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Ask Slashdot: Best 3-D Design Software? 218

Posted by Soulskill
from the measured-in-fewest-steps-to-recreate-the-starship-enterprise dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I'm just getting into playing around with various maker-related tools, and I've run into a bit of a roadblock. I have access to a 3-D printer, a CNC mill, and a bunch of other fun tools, but I'm not able to make my own designs to use on them. I'd like to learn some 3-D design, but there are a ton of different software options, and I'm not sure which is the best. I've been hesitant to jump right into one, because I don't know how well it'll suit my needs compared to the others, and many of the options have a pretty steep price tag. I also don't want to spend a bunch of time learning one only to find out it's not very good for actually making things. I've played around briefly with Solidworks, Alibre, and AutoCAD, and also some free options like Blender and Sketchup. But these are complicated piece of software, and knowing nothing, it's hard for me to evaluate the differences. Makers of Slashdot, what do you recommend? Also, if you know of good online resources for learning 3-D design in general, or on any of this software in particular, I'd love to see it."
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Ask Slashdot: Best 3-D Design Software?

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  • Guerrilla guide (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kill-1 (36256) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @04:04PM (#43192495)

    The Guerrilla guide to CNC machining, mold making, and resin casting [] is probably one of best resources you can find.

  • Re:Blender is good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Psyborgue (699890) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @05:22PM (#43192991) Homepage Journal
    Not to mention stuff tends to move around with every single version so a tutorial for version 2.55 may not be applicable to 2.66. It wouldn't be so bad if they documented things, but this is sadly not always the case. Just take the bevel took for example. I don't think that's stayed in one place for any of the past 10 or so releases. Sometimes it's a tool. Sometimes it's a modifier. Sometimes it's under the "w" menu. It can be frustrating as all hell if you don't keep up with every release. Skip a few and it's like learning the program from scratch again.
  • Solidworks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by twistedsymphony (956982) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @05:40PM (#43193081) Homepage
    Since your goal is 3D printing or CNC machinging I would say you definitly want a "Solid Modeler" type package. I prefer SolidWorks personally, In my experience it's the defacto among small to medium sized manufacturing shops that keep up with the times, Pro-Engineer is popular too. AutoCAD seems pretty popular among shops that are a little behind the times.

    Larger companies (Auto and Aerospace manufacturers) tend to use packages such as Catia, but that's way overkill (and way out of budget) for 3D printing and the like, it's more suited to massive assemblies with thousands or millions of components. Solidworks isn't without it's faults but I find the interface fairly intuitive once you learn the basics and it's perfect for small-scale stuff. I've used it many times to design small components and assemblies for car and computer projects among other things. Most professional software solid-modeling packages can export to whatever format you'll need for your 3D printer, CNC software, or whatever it is that your manufacturer requires.

    You want a solid-modeler like Solidworks/Pro-E/Catia/etc because they're all designed with dimensional accuracy in mind. Surface modelers are generally used for 3D graphics production and have a higher concentration on making things look good than being dimensionally accurate. It's like the difference between MS Word and Adobe Photoshop... if you want to write a book, Word is probably the better software, but if you're designing a poster, Photoshop is probably the better choice... both create "documents" but they have very different uses... similarly if you need a 3D design software for manufacturing or real world production you want Solidworks, but if you wanted to make a 3D move or game Maya would be a better choice.
  • Re:Blender is good (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 17, 2013 @02:37AM (#43195421)

    Placement of individual vertices isn't really the issue. The issue is control of curvature between the vertices.

    For example... in Blender, try to make a cube with a cylindrical hole in it. The four square faces of the cube are no problem; they can be specified exactly with polygons. The cylindrical hole, OTOH, is more of a problem. You will end up with an approximation to the cylindrical hole, but not an exact cylinder. You will also have to get your approximation at the right level of detail on the first go, because there's no easy way to re-generate at a higher level of detail without re-making the entire mesh.

    Compare with NURBS modeling... with NURBS, the four sides of the cube are plain NURBS patches; basically the same as the Blender polygons. The sides with the circular holes in them will be specified with trim-curves which (in this particular instance, but not always) can exactly specify a circular hole. The cylindrical hole will then be a single patch which is mathematically identical to a cylinder. The entire NURBS solid can be generated to any level of detail using tessellation. It's not necessary to specify the level of detail until you actually output the solid for machining, 3D printing, or whatever.

    This describes the "precision problem". The problem is not individual vertices, but control of the curvature between them.

Your own mileage may vary.