Make Your Own 3D Designs - Intro to the Creative World of 3D Printing

Introduction: Make Your Own 3D Designs - Intro to the Creative World of 3D Printing

3D printing, which began in 1984, has quickly become one of the biggest phenomena in modern prototyping and science. In fact in only a few years manufacturing processes have started to form around the possibilities that 3D printing yields. As well, many companies have started to realize the potential of creating new products and parts with this technology.

What started off somewhat unpractical (much as the way the computer did) has started to become so accessible and intuitive that virtually anyone with a computer can now accomplish it...So why aren't more people using this technology? Well the reason is twofold; people presume that they would need to dole out thousands of dollars in order to own a 3D printer, but more importantly they think that 3D printing and design is unattainable; that one would need lots of training and understanding of computers to be able to create anything. To both these reasons, I respectfully disagree.

I believe anyone can start 3D printing. They just need a push in the right direction and a little 'know-how' to get started. After that the possibilities are virtually limitless.

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Step 1: Download Some Software (Don't Worry Its Easier Than You Think)

There are hundreds of different types of software for 3D design, however I am a particular fan of AutoDesk Inventor. It is an intuitive and very versatile program that is great for all levels prior knowledge when it comes to 3D design.

Now, notably this program is typically quite expensive, due to its quality, however you can obtain either a 30 day trial version or a 3 year student version. Being a high school student, I downloaded the student version and it has all the same functions as the official licensed version.

You will have to create an account first and then follow the instructions instructions provided on the website. Also, ensure you have time, as the download takes around an hour depending on your speed of your computer.

Here are the website links:

Student Version:

30 Day Trial Version:

Step 2: Starting a Project

Note: Numbering corresponds to picture

1. Start by creating a new file which can be done by selecting the new button near the top left corner of the screen.

2. Next go to the metric folder and select the standard mm .ipt file. (Highlighted in picture)

3. Click create and your work space should appear as such.

Step 3: Start Sketching

A huge aspect of 3D design is creating 2D sketches that are later extruded to become 3D objects.

To start a sketch click on the 'Start 2D Sketch' button near the top left corner of the screen. You will then need to select what plane you want to draw the sketch on.

Once you have selected your plane we will start off by drawing some basic shapes. A Circle, A Rectangle and an Irregular Shape.

All the tools you need will now be visible in the upper toolbar on the screen.

Play around with the circle, rectangle and line tools to create these shapes. Don't worry about dimensions or guide lines just yet.

**For future reference however, dimension your lines and shapes by selecting the dimension tool and select the line or points you want to dimension. You can then edit the length/dimension.**

See if you can get your work space to look something like mine shown in the image above. Click the Finish Sketch check mark when you are done.

Step 4: Making Basic 3D Shapes

Now we will create some 3D objects from the sketches you did in the last step.

First make sure you selected Finish Sketch.

The toolbar should have now changed to display new tools that have to do with 3D objects.

We want to use the Extrude tool. Select it and then select the shape that you want it applied to. Notice you can change the length of the extrusion as well as the direction. Once you are satisfied with the settings select the check mark to finish the extrusion.

The other shapes will disappear, but don't be alarmed. The program automatically hides the sketch, but can be shown in its options. We'll leave it for now though.

Now that we are working with a 3D object there are some helpful mouse commands to know:

-Holding down the scroller on the mouse will allow you to drag the screen around as you wish.

-Holding the shift key and the scroller down at the same time will allow you to rotate/orbit the object into position.

Step 5: Other Useful Commands and Tools

On the left side of the screen is a menu that shows all of your objects and sketches imbedded within element trees. In there you can access your sketches and edit them as well as change visibility settings.

Try experimenting with the work planes and create and extrude some new sketches.

**Note that if you make an extrusion into a pre-existing extrusion it will cut away instead of add. This is useful for making things such as holes and divots.**

Other more commonly used 3D commands include 'Loft', 'Sweep' and 'Circular'.

Loft: If you offset a plane and draw a shape on both parallel planes, you can use the loft command and select both shapes to create a joining transitional shape between them.

Sweep: Create a circular base and then on a new plane draw a line extending from the center point of the circle in any path and direction you choose. Choose the sweep command and select the circle as the profile and the line as the path. This will extrude the circle along the path of the line.

Circular: If you wish to have several of the same 3D objects appearing around a body, for instance the fins on a propeller you may choose the circular command and the select the object and the rotation point.

**Keep in mind that a lot of these tools simply require trial and error and experimenting with them until you can use them efficiently.**

Step 6: Applying the Knowledge

Now that you know most of the basics, lets apply it to create a simple, but neat and practical object.

**Use the images above for reference.**

1. Start by creating a new project.

2. Start a new sketch on the XZ plane.

3. Create a circle with the center point at the intersection of the guide lines.

4. Dimension the circle to a diameter of 10 mm.

5. Click Finish Sketch.

6. Start a new sketch on the XY plane.

7. Select the arrow under the line tool and click spline.

8. from the center point on the circle (should automatically snap to it when close) draw a curvy line that extends away from the circle.

9. Click finish sketch and select the 'Sweep' command. then select the circle as the profile and the line as the path.

**Careful that the line is not to curvy otherwise the command might not be completed.**

10. Start a new sketch on one of the flat ends of the shape. Create a new circle with a diameter of 10 mm and extrude it to 30 mm.

11. Again start a new sketch on the extruded circular face and create a circle from the center with a diameter of only 0.2 mm.

12. Now go to the panel on the side and right click on and delete your most recent extrusion. unclick the boxes that ask to delete consumed and dependent sketches.

13. Choose the loft command and select the 0.2 mm circle and the 10 mm circle. Click okay.

14. Finally lets add some colors. Select the main section and go to the upper bar where it has the default material then select an orange color. Select the cone and change it to a light brown color. Lastly select the uncolored circular face and change it to a pink color.

And there you have it. An incredibly basic curvy pencil design, although it doesn't look like much it has many fundamentals of 3D design, so go out there and start designing your own 3D projects.

Step 7: Final Stages

Keep creating. Don't give up. The images above are parts for The Hubble Space Telescope that I have been working on using the same techniques that I have covered in this Instructable.


One of the big concerns with 3D printing is the cost associated with buying a 3D printer.

That's one of the things that's awesome about 3D design. You don't need to own a 3D printer to get your design 3D printed. There are countless companies that will print your design if you send them your design file and they will mail it over to you.

***Most importantly don't give up! 3D design takes trial and error and a lot of experimenting and creativity!***

PS: If you found this Instructable helpful, or if you just thought it was neat, please vote for it in the 3D Printing and Mind For Design Contests.

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