One thing that’s a common factor for everyone who wants to start in any industry is the availability of resources to fill in the learning curves. This is where the review of a product or service becomes critical, and 3D printing software is not exempted. Tom and Tracy Hazzard go all the way to the beginning and level themselves with the newcomers, discussing the tools everyone can utilize when thinking of educating themselves on 3D printing. They go into the details of each software’s features and compare them with one another while providing their insights on what can be improved.
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TinkerCAD 3D Printing Software Review
We’ve been doing a lot more reviews of different things. We’ve had our Battle of the Minis for 3D Printer reviews. We decided that we need to be reviewing some popular CAD software packages because we get a lot of questions about that. This is going to be the first in a series. We’re going to do for a little while once a week or maybe every other week. We’re going to address a new CAD software. We’re going to run the gamut from things that are free and more entry-level CAD programs all the way to more professional and not free CAD programs because they all deserve some investigation and attention.
We’re going to start with Tinkercad, which is something that we’ve used with Lannea. She started at age six. She’s a Tinkercad trier. I wouldn’t say she’s a user. It’s not like she uses it every week. That’s probably generous as to the amount of time that she spent.
She is learning Tinkercad. That’s fair to say. She does use it. That was an accurate statement but she’s not a heavy user.
I want to make sure we’re not mixing up how we use that word.
Let’s talk about Tinkercad for those of you that don’t know. Those of you that do, I’m sorry, you’ve got to read this again. Tinkercad is completely free. It’s done by Autodesk. It’s definitely an entry-level program and it is very much a visual program. It does not have heavy menus and commands. This is meant to be simple and visually intuitive.
The tools are all out there with symbols that you use.
There’s a sidebar of different features. It’s free and it’s online. You’ve got to understand, in order to use this software, you have to have an active internet connection. You can’t do it offline. If you were out of power and you wanted to kill some time because your laptop had the battery and you wanted to entertain yourself, you could not use this program in that sense because you have to have an active internet connection.
You can’t use it with an iPad. You have to use it with a mouse, a trackpad or something. Is that right or has that changed?
It’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that, Tracy.
We couldn’t do it when we first started with Lannea.
It certainly is a lot easier to use with a desktop computer. I haven’t tried it on an iPad or something. Maybe I’ll have to do that and confirm that. It is first intended to be used on a major browser and desktop machine because there are many functions of either your typical trackpad or keyboard that you can use in conjunction with it. A lot of CAD programs give you multiple windows in which you can see the environment that you’re building things in and Tinkercad isn’t like that. It’s not like you have a top view, side view and a front view. You have one 3D environment that points you into when you start a new project. It’s a good program also that you can create different projects and save them online. Everything is saved there. Of course, you can download it when you’re ready to print.
You create a project and you give it a name. You can view things from the side view or more of the side view. You can change that view to whatever you want. You can put in a three-dimensional workspace and they have a grid on the floor that helps you see that. It is a program that is made to build things from 3D primitives, from shapes that exist or they do have some shape generators. Some are created by Tinkercad themselves. There are some user-generated ones from the community and that’s a little more involved to do that. There are lots of different primitive tools for which you can create all kinds of different shapes.
Primitive is like a cone-shape.
A cone, a cube, a cylinder, a ring and some other things. There are some created from the community that they call a circular trapezoid. It’s like a racetrack shape, but it’s a bigger circle at one end than the other and then there are different kinds of tubes and pyramids.
This is where I find it not so friendly to kids. It’s great to be teaching them about shapes and things but you want to make things. You go in there with a mindset of wanting to make something. The race track, I get like, “Call the thing of race track.” You have a starting point for making a race track. We had trouble with this when we were working with Lannea and trying to find something that would work as a base for a crown in which she could create points on them and add things to it. There wasn’t anything shaped in that direction and we had to move something and shift it. It was difficult for us to get her to understand how to do that herself.
Especially for a young kid learning to use a computer for the first time. She hadn’t used it. She had to learn how to use a mouse even. It was foreign to her. She’d always done touchscreen stuff but it’s definitely limiting. It’s a gateway to CAD 3D printing for students, especially we have an interview with EduCraft who teaches a summer camp about 3D printing and they use Tinkercad. They’re teaching kids on Tinkercad to begin with and that’s a good place to start. The ones that get bored and grow beyond that quickly will do that and then they’re ready to get into something a little more advanced. They will have the ability to create whatever shapes they want. It will expand their world and take them a little longer at the same time.
Which is why I think of these things. That’s where sometimes the developers of these programs get in their own little world of knowing too much information that they don’t think like an incoming newbie, like a child and come in there thinking, “How is the child going to approach these programs?” I feel like there isn’t anything that works from that standpoint of the 5, 6, 7-year-olds who want to come in and say, “I want to make a crown. I want to make a shield. I want to make this.” Having things be more obvious for them on how to start that because once they start playing with the program and dragging shapes, manipulating them, making them more dimensional, they are learning something. If they give up because it’s hard to create that core base shape for them, then they’re going to give out too fast. That’s where I want to stage-gate them into the system. That’s my desire as a parent.
