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Ask Slashdot: Best 3-D Design Software? 218

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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  • Rhino (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, 2013 @03:55PM (#43192429)

    Rhino is an excellent surface modeler. People need to understand that a solid modeler is a different animal from a surface modeler. Solid modelers are usually parametric and are good for nested objects and assemblies. Surface modelers are good at smooth ergonomic designs. Many people use both to complete projects.

    • Nurbs are a lot less flexible than meshes. A simple subdivision modeler for beginners would probably be better such as Wings3d. I suppose it depends on what he wants to do, but if he's not printing parts for stuff, he'l be much better off with the greater flexibility.
      • Re:Rhino (Score:5, Informative)

        by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @04:15PM (#43192575)
        NURNS surfaces are *not* supposed to be "flexible", they are supposed to be suitable for industrial design, e.g., with precise control for curvature and its differences, even at joining seams, etc. Subdivision surfaces were developed for artsy stuff, not for modeling things that someone will attempt to actually manufacture without pulling out one's hair and banging one's head against the wall.
        • Re:Rhino (Score:5, Funny)

          by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @04:21PM (#43192625) Homepage

          ALL 3D design software is designed with the idea of having users pulling out one's hair and banging one's head against the wall. I think the software companies in this industry get together in some basement conference room (probably on the Oracle campus) and share tips.

          • Re:Rhino (Score:4, Funny)

            by robthebloke ( 1308483 ) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @08:30AM (#43196245)
            We all start out designing nice tools for 3D modelling, with sane interfaces, and straight forward paradigms. After a while, we realise that all 3D surfaces need to be manipulated in 4 spatial dimensions (5 if you include time), before being projected back through 3D, and then once more into 2D. A while later, we also find out that you need 720 degrees to do a full rotation, and that 360 degrees is merely a reflection through the imaginary plane. A while later still, we all meet up in a basement in Siggraph to see how every else did it, and realise that everyone else has simply given up trying to do anything better. After all of that, we normally decide that the best thing to do is to provide the users with an experience not unlike regedit, before we all sod off down the pub.
        • You're right, but he didn't specify he was going to be doing industrial design. He also said he was a beginner. I wouldn't recommend beginners start with nurbs. They're anything but user-friendly.
      • Nurbs are a lot less flexible than meshes. A simple subdivision modeler for beginners would probably be better such as Wings3d.

        Subdivision surfaces are great for traditional polygonal modeling approach but lousy for printing parts. Trying to blend chamfers through SubDs is a huge PITA. Something like Rhino with procedural compound booleans + fillets make that kind of work far easier.

    • +1 vote for Rhino if you want to spend a little money. Solidworks and Autocad are definitely better for large mechanical designs but they cost significantly more. Rhino is a good middle ground between the engineering needs and the purely aesthetic focused products. I would shy away from 3ds Max and Maya. Both work (we just finished a 3D printed project in 3ds max) but they're both focused more on film and games than printing.

    • I'll second this. I'm currently in grad school for architecture, and we use a ton of maker-space-esque tools. We have laser cutters, cnc mills, cnc plasmacutters, a waterjet cutter, 3d printers, and now a cnc fabric cutter, and Rhino's the tool of choice to design in here. It also has a ton of free plug ins that expand its power. Grasshopper's a great visual scripting tool if you're into parametric design (I'm not exactly sold on this yet), and through Grasshopper, you can use Firefly. Firefly is a plu
  • Try Wings3d (Score:4, Informative)

    by Psyborgue ( 699890 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @03:58PM (#43192453) Homepage Journal
    It'll always create closed meshes and is simple enough for beginners to use with more advanced modes available as you learn more. It can also export to a wide variety of formats.
    • Sketchup, OpenSCAD (Score:5, Informative)

      by naroom ( 1560139 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @04:25PM (#43192663)
      I tried Wings3d first, and it's easy to get into and make some compositions of cubes and spheres and whatnot. There's a good starting tutorial here [] where you make a simple table.

      However, as a programmer, I find it much faster and more intuitive to use OpenSCAD. Instead of clicking on things and moving them around on the screen, you edit code that generates the objects. There are thousands of examples to get you started at thingiverse []. Here's one of mine [].

