3D modelling is far easier than it ever was, but starting with your first 3D printer can still seem challenging. In order to get the most out of your 3D printer, it is useful to start out your first stint at modelling with a framework or plan of the process you will be using to turn your concept into reality. Most 3D modellers begin with a hand-drawing, turn it into a 3D model, modify and improve the 3D model and then finally print it with the 3D printer. It is also useful to find the right software to work with as a beginner as well as have some basic tools handy to finish the project to your satisfaction.
How 3D Modelling and Printing
Most 3D projects begin on paper and then go into a computer in the form of a design file (which is a mathematical description of a 3D objects in simple terms). There are several different file formats used in 3D printing, such as .stl, .obj, .vrml and so on. Many printers accept all of these formats and more. The process for 3D printing is standard – the printer takes the description of the object, ‘slices’ it up into several layers and slowly builds up the object from the bottom up. The material used can influence the process, such as the introduction of lasers, film extruders etc.
The Basics of 3D Modelling
There are many different ways of working with 3D modelling. The easiest way is to go from pen and paper to your 3D printing software. When starting on your project, the easiest thing to do is draw your design on paper and then digitize it (with Photoshop or equivalent software) and create an outline of the design. Next, a 3D model is extruded from the 2D file and then worked on with basic 3D modelling tools or exported to a 3D modelling software for further improvements. Knowing how to control and modify 3D objects, rotating the object on the work area, importing it as a file readable by printers, scaling and adjusting the design, designing with materials in mind, creating interlocking or articulated designs by combining objects are some of the other areas where training helps.
Software for 3D Modelling for Beginners
There is a variety of software that you can use for 3D modelling and printing, and many of these designed for beginners are free. Some are open-source, allowing you to create different algorithms for printing. Choosing the software that works for you will be a matter of considering price and user level. It is recommended for beginners to try their hand with some free or easily available software specially designed for beginners before using or purchasing more advanced software.
Engineers and architects often use CAD tools for creating models in 3D, using geometric shapes for modelling. CAD software supporting 3D printing may be designed for beginners, intermediate users or professionals. Autodesk Inc. 3D Systems Inc., FreeCAD Community are some of the biggest developers of free. Freeform modelling tools, on the other hand, allow you to use freeform shapes and give you greater flexibility. Again Autodesk Inc. offers good freeform modelling software. A few sculpting tools like the freemium 123D Sculpt, and Leopoly let you pinch, push, pull and grab your 3D models like digital clay.
During or after the model has been printed, there are some other DIY tools that come in handy, such as masking tape or other adhesive tapes to cover print beds, digital callipers to check precision of designs, palette knives to pry prints loose from the print bed, knives and cutting mats for post-processing as well as sandpaper etc. As you learn to use your modelling software and 3D printer to bring your designs to life, you will slowly discover methods and techniques to improve how you work with the printer and take the technology to its limits.
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