One of the biggest reasons for buying a 3D printer is for the convenient, custom manufacturing. If you can dream and design a concept, you can print it.

There are several CAD (3D design programs) that work for designing 3D printable models. These programs vary in levels of detail and difficulty, spanning from simple shape-building programs to intense design programs used by professional designers around the world.

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite design programs, but you can find more program recommendations here. You can also read Shapeway’s guide to designing here.

TinkerCAD

There’s a reason we often mention TinkerCAD. It’s fun, colorful, kid-friendly, and easy to use. This web-based design program is free, too! If you’re completely green when it comes to 3D design, TinkerCAD is your best bet. Be sure to check out the tutorial designs provided through the site and the how-to guide we wrote specifically for MOD-t users!

CAD Programs
TinkerCAD offers awesome tutorials to help you sharpen your skills.

Sketchup

Sketchup is widely used in classrooms, offices, and art studios. The downloadable (and free!) program is great for 3D modeling of all types. From architectural renderings to 3D printable designs, the possibilities of Sketchup projects are endless. Because it’s a commonly used program, there are also an abundance of Sketchup tutorials available online. One thing to note: Sketchup designs are often hollow, unlike Tinkercad models which have a solid infill.

sketchup

OpenSCAD

OpenSCAD is an awesome tool for parents and educators who want to combine 3D design with coding. OpenSCAD allows you to create a 3D model by typing in code line by line. It might sound intimidating, but, like many of these programs, there are many online resources to help new designers out. Check out this OpenSCAD tutorial on the basics of designing.

openscad-screenshot

BlockCAD

BlockCAD is a downloadable CAD program that feels like a combination of building blocks, Minecraft, and OpenSCAD. It’s very simple and doesn’t allow for much manipulation, but the block-style of building is approachable and easy to use – perfect for younger designers! The program is free, but the creator asks that fans of BlockCAD voluntarily send him a postcard and a LEGO as a token of appreciation.

CAD

Advanced Programs

Once you’ve mastered some of these easier programs, you might want to test your design savvy and explore your imagination with a more advanced CAD program. We recommend Solidworks. This is the program professional designers use and learning to design on Solidworks is an incredibly useful skill. A less advanced, free alternative isBlender. Both Blender and Solidworks have plenty of online resources, too.