      At the other extreme, Google Sketchup is excellent for the "click and drag objects around" approach. Its UI is way more powerful than Wings3D, and it may even be an easier starting point for non-programmers.
      • I've never used Sketchup, but based on what i've seen it seems to be more of a cad program than an object modeler. Wings can be very very powerful, if you enable the more advanced modes.
        • by hsmyers ( 142611 ) *

          Then I can only suggest that you look again and this time take off those silly blinders :) Given the ability to 'push', 'pull' and a host of other actions, Sketchup leaves cad behind. I've used AutoCad since version 1.4 and Sketchup from the beginning and I think it accurate to say the the former is 2D while the latter is 3D. That said, OpenSCAD is a sweet piece of work and quite easy to use---IF you can handle the paradigm of code->drawing. You write code and then compile it to see your object. Very pow

          • I have nothing against Sketchup, though I suspect it would be easier to create something like this [] in Wings rather than Sketchup. I could be wrong but most of what I see on Google Images created with sketchup tend to be things like houses. Nothing very complex. Does Sketchup create closed / print ready meshes?
    • Another for Wings3D for a beginner. It's free, fast, easy to learn and use, but be warned it does have limitations. Most notably it cannot do boolean operations. like subtracting one shape from another. There are supposed to be mods that allow this, but I've never gotten them to work.

      • I agree it has some limitations but personally i've never missed boolean operations. I've never seen a plugin or tool that could create decent geometry. Blender has non-destructive boolean modifiers that can create decent results, but there are serious issues at the intersection with smooth shading. It would be nice if the modifier automatically set the edges created from the intersection to be marked for the cut modifier, but so far as I know it doesn't at the moment. You have to manually apply the mod
    • I'm shocked and dismayed that nobody has mentioned Minecraft. With a 3D printer, you can print anything made in the game out. And anyone in this field who asks what the "best" of something is, is probably a n00b. Why are we suggesting state of the art tech that most people need several years' training in a technical school to use effectively when there's a perfectly good game you can download that'll do the same? :/

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As someone who has used AutoDesk Inventor, PTC Elements/Pro, and Solidworks in an engineering setting, they are all pretty much the same toolset but with the buttons rearranged. If you want to use CAD software, though, what really matters most is whether you can find a guide that is well-written on how to use CAD software for things. You may, in fact, want to take a course at the local community college. Whatever software they use, you can then buy and be at least moderately experienced with it.

    My college u

    • Mod parent up. I'm taking CNC machining and CAD/CAM classes at a local community college.

      You'll need to import your files into CAM software to generate code to run your CNC machines. A class can be very useful.

      Also, if you have buddies who are used to setting up the CNC milling and turning centers, see if you can get them to train you on the basics of setup, such as touching off tools, putting workpieces in the vise or chuck, and the common practice of machining special aluminum vise jaws for Kurt vises to

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      Inventor, Solid Works, etc are mechanical engineering tools. They are basically the same and not all that difficult to learn. I learned much on Inventor in a week.

      OTOH, Blender and the like are more freeform design applications. I have not really worked on learning Blender, but what I have seen is good

      What one uses depends on what one wants to do. If the point is to design parts that will fit together and function mechanically, then something like Inventor might be best. If the point is to design

    • As someone who has used AutoDesk Inventor, PTC Elements/Pro, and Solidworks in an engineering setting, they are all pretty much the same toolset but with the buttons rearranged. If you want to use CAD software, though, what really matters most is whether you can find a guide that is well-written on how to use CAD software for things. You may, in fact, want to take a course at the local community college. Whatever software they use, you can then buy and be at least moderately experienced with it.

      My college uses [] this book and it's pretty well-written, if you would rather avoid having to take a course. Solidworks is very capable of doing anything a hobbyist might want to and more.

      Definitely mod up, he is right because it seems to me that ALL main stream 3D CAD software (solid edge, solid works, autodesk inventor, etc etc etc) are all basically the same, just the arrangement of the GUI is different. The nuts and bolts are the same.

