Class Overview


In this class, you will learn everything you need to know to design and 3D print your own creations. 3D printing is a kind of additive manufacturing in which an object is created by building up successive layers of material. Unlike subtractive manufacturing (which covers everything from drilling to milling), 3D printing allows us to quickly and cheaply make complex objects without expensive molding and casting tools.

In this class, you'll learn how to design, 3D model, and 3D print using a consumer grade desktop machine. With this class and enough practice, you'll be designing and printing like a pro in no time. If you want a more lightweight introduction to 3D printing, check out our free Easy 3D Printing Class before tackling this class!

Throughout this class, you'll learn these skills through three different case studies:

Wax Stamp

First, we'll learn the basics by designing and printing a Sealing Wax Stamp for your fancy custom stationary.

Bottle Lock

Next, we'll learn about simple mechanisms and complex forms with the Bottle Lock project based on my instructable from 2014.

Bike Fender

Finally, we'll learn about large-scale design, multi-part assembly, and finishing with the Bike Fender project.


I'm Jonathan Odom (a.k.a. JON-A-TRON). I've been designing and 3D modeling for over 13 years. I grew up in rural Louisiana and got my Bachelor of Architecture at SCIArc in Los Angeles in 2009. I've worked in film animatronics, special effects, product design, tech art, urban design, and architecture. I got into digital fabrication while in school in 2006 and have been 3D printing ever since.

A (Very) Brief History of 3D Printing

In 1981, Hideo Kodama (Japan) invented the first Additive Manufacturing method using photosensitive polymer exposed to masked UV light in successive layers. Then in 1984, Alain Le Méhauté, Olivier de Witte and Jean Claude André from the French General Electric Company patented the stereolithography process three weeks before Chuck Hull (USA) filed for his patent on the same process. GE abandoned the patent because they didn’t see the value in the technology, so Chuck Hull won the race by default.

Hull also brought a couple of important innovations that hadn’t existed before: the STL file format, digital slicing, and infill strategies, all of which we still use today.

In the late 80’s, S. Scott Crump developed Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), which is basically a hot glue gun on a robotic arm that draws shapes in thin layers, one on top of the other. It was Stratasys that took it to market in 1990.

The RepRap Project started in Britain in 2005 as a non-commercial open source research project which got a lot of makers into the technology. When Stratasys’ patent released in 2012, dozens of companies started popping up with their own versions of the machine for the consumer market. This is why you can now buy a high quality 3D printer for less than $1000.

Why 3D-Print?

3D Print Ball Bearing in One Shot by Ally Zhao

3D printing is defined as computer controlled additive manufacturing. It involves the process of taking a digital 3D model, translating it to a series of horizontal slices in machine language, and building the model in three dimensions using a number of different technologies.

What makes 3D printing unique is its ability to make complete, complex solid objects. Most 3D printed objects could only be produced by a master sculptor or machinist, and some 3D printed objects would be impossible to produce any other way. The 3D Print Ball Bearing in One Shot by Ally Zhao (shown above), for example, has all of its internal and external parts printed in place- the result is a sealed ball bearing assembly with no seams or fasteners.

3D printing, for most makers, is a powerful shortcut to making precise, complex objects for endless different purposes.

General Workflow


The process of design may seem hard to pin down. Although the nuances of the design process can differ from designer to designer, the basic principles remain the same.

Observe: Obviously, design must start with an idea, but how do you come up with an idea? You observe the world around you. Look around, take nothing for granted, and ask yourself if there's a better way to do any of the hundreds of things you do and see others do. I find it helps to focus on your own life and try to identify the things that you need and want.

Sketch & Ideate: Once you've identified the problem, it's time to come up with a solution. Sketching is not just a way to present an idea to another person, it's an extension of your own thought process. As you put pen to paper, you start to notice problems and opportunities that you can't see in your own head. Sketching is fast by nature, so it's easy to quickly test ideas without committing to all the time necessary to create a 3D model. I can't stress this part enough- sketch a lot!


3D Design: When you've got a good collection of sketches down on paper, you'll have a better idea of what you want to create. Sketching helps you make decisions about geometry, scale, and material that will be essential in creating a successful 3D model. The 3D modeling stage is where you fine-tune the design- think of it as sketching on steroids. Working in 3D allows you to intimately understand all the details of an object and to control all its aspects in relation to each other. In this stage, you completely work out a 3D object that is (hopefully) printable.

Export Models: Every 3D design program has its own proprietary file format. In Fusion 360 (the software we'll cover in this course), solid geometry is used to create the model. In order to 3D print, this solid model must be exported as a polygon mesh model. STL is the most common format for exporting geometry for 3D printing.


Layout / Repair / Prep: Once the STL files are exported for printing, they must be prepared for printing. Meshes must be "airtight" meaning that their surfaces can't have any holes. Other geometrical errors can occur that will result in failed prints, so a second program (such as Meshmixer or Print Studio) must be used to check for and correct errors. In the preparation software, you can also add additional models, orient, scale, and place models for 3D printing multiple parts in one job. The preparation software may also be used to create support structures for 3D printing.

Slicing: Once the model is laid out and ready for printing, it must be sliced for the particular 3D printer to be used. Some slicing software is robust enough that you can avoid the preparation software altogether. MakerBot's slicing software, for example, has supports that are generally superior to the ones that can be generated in Meshmixer or Print Studio. The slicing software will create a proprietary G-Code file (see the next entry on this class) for the 3D printer to run the job.


With the G-Code file ready to go, it's time to run the 3D print job. This is by no means a one-step process. The machine must be prepped, the build platform must be prepped, and getting a first print going often takes multiple corrections and adjustments both to the machine and to the G-Code. Temperature, feed rate, and extruder speed must all be carefully calibrated to achieve the desired result. Fortunately, once the machine and settings are dialed in, each successive print becomes easier until you don't even need to think about it anymore.


After the first successful 3D print, it's time to test it, evaluate it, and otherwise examine it. Does fulfill its purpose? Is it attractive? Is it practical? Is it the best possible design? No design is ever perfect with the first attempt. Carefully scrutinize the design, and go back to the concept. Remember, 3D printing is about prototyping. The value of the machine is that there is almost no additional investment in generating multiple iterations of a design as opposed to the cost of creating an injection mold for each iteration. Exploit this benefit, and you're on your way to being a good designer.


Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project