It’s a hard thing to do. I can understand why this CAD program and all CAD programs have a certain focus. I don’t think any of them can be all things to all potential users.
I wasn’t asking them to. I’m saying that if you’re going to be at this basic level, then let’s be basic and then let’s gear them up to the next one. What I do love here is the idea that you would have a commonality in language that they’re learning along the way. As you grow up, you still understand that this tool menu means this and this looks like that. The language doesn’t change across.
Some of the languages definitely do not change but there are different kinds of programs. As we get through this series, it’s going to take a couple of months to go through a bunch of CAD programs. There’s a lot of common language for sure. There are different kinds of programs like ones that are more parametric and solid-based have certain terms. Others that are more shape and surface-based have other terms. They share some of the same terms and then ones that are more pixel-based like your ZBrush and stuff that’s sculpting have different terms because they are doing different things.
I totally get that and understand that, but what I wanted is your first entrée into 3D printing as a child especially should be immediate gratification, without doing the immediate gratification that is download and print. That’s a whole different level that I don’t want to talk about. It’s a creation mode but I want more immediate gratification to getting to a what for or a child.
I understand what you’re saying. For that, it may take a little more than just CAD software. It takes a certain CAD software with the right printer.
What I was thinking of, Tom, was more along the lines like Clipart. It needs a good library.
That’s what some of this is trying to be and Tinkercad for sure. However, what I was going to mention is that we have been in touch with a company who is running a Kickstarter called MiniToy and we saw them at CES. They have told me in an email that they’re sending us one for review and they said they’re shipping it. I haven’t gotten the tracking number yet. Hopefully, we’ll get that soon and then it will be in time to be included in our Battle of the Mini-Series review of 3D printers. If you go to the MiniToy page on Kickstarter, you can see a great video there that shows you what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to make it playful, fun and have an immediate satisfaction of being able to create something quickly. It is a lot with Clipart but you can also modify it if you want to. It’s all tablet-based for sure. Their software is tablet-based.
This is the problem that I see with a lot of these companies. They’re like, “We’re already software CAD manufacturers.” They have their mind in their world already and then they’re like, “Let’s just make a dumbed-down version,” and that’s what they end up doing. That’s where I get concerned in the fact that your Clipart, your things that you’re putting in there are not designed to be kid-friendly. They’re designed to be the simplistic version of something you know you’re going to need eventually.
That’s a fair criticism, Tracy. It’s hard for adults who create these software to put themselves in the minds of kids, especially when none of us that have used CAD in this modern world who would be in a position to code a CAD program had CAD available to us as kids. We did not experience learning it until we were young adults if not actual adults.
Here’s my point, you are not consulting with the right people as software developers or hardware developers who have a library and some interface in there. You must consult with someone who knows nothing about CAD and see how they’re going to approach it.
From a psychological perspective.
What is the first thing they’re going to want to do? What do they want to go into? What do they want to make? We’re talking about reviewing the Microsoft HoloLens, the whole thing that we saw online and everything. That was quite some time ago. The reality is that the whole intention of that is you’re physically using your hands to put things together like you would do Lego blocks, which we have that conversation with EduCraft. That is a gratification of sticking things together. If the things you’re sticking together is just a cone and a sphere, that doesn’t make sense.
Let me run down some of the details here of Tinkercad because it’s more than that. First of all, you can also import your own two-dimensional shape or 3D shape made from another computer if you wanted to. Of course, you have to learn some other software to do it. You’ve got a lot of different primitives from the community and from yourself. You have cubes, cylinders, spheres, pyramids, half-round things, spheres, and all that good stuff, and you can cut holes in them. This is introducing kids to the concept of subtracting different kinds of geometry from other geometry. They only let them subtract either a square or a cylinder out of other objects.
You can combine objects and group them together, but you can subtract them from those kinds of shapes. It has letters of the alphabet that are extruded in 3D and numbers, and a couple of oddball shapes like a star, heart, diamond and some things like that. There’s another interesting part of Tinkercad where they have this section called connectors. These are primitive shapes that are like a few different kinds of ball and socket type of joints. Let’s say you wanted to make some characters out of these primitive shapes. Let’s say a basic robot shape and you wanted to make arms and legs. You wanted them to maybe articulate and move. They’ve got some ball and socket type of joint components that you can add to other pieces. When you print them, you could snap them together and things like that.
I thought that’s a nice thing that they did. There was a gateway to constructing more complicated things and making pieces that can snap together. I like what they’re trying to do. I’m not a kid. Would I be satisfied with this for long? I don’t know. Our daughter has used it several times and created things that we’ve then printed because you can certainly export it to an appropriate file that can be sliced for whatever 3D printer you’re using. You can export an STL file. It’s a beginner program but it’s not a bad place to start. Especially given a lot of the other software out there that I’m aware of and I’m not reviewing here in this episode. I like that it’s web-based and it’s free. That’s accessible to anybody. You don’t have to worry about installing something on your computer and it is going to be compatible. If you’ve got a web browser, you can use it and then you can get started and print through your shapes.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a great entry-level CAD program but there needs to be something in before that that’s not SketchUp because it has many problems.
SketchUp is a lot more complicated than this.