      Also, the commercial big name packages are a LOT easier to use than the freebies. It's like the difference between Adobe Premier and Vegas Video. One is intuitive, and the other is like trying to eat soup with a hammer. "You're gonna have a bad time"


  • by Anonymous Coward

    A great way to get your feet wet for no cost. Start by making and manipulating mesh objects. Really, everything you learn in one program is somewhat transferrable to another, so the best way is to just dive in, watch some tutorials and fiddle. Then you can try out a bunch of different packages to see what suits your needs best.

    • He already said Blender was too complicated for him, and I agree. It allows greater flexibility than a strict box modeler like Wings3d, but at the same time unless you know what you're doing it's very easy to create bad geometry. With Blender he would have to learn about normals, open and closed meshes, etc. WIth simpler programs such things are done automatically. For example, in Wings, unless you really intend to make a hole in a mesh (and you do this by applying a non-destructive "hole" material), the
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Check out OpenVSP . Although airplane focused, you'd be surprised what you can quickly create. It has a number of ways of creating *.STL files ready for 3D printing.

    If you don't want to dive right in, you can browse their community file exchange....

    It is currently undergoing significant refactoring/rewriting. After that is completed, you can expect significantly greater capability including better support for non-airplane objects.

  • 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.

    • by naroom ( 1560139 )
      Yeah, that doc is pretty damn awesome overall. There's a ton of great information in there.

      However, it does push milling over 3D printing. For the author's application, making teeny tiny gears, he's right: milling machines are the right way to go. But 3D printing is awesome for making larger things, and it's a MUCH faster and simpler process than milling is. Not to mention cheaper. So bear that in mind as you read it.
      • by Fjandr ( 66656 )

        I'm not sure what machines you've used, but CNC machines are fast, simple, and stock is far cheaper by volume (especially for anything requiring decent tensile strength) than filament stock. Wood, acrylic, and billet aluminum are dirt cheap compared to the same volume of filament.

        The only case in general where the above isn't true is when you want the option to make something that is not solid, which the guide notes.

        When comparing machine costs, you also need to compare machine quality. Yeah, a MakerBot is

      • by JanneM ( 7445 )

        Isn't the authors point really that subtractive milling is just as simple as additive printing? And that for most uses you're better off using either to make a mold rather than make your item directly, because of material limitations? All the mold-making and casting steps are the same whichever technology you happen to use.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Solidworks will change your life. Once you grasp the concept of parametric modelling, nothing else goes so quickly from concept to making chips.

    • Solidworks will change your life.

      Uh, right. So will overdosing on PCP.

      With about the same effect.

    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

      Sure it'll change your life. You'll go broke, that's why. Unless you've got serious money to burn, FreeCAD and Alibre are the only serious contenders.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You'll want 3D parametric, associative modeler. The parametric means the dimensions are parameterized. Associative means the geometry is referenced off other geometries (edges, faces, etc). Alibre is probably the cheapest. Solid Works the most popular.

  • 1. Who you work with & funds you can spend: vendors, suppliers to interchange files with might be most important, or the company you might work with later.
    2. Simple vs complex 3D surfacing-solids needs. You want to learn simpler constructions that are extruded and rotated sections first. Jumping into complex 3D surfacing for "organic" shapes right off the bat can be confusing & frustrating.
    3. Training: It takes time to get the subtleties, and that may take a couple days practice on each platf

  • OpenSCAD ? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 16, 2013 @04:07PM (#43192525)

    If you come from a programming background, you might have a look at OpenSCAD ( It's a FOSS tool which allows you to do constructive solid geometry ( through a programming language rather than a GUI (though you do have a GUI for visualization).

    It's pretty cool as it allows you to create parametric objects : for example, there are libraries to generate gears by specifing parameters such as radius and number of teeth.

    Quite a few projects of the reprap family are developped with this tool.

  • Solidworks, AutoCAD (CATIA, Unigraphics PRO/Engineer etc.) are software designed for engineering and understanding what they're all about, even if some have some handy CNC extensions(both proprietary or created by others) would require some relevant education in the field; I suggest you play around with the stuff people use for the gaming industry (Maya, Milkshape, Rhino). Anyway, my 2 cents.
  • it depends a lot on what you need to do — you can model and design something in a specialized app like ArchiCAD in 2 days what would take you 2 weeks in a generalized programme like AutoCAD.

    if you were doing 3D animation, and needed procedural behaviours, particles, and vast datasets — Houdini is the top of the bunch for 3D Rendering and Animation.

    needs define software.

