Learn the Basics of Tinkercad

Overview of the menus

3D Printing has opened up a whole new work of possibility for Makers with the ability to produce a nearly endless variety of objects within your own house. What makes 3D Printing even more incredible is the ability to see custom objects you have designed become reality. To create 3D models most people think that you need a powerful computer and years of experience however the truth is it is incredibly easy to get started with 3D modelling. This is thanks to sites such as Tinkercad and SculptGL which are a great first step into the wonderful world of 3D modelling. In this blog post we will be looking at the basics of Tinkercad.

My Experiences with Tinkercad

Despite its basic appearance Tinkercad can be an incredibly powerful tool and something I have made use of numerous times to create custom models, fix problematic STL files, and even to add a personal touch to models. The first time I used Tinkercad was to edit a filament spool holder so that the Flashforge Adventurer 3 we were testing could use 1kg spools. I have also used Tinkercad to create custom models such as a frame for my hourglass, a gear knob for my brothers Mercedes A200, and a fun little trophy for the winner of the office Halloween competition. Even though I have used Tinkercad regularly for over 3 years now I still feel like I have not pushed the limits of the program.

Note: For this blog post I will be using Tinkercad running in Chrome on a Windows PC.


Getting Started with Tinkercad

To get started you will need to sign in or create an account with Tinkercad and once you have logged in you will need to click create new design. Once the design page has loaded you will be presented with a variety of menus, a blue grid called the workplane, and a bar to the right of the screen containing a variety of shapes.

When looking at the top bar it is easier to split it into upper and lower sections.

The upper section of the bar

Upper Section
1. The Tinkercad logo can be used to go back to you profile.
2. Allows you to switch to another of your models, start a new design, and edit or delete recent designs.
3. Design name: Clicking this will allow you to change the name.
4. 3D Design workspace.
5. Blocks workspace: Renders your model in a Minecraft style.
6. Bricks workspace: Renders your model in an interconnecting block style.
7. Invite other people to edit the model with you.

The lower portion of the bar

Lower Section
1. Copy, paste, duplicate, and delete.
2. Undo and redo action.
3. Toggle note visibility: This will allow you to hide or view any notes left on the model.
4. Show all: This allows you to show any parts you have hidden in the design.
5. Group and ungroup: Allows you to group a collection of parts into a single selectable part or separate previously grouped part.
6. Align and mirror: Use these to accurately align multiple parts or mirror the model along a certain axis.
7. Import: Tinkercad allows you to import a 2D or 3D file in a variety of formats and up to a file size of 25MB.
8. Export: Once you have designed your model you can export it for 3D Printing, laser cutting, or send the file directly to your printer if applicable.
9. Send to: Another way to share your design is using the send to function. This allows you to export a picture of your model, open it in Autodesk fusion 360, share it to 3D communities and services, and generate a link for people to join the design.

The workplane is where you build your model and can be resized to meet your needs. I usually treat the workplane as a representation of the build volume of the printer I am using so I know the maximum size my model can be. Once you have placed a shape on the workplane you are able to freely move, resize, and rotate it.

In the top left of the workplane window you will see buttons for the camera controls. These are useful for pre-set camera positions such as front, top, left, and right. You can also use the buttons to zoom and switch between flat and perspective view. You can also use the mouse to control all these camera settings.

Right Column

Showing the shapes menu

Tinkercad features a column to the right of the workplane that contains the workplane tool, ruler tool, comment tool and most importantly the shape selector.

1. Workplane Tool: Allows you adjust the position and axis of the workplane in relation to your mode which can help with precise shape placements.
2. Ruler Tool: Add a ruler to the workplane. Can be repositioned depending on your needs.
3. Notes Tool: If you need to leave a comment for another person editing the model or maybe make a note for your future self then this tool allows you to leave comments on your model and workplane.  

The most useful part of Tinkercad is the shape selector. It contains a wide and constantly expending range of shapes and prebuilt models for you to use. These range from basic squares, circles, and cylinders to more complex ball joints. When starting a new design the Basic Shape category will be loaded which includes various shapes that you can use to get started with your design. Opening the drop-down menu will allow you to access a variety of categories that we highly recommend having a look through. If you have a specific shape in mind and don’t want to search manually then you can try the search function to see if your desired shape is available.

Using Shapes

Now is the time to add a shape to the workplane. We used the cylinder for this purpose of this post. To add a shape to the workplane simply click on the shape you want and then click where you want it on the workplane. If you select the shape a new menu will appear with a range of settings depending on what shape you added. For example, the cylinder has settings including sides, bevel, and segments while the box has radius, steps, length, width, and height settings. Adjusting these sliders will change the shape in real time so you can play around with the settings to see what each one does.

Every shape can be set to either solid or whole. Solid means that a part will be treated as a solid shape when printed. Hole turns the shape transparent and allows you to use it to remove areas of other shapes if overlapped. To see this in practice lets add another shape to the workplane, make it a hole, and position it so that it overlaps a portion of the first shape. Selecting both the solid and hole shape will allow you to group them. When the process is complete you will see the solid shape minus the portion where the hole overlapped it.

Once you have completed your model you can export it but before you do we recommend you group all the parts together in to ensure it is exported as one model. When you have multiple pieces on one workplane then you can also export each piece individually to make it easier to fit on your print bed during slicing. If you are unsure about slicer software then be sure to check out our posts about the very basics of Cura and PrusaSlicer. A complete walkthrough as well as some fun projects can be found on Tinkercad Learning Center which is designed to help you learn how to use the program.


Conclusion

Now is the time we say congratulations on taking your first step into the wonderful world of 3D modelling. We hoped this post has shown just how easy it is to get started with Tinkercad and inspired you to try bring your own ideas to life.

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