It has a whole bunch of problems though and it’s helped put into 3D printing. Nobody loves that. That’s why we didn’t start there. People say, “SketchUp is the starting point,” but I don’t think it’s a starting point because it has many output problems with 3D printing.
We’ve learned that from a lot of people. I’m not a SketchUp user. I have used it but not in general. There are many errors that have to be fixed.
That’s why we didn’t start there as we think this is an entry-level because what you’re going to print out doesn’t work. It’s not helping anyone learn anything, but we need something that’s like Let’s Create! pottery app. Remember the pottery app that Aaron Johnson at CEO Space showed us?
He is somebody we want to interview on this podcast. He’s got a product that would be a huge amount of use to many of our readers who 3D prints their own stuff and want to take pictures of it.
He was sharing with us. He’s involved in one of the founders of Cricut, the vinyl laser cut machine.
It’s a vinyl paper cutter. It’s a machine that’s sold in Michaels Arts & Crafts, JOANN Fabrics and things like that.
We were sitting at a breakfast table with him and he was showing us this cool app that he plays with on his phone that his kids introduced him to and it’s called Let’s Create! Pottery. There’s a pottery wheel and you’re making your own pot’s shape.
It starts with a pile of clay on it and you manipulate it with your finger.
As it spins and everything. You can speed it up or slow it down. You fire it, decorate it and glaze it. It’s cool and satisfying. You put them on the open market. You can put them up and you get points. It’s like a game that goes on with this. He’s like, “I’ve had to take it off my phone multiple times because it’s addictive.” To me, if we can get something at that entry-level that’s addictive for kids to be able to do it and then it can be outputted in 3D printing where it’s not going to go terribly wrong. That to me is like that entry-level of they’re going to say, “This is so cool.” I definitely want to learn.” I’ll now attack and learn via Tinkercad or something like that.
Features like that could be added and programmed into something like Tinkercad. It doesn’t have to be in a separate program and then you come into Tinkercad. It can always be improved and enhanced. I’m sure it will continue to be.
This is why we started the podcast, to begin with. When there’s this steep learning curve and CAD has such a steep learning curve, it is too easy to get lost along the way if there’s no gratification and positive reinforcement of things that you are creating. If the whole time what you want to be doing is 3D printing and you’re spending all this time creating stuff that doesn’t 3D print, it’s frustrating.
That’s where a lot of companies rely on tutorials that are created by others and certainly in Tinkercad. Our friend, John Bokla, created a whole video series meant to teach kids how to start making things with Tinkercad and being successful. He’s produced a fun video from experience and our daughter was using them. She would have the iPad next to her running off YouTube, some of his video tutorials and then she would be trying to copy what he did on the computer. She enjoyed doing that. A lot of programs out there, they think more about providing software that has all these different capabilities and then having a separate class, video tutorial series or online tutorials of instructions taking you and walking you through how to do different things to do it. That’s not fun usually for kids to do, but that’s how they leave it so I like that. In the app idea, you’re right because remember that Pottery thing.
It’s fun. I’ve been wanting to download it to my phone, but I’m afraid to because it will be too distracting.
Knowing you, it will be too distracting. It’s a good move not to download it. This is a tough thing. I don’t expect there to be a lot of great satisfaction expressed to us from our readers about the reviews on any of these CAD programs. It’s been my experience that you cannot do everything with one program. We have another interview that’s coming up with an actual professional sculptor artist who has embraced 3D printing and 3D printing ceramics. What you’ll know in that interview is she didn’t learn CAD. She decided that if she was going to learn it, she was going to waste a whole bunch of years learning CAD when what she wanted was to help have her vision expressed in three dimensions.
She worked with somebody who knew CAD and gave them the direction for what she wanted to make and sitting side by side with this person while creating all these things. They said that they had to go back and forth between ZBrush, Rhino and one other program in order to accomplish all the things they wanted to accomplish. Here’s the point I’m trying to make. There is no single silver bullet for what’s the best CAD program and which one should I get. It depends greatly on the types of things you want to make, the type of either amateur or professional that you are whether you’re more of an engineer or you’re more of a design and artist creative type or you’re just a young student who’s learning. You don’t know what one of those things you’re going to be at. There’s no right or wrong answer.
Different CAD programs are either using primitives or they’re building things from 2D shapes and surfaces, or they’re taking a virtual hunk of clay and carving into it and cutting away from it. I’m doing more of a subtractive modeling process for what then becomes an additive manufacturing process in 3D printing, which is ironic but I find that interesting. I hope, despite the great debate here of what these programs should or shouldn’t be or could be that this is nonetheless helpful.
Tinkercad is a fine program. I admire it for a lot of things and I don’t think it’s a bad place to start. You may outgrow it quickly but that’s great. Experience it, outgrow it, and move on to the next thing. We’ll talk about what some of those next things might be. This is not as technical as some tech episodes are because there’s not a whole lot technical to go into with this program. It’s user-friendly and intuitive visually, but as we get on to others, it will get into a more technical discussion so stay tuned for those. Feel free to give us a comment at 3DStartPoint.com or send us some photos of things you’ve done either on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media way @HazzDesign.
Thanks for reading.
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