    ArchiCAD (free trial, requires registration): []

    Houdini (Apprentice Free Vers

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'd recommend using your favourite text editor to write out .obj or .ply files. You can even change the font without affecting the final file.

  • For 3D printing, I lean toward OpenSCAD because it's more like a programming language and you can define your model mathematically with great precision. For importing and tweaking existing models I lean toward Blender. Neither is particularly easy to learn, but both are very powerful (and FREE).
  • I would suggest you start on 3D printing as that has the most intuitive manufacturing paradigm (YMMV but still...). The easiest solid modeler to learn is probably Tinkercad: []. Blender and Sketchup are not solid modelers. They CAN produce manufacturable (i.e watertight) meshes if you know what you want from them, though. I would suggest you try 3D printing with Tinkercad to get your bearings and then figure out where to go next.
  • One of the best all around but not cheap.
  • The unfortunate fact of the matter is, most 3D design software is quite similar, in that learning the software can require a bit of a learning curve. At first, it is a rather unusual way to design things but once learned can become incredibly powerful and intuitive, especially when jumping from software to software if that is ever required (particularly if you have to write machine code for a CNC mill). My best advice to you is to pick one and simply jump right in and learn it. I know that's probably not he
    • CATIA? Really?

      Sure, it's nice if you need to use it in an industrialized setting, and have assemblies with thousands of components. But as for designing small objects for personal manufacture? All I can say about using CATIA for model creation is that it leaves me sorely wishing for SolidWorks (which is funny, since they're now owned by the same company).

  • Depends on what your target is.

    If you are planning on doing a lot of complex curved work, you might want to look at Rhino -- it's a highly capable surface modeler. I often describe it as "like autoCAD but inherently 3d and without the suck." The basics can be learned very quickly and you can do relatively sophisticated work with it shortly there after. It's actually kind of a pleasure to work with. Version 5 is just out and I haven't seen it, but I can't imagine it makes a huge dent in some of the UI and

  • I'm an architect and I've used Rhino for quite a while and have found it to have the most intuitive workflow between 2-d and 3-d, working between making curves or projections and using those to make solid geometry. It is also great at interface with both CNC mills and 3d printers--I've used it quite a bit myself to print architectural models and also know of quite a few other design offices that use it in a production setting. It also has quite a large community and a great scripting interface in grasshop
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How about freecad ?

  • Alibre! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Keick ( 252453 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @04:29PM (#43192697)

    Alibre is worth learning if your serious about CAD/CAM. The personal version is only $99 and should do anything you want outside of NURBS. You absolutely don't want to use something like Blender for 2D/3D precision work.

    Alibre tries to follow the Solidworks way of doing things, so if you learn Alibre then you can quickly migrate to something more high-end if you ever need too.

    It has support for full parametric solids cad, so it isn't the old school Autocad stuff where you have to pretend you know what its going to look like from your 2D sketches.

    When your ready to cut metal, or print plastic, Alibre can output a number of solid models (STL) formats, as well as DWG and DXF which are critical for using importing into a good CAM package (whole nother ask slashdot on choosing a good CAM).

    Alibre has some pretty easy to follow tutorials to get you started.

    I don't work for the company, just a VERY happy camper when I bit the bullet 2 years or so ago and got the $99 version. Used it to design a 3D printer down to every last nut/bolt.

    Yes its a challenge, but like everything worth doing...

    Last, but not least, get plugged into the forums at They have categories for every type of machine from mills, lathes, to 3D printers; from every type of CAD package to every type of CAM. Its a great asset, and once your hooked you'll spend more time reading on cnczone than here on Slashdot (sacrilegious i know).

    • I would agree with Alibre. I bought it years ago for some work a friend and I were working on. Like all 3D software, there is a heavy learning curve, and there is no free lunch here. Alibre came with around 6hrs of training videos, and of course, there is YouTube for lots of other questions that come up.

