not difficult to scroll so far in or out of the plane you can’t see what you’re doing anymore.

● Now, if users are sufficiently lost or can’t even find the workplane (it's common at first, no sweat), TinkerCAD has a lovely “Home” button shaped like a house in the left hand of the screen. Click that button to take you back to a very simple, front facing view of the workplane.

Other great things on the page before we get started: Under the file name on the top left of the screen users will find 2 buttons we are a big fan of- A trashcan and 2 arrows. These allow users to delete selected objects and undo or redo actions, respectively, with total ease.

Step 3: Adjusting Width and Height

Now begin the design process by selecting the orange cylinder tool and dragging it onto the workplane.

Once the cylinder is on the workplane, several boxes and arrows will appear- these will allow us to change the size and orientation of the shape. Feel free to click and drag the boxes in order to play with the height and width of their cylinders.

TIP: Don’t select the arrows just yet.

When the boxes around the top and bottom of the shape are selected, small white boxes with values will appear alongside them. When modeling for 3D printing, it is often necessary to make an object within specific parameters- these boxes allow users to type in the exact dimensions desired based on need or preference.

TIP: The squares on the workplane represent actual numerical dimensions that match the values in the boxes. TinkerCAD normally opens a new design in 1.0 mm increments but that can be changed in the bottom right of the screen. When designing for printing, it’s important to make something that will be smaller than the total printer bed if you want it to print in one piece.

Step 4: Lifting Shapes Off the Workplane

Next drag a purple cone onto the workplane. This shape will sit on top of our cylinder and serve as the top of the rocket.

In order to add this shape to our design this way, we need to lift the shape off the workplane. To do that, click and hold the black cone hovering above the shape. Now move the cursor upwards while this cone is selected and the shape will begin to raise.

TinkerCAD provides a lot of really convenient visual guides and indicators for alignment, so if the cone is next to the cylinder, a visual marker will appear next to the cylinder alerting users that the cone is at the height of the cylinder.

Step 5: Selecting Objects for Alignment

Now we need to put the cone on top of the cylinder like a big purple hat.

Click the cylinder, avoiding boxes, and drag the shape over the top of the cylinder. Use your mouse to change the workplane perspective to an overhead view. This way one can see if the cone is covering the top of the orange cylinder.

Use the left button of their mouse or trackpad to drag over the 2 shapes. A dotted rectangle will appear, showing where the cursor has selected- make sure both shapes are within that rectangle. When the cursor is released, both objects will be selected and 6 black dots should now up- these allow for left, center, and right alignment for BOTH shapes. Naturally, we want the cone to be centered on top of the cylinder so the center dots of both groups should be selected.

Now that the shapes are centered, feel free to make the cone as large or small as they’d like on top of the cylinder.

TIP: In the example, the base of the cone was made to match the top of the cylinder in size to prevent overhang past the sides of the cylinder. Unnecessary overhang can create problems in the printing process if it doesn’t have any supports (i.e. drooping filament and collapsing structure). If you’re not designing to print, then this is purely a preference of the maker.

Step 6: Rotating Shapes

Now that we have the body of the rocket built, it’s time to add fins to the model.

Select the blue wedge shape and place it on the workplane. Make the shape the desired size then move to an overhead perspective of the workplane. The wedge now needs to be rotated so the straight, vertical side can sit against the rocket.

Place the cursor over the double ended arrow that appears at the base of the wedge and a dial should appear. With the left cursor of the mouse selected, drag the cursor around to spin the object.

If the cursor is close to the shape, the dial turns at 24 degree increments. If the dial is farther from the shape (selected by pulling the cursor farther out from the shape), users can spin the object at 1 degree increments. Similar to the dimensional values, if a specific angle of rotation or tilt is desired, it can easily be typed into the white value box appearing next to the dial.

Place the wedge/wing against the cylinder to help determine when the preferred rotation is achieved.

Step 7: Duplicating and Grouping Shapes

Unlike previous steps where users only needed one of each shape, we will need 3 or 4 of this shape (or more, you do you) to make multiple fins for our rocket.

Duplicating shapes:

Before you drag more shapes onto the workplane, it's worth mentioning that TinkerCAD embodies the ethos of work smarter, not harder, and allows us to duplicate shapes once we have the exact dimensions and orientation on the first shape. In order to do that, select the object that needs to be duplicated. In the top left corner next to the trash can is a button that looks like a stack of papers. When clicked, this will duplicate the selected item. Now just click and drag the object and the duplicate will area from the original shape. Repeat as many times as needed and reorient and place the new fins to the bottom of the cylinder.

TIP: The shortkey for this process is Ctrl+D (PC) or Command+D (mac).

Grouping shapes:

Now that we have the body, top, and fins of our rocket placed, we need to group these objects together in order to make them all one single shape. Select all the shapes on the workplane by dragging the mouse (left button down) and including all shapes in the red outlined rectangle that appears. Now that all the shapes are selected, several options will appear in the top right toolbar. Click the button that looks like a circle overlapping a square- this will group all the selected shapes together. Notice that the model is now one solid color instead of several different colors. To ungroup the object at any time, just double click the model and users will notice the shapes will go back to being different colors.

TIP: Short key for grouping objects is Ctrl+D of Command+D

Grouping objects provides the convenience of being able to treat all the shapes as 1 piece in order to scale or rotate the object without having to reorient each individual part of the model. Grouping is also important when designing for 3D printing because this assures the model will be printed as one whole instead of multiple unconnected shapes. A model that is imported into slicing software (the program that writes the code for the 3D printer) and not grouped will sometimes import as multiple pieces.

Step 8: Making Holes

Now all that’s left to complete our rocket is to add a porthole! This step is practically a review from what we've already covered.

Drag a ring shape onto the workplane, adjust the dimensions to fit the rocket according to preference, rotate, and move it onto the body of the rocket. Make sure the ring is pushed into the rocket a bit then group the shapes. Now the rocket is complete!

BONUS ROUND, How to make a hole:

Another way to make a porthole would be to use a long cylinder to make a hole in the body of the rocket. This isn’t highly recommended for learners who want to print their 3D model and having a giant hole in the structure can lead to a higher potential for a failed or misshapen print BUT they sure do look cool!

Drag a striped cylinder from the top of the shape library. This shape is automatically set as a hole but any shape users need can be set as a hole by selecting the striped bubble instead of the colorful bubble in the top right of the screen when the shape is selected.

Once the striped cylinder is on the workplane, rotate it to lay horizontally, then lift and place it in the desired part of the rocket. In learners want a hole to go all the way through the rocket, make sure the cylinder is long enough to go through the whole diameter of the rocket. Again, these have a higher rate of failure in printing due to lack of support when the top part of the hole is printing. Next, select and group both shape to make the hole appear.

If you'd rather rather have a partial hole that isn’t as tricky to 3D print, repeat the process of placing a rotated striped cylinder in the body of the rocket. This time, only place the cylinder partially into the rocket, select all shapes, then group. This will create a shallow porthole in one side of the rocket.

Further Reading:

● TinkerCAD has a multitude of information and tutorials available on their website for further learning. There’s also a lot of shape libraries to choose from outside of the one used in this tutorial.