      I think you'll find after reading all these posts that there is no easy way to do this, you sort of have to pick one and go with it. Alibre is very well supported, and has a pretty big following in the h

  • I have been doing 3D modeling for over 25 years. If you really want to get good or create some neat stuff, it doesn't matter what program you use. They are all "hammers" and we all prefer a particular "handle" to pound nails. If you really want to do some scripted 3d renderings, use POVray, If you want a program with a UI Blender,3DSMax, or something along those lines works great. If you need precision, any form of AutoCAD works great. Pro/E and others like it are a bit more difficult. Pick a program and bu
  • It's amazing.
    The command-line in Rhino is robust (scriptable via Python) and Grasshopper allows node-based geometry workflows (like Max/MSP, Houdini, Quartz Composer, etc). It also allows you to create complex scripts and control their input in real time. Rhino is impressively accurate (algorithm-wise) for its price. I've seen this setup where my girlfriend studies architecture, but also at NYU's interactive telecommunications program (where I study) - two places that have quite different requirements (one

  • by Bongo ( 13261 )

    formZ deserves a mention.

  • AgentCubes/Inflatable Icons allows you do create 3D shapes very quickly with no 3D modeling background. Paint images in 2D and turn into 3D. You indicated that you are struggling with 3D tools such as Blender and even Sketchup. I guess I don't know what kinds of shapes and what kind of quality of 3D shapes you have in mind. We have been exploring for some time why many people have problems using these kinds of tools. The short answer is that these tools are aimed at typically professional 3D designers or, m

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm trying to understand what you are asking for, and I'll just take a wild guess and say that you are a complete beginner who really wants to use advanced tools to make some stuff, not just a saw+hammer+nails?
    Consider what you are asking of your CNC/printer/etc. vs. what you want to create. If you want to make things that are composed of many things attached together for some function, then the idea of make something in 3D becomes a layer of more of complex considerations. If you want parts to fit and move

  • A totally different approach, if you like programming is processing []. If you're not a serious coder, it's got a light-weight IDE and is specifically designed to be a gateway drug for artists/designers to the world of computational design. If you're already comfortable with Java, you can import the processing core into eclipse and really go hammer and tongs at it. It's got a ton of libraries, several of which are specifically devoted to creating STLs, meshes, NURBs and exporting that geometry out to STL, dxf,
  • by drgould ( 24404 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @05:02PM (#43192879)

    123D Design [] from Autodesk is free and compatible with 3D printers.

    Here's [] a guy who used it to replace a critical piece of a mounting bracket for his TomTom GPS.

    The video [] gives you some insight into the workflow from design to 3D printing.

  • For building abstract, conceptual 3D objects, I find Maya or 3DS Max are the best. The uniform interface style Autodesk provides is very easy to learn across programs, and they both seem to achieve the same end result in different ways. I use these mostly for creating models for video games or for CG animations, but I have saved the odd .OBJ and 3D printed it before.

    For creating something you actually want to mass produce, or even I would suppose for the one-off 3D printed objects, SolidWorks can't be beat.

  • I'm not sure what the requirements are for models to be 3D printed. I can imagine you need a solid model to make a print, but the software that comes with the printer can probably convert a surface model into a solid model. Most objects you'll print wont be very solid anyway, but rather thin-walled hollow objects.

    I'm guessing a surface modeller like Rino, Blender or Wings3d are the best option, since these a cheaper than solid modelling software and more suitable for creative design.

    Solid modellers like Sol

  • Blender.

    When learning complex and powerful software look for two things: Cross-platform & Open-source.
    Cross-platform code is usually much more stable, having a healthy abstraction layer from the os.
    Open-source: It can never be taken away from you - say you learn autocad, and use 1 feature allot, then there is a new version of windows and it's not compatible with your autocad, so you get new autocad, but that feature isn't there anymore. if it were opensource you could maybe do something about it.

    You pu

  • 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.
  • Havn't used it myself but I was impressed with the interface of ViaCAD as shown in this article: []
  • If you have access to such machines, what software are they using already?

    You might not want to pay for a full version for hobby use, but if you have to make last-minute adjustments on your files before cutting/printing then you would still want to know how to use what's already there.
  • I am working/in school, as/for mechanical Engineering. I have used Pro/Engineer and IronCad extensively they are polar opposites in the way that they operate. They also both have there advantages and disadvantages.

    When I had to chose a 3d Cad Program for myself I chose IronCad mostly on price but after using it for two years I genuinely feel that It is the fastest to model and easiest to use (but coming from Pro/E offers at times hair pulling levels of frustration mostly due to differences in methodolo
  • by Latentius ( 2557506 ) on Saturday March 16, 2013 @06:41PM (#43193419)

    I'm not a complete CAD junkie or anything, but I've used ProE, SolidWorks, and even CATIA. If I wanted to just design something for fun, I'd probably reach for SolidWorks first. It's really powerful, but also really intuitive and easy to use (at least the more recent versions).

    I've heard a lot of good things about Rhino, too (and many others have called it out here), but I haven't used it personally, so I can't compare it to the others above.

  • I have used Vectorworks before, and although it is not as popular as other CAD packages out there, I have found it much easier to use and just as capable.

  • I like it. You can do some interesting things with it. However, you have to code.
  • Not a single mention of Solid Edge? I'm wondering why... is it no longer considered a viable package these days?
  • The industry STANDARD is Solidworks, with SOME form of CAM, but it is expensive, and the CAM side of the house can get crazy, depending on what features you want/need to support. High speed machining? 3+ axis profiling? etc. The HUGE advantage, if you are a student, you can get it CHEAP, and even better, if your school picks it up/you have access to their validation server it can be free. Going into the pro world, this is the one they will probably expect you to know
    Best for money/easiest? I went Alibre

  • A free AutoCAD-type program. Dassault Systemes Draftsight.
    • by GrpA ( 691294 )

      Draftsight is ARES Commander with the 3D stuff stripped out. The only function remaining is extrude, but all the important boolean stuff is gone, as are the 3D editing commands. From that perspective, it's not suitable at all, since the OP wants to create 3D products.

      Draftsight is a great 2D application, but isn't suited for 3D at all, though it does let others view, export and print 3D objects, especially if you create them on Ares Commander or CorelCAD. It also works with Autocad files.


      • I picked a fine week to stop sniffing glue, eh? I use DS mostly to document PCBs, which is 2D. I just saw various 3D functions and assumed it was more powerful than that, I guess...
  • I am in roughly the same situation, having bought a sub-$1000 3D printer just before Christmas. I then had to learn CAD and found there were few solutions in my price range. In the end, price drove my selection almost exclusively.

    The cheapest I found was Cubify Invent, which is for the Cube 3D printer. It was very cheap, and probably the easiest to use, but it's very limited. Good enough to create basic stuff though.

    The next up was CorelCAD - you can get this cheap on Amazon, especially older versions ( tho

  • Get the student version of Ansys Workbench or Ansoft HFSS. They are mainly intended for very serious finite element analysis and their geometry editing and model editing features are less complete than the full fledged CAD packages. But even the simple model editor that they include `a gratis in their analysis package is surprisingly powerful.

    If you know coding and do not mind wrangling with the a language like scheme (a derivative of lisp (which is actually an acronym (lots of irritating silly parenthesi

    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

      LOL. Ansys is, user-interface-wise, stuck in an awkward prehistoric backwater that it created for itself. We're talking of a system that has FORTRAN READ command line syntax, for crying out loud. At least until 3 years ago or so didn't have any sort of undo in its user interface. I see absolutely no reason to use ANSYS as a modeler of any sort, except if you want to run FEA on your ad-hoc model. Your productivity will be worse than entering openscad or povray source - in notepad. I have used Ansys for a bun

  • Since this is /. I'll start with a programming analogy. Imagine someone saying: "Hey, I got one of those rasberry pi computers and a bunch of stepper motors and I want to build a robot." Sure you could do it but you would need to be ready to put in some time and a lot of hard work.

    CAD design is a field, just like programming. You need to learn some basics of design (drafting in the days of old) first. This doesn't mean that you need a degree but it does mean that you should be a bit organized in how you app

  • Slashdot, what is the best gaming system, OS, food, and political philosophy?

  • There are a bunch of trade offs when producing a 3d printable model:
    - artistic versus engineering versus programmable ui
    - how much resolution is in the final print
    - how many vertexes/etc do you want for complex objects
    - how important exact dimensions/etc are for you
    - how much time do you have to create the design

    In general:
    - If you must be able to let anyone without experience quickly produce a design, tinkercad is by far the best software to use. It's also good for quick modifications to designs made in o

  • by anethema ( 99553 ) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @02:32AM (#43195407) Homepage

    I do 3D printing and talk a lot to the designers of the big printers. As mentioned above, you definitely don't want Blender, or any of those other surface modelling apps. They WILL work, but tend to suck for dimensional accuracy, and you can create weird crap that cant actually exist.

    I think if money is no object, Solidworks is by far the easiest and most powerful thing you can jump into, with tons of resources on the net. If you can afford the price tag or are going to pirate it anyways, Solidworks is great.

    The mendelmax series of printers is designed by maxbots. He personally uses Alibre. He says it does a lot of what solidworks does, and with some caveats, thinks that for the 99$ it is a great tool and all you'll ever need for basic 3D modelling. Depending on your patent stance, 3D systems owns a shit ton of patents on 3d printing in general and they don't hesitate to use them to close down infringing competitors. This may sour you.

    If you want a fairly nice option that is getting nicer every day, FreeCAD is obviously free, open source, and is a fairly nice tool. Obviously no Solidworks, but the price is right!

    And the last but certainly not least is OpenSCAD. You write your 3D models like programs, and it will render them. This allows some very cool time saving things, but it is obviously a bit less visual, so it depends on how you think, design, etc, and what your background is. Many of the things you will make in OpenSCAD will end up being parametric as well, making resizing and changing things somewhat easier. That being said any of the above tools can create parametric designs.

    Anyways good luck, I love 3d printing, and would love to get a mill some day! Or maybe just start casting my prints using the lost PLA method: []

    Have fun!

  • by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) on Sunday March 17, 2013 @08:45AM (#43196311)

    As another poster said, most CAD packages have a terrible UI. Be prepared to spend lots of time.

    SketchUp is a pleasant exception, but that's because it has relatively few features. Nevertheless, it's a good starting point. Use it until you run into its limitations, and use the knowledge you've gained to make an informed decision about your next step.

    I've recently started using PTC Creo Elements (formerly Pro-Engineer, I believe). It couples a very complicated UI with useless documentation.

    I've also used Inivis AC3D. After running into SketchUp's limitations, I tried a number of CAD packages, and this what I ended up with. I wanted an application where I could use at least some of my Adobe Illustrator experience, so I downloaded a couple of programs and tried drawing a simple curved shape (a rocket engine nozzle) in it. AC3D was the only one where I managed to do this within an hour or so.
    Its drawback is that it doesn't do parametric (Bezier) curves.

  • Each of the tools you mentioned has a scope of applications in mind, some very specific and specialized.

    If you really mention Autocad and Blender or sketchup in one sentence, then think first about

    -what you want to create (technical CAD database for drawings/CAE/CAM, nice graphics, prototypically designed enclosures for things)
    -in which process step you are (manufaturing/different design phases)
    -in which business you are working (and to whom you have to send your files)
    -how much money you want to invest (no

  • 3D navigation with a mouse is a PITA, so do yourself a favor and find a CAD program that is compatible with a 3D controller (the 3DConnexion controllers, for instance). This made my life a bit easier, at least.

  • While AutoCAD can do 3D, Autodesk's 3D parametric modeling software is called Inventor. It is on par with Solidworks but no where near as visible (as evidenced by the OP). While they can do it, both SW and IV were not created to do the swoopy, curvy, artsy stuff, but the more prismatic, industrial and manufacturing type of modeling.
  • .
    I've used CAELinux for quite a bit, but focused on Finite Element Modeling using Salome->Code_Aster. There are several packages on the disk and easy to burn the LiveDVD, insert it into your computer, reboot, use the software, reboot back to your base system. []


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.