Thursday, May 31, 2012

Check out Tinkercad

Looking to explore something new in 3D design over the summer?

So... during this period between the announcement of the SketchUp sale from Google to Trimble to the date when the sale closes, I've had some time to look into some other design apps I've been hearing about. And yesterday I spent a while poking around with Tinkercad, which is great fun.

IMO, there are two main great things about Tinkercad - it's easy to use (and FREE!), which is great for those who find SketchUp overwhelming (such as kids in elementary school), and whatever you design can be easily sent to a 3D printer, like MakerBot. How cool is it for a kid to design a little robot and then get to actually hold it in hand? (Of course, you don't have to print anything, it's also fun just to design stuff!)

Here are a few interesting models I found on their "things" page:   
Here's a 3D birthday card which was printed:

I hate to compare Tinkercad to SketchUp - they are both 3D modelers but with different focuses. But here's my comparison anyway:
  • SketchUp is certainly more robust, can be scaled to any size project (tiny mechanical parts to entire building complexes), and the design features enable much more detailed modeling.
  • Tinkercad provides fewer tools but they are quite easy to use: drag in some primitive shapes, make some easy changes, add decorations, holes, etc. The printing export is simple, and if you don't have access to a 3D printer, you can send your model to one of Tinkercad's partners to have your model printed and sent to you.
Tinkercad is web-based, so nothing to install. It operates on WebGL, so they recommend using Firefox or Chrome. (However, for me it didn't work on Firefox but worked fine in IE, not sure why!) You need an account (also free) to save whatever models you create.

To get started with Tinkercad, their very fun website has Lessons - short, guided, tutorial projects that walk you through the 8 or 10 steps to create something. 

I think 3D printing is the way of the future, with more and more of these machines popping up in schools, libraries, and labs. It's becoming way more fun to be a kid these days! If the 10-year old me had been able to model and design my own toys (a large number of years ago), I wonder what sorts of things would have piled up in my basement....

Anyone can design anything in 3D!

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Kai Backman said...

Hi Bonnie this is Kai, one of the founders of Tinkercad. There are two more things that differentiate Tinkercad from SketchUp. First, our community is really vibrant and given a lot of content has been published under Creative Commons people are actively combining and refining designs by other users. Second, despite being so simple and easy to use Tinkercad is actually a robust solid modeling CAD (think SolidWorks, Autodesk products etc) where as SketchUp is mainly for producing drafts but not actual designs of physical objects. I used to work at Google on products like Google Docs, our secret is a very advanced cloud component.

We see a lot of educator and parents picking up Tinkercad, if you want to get in touch with us for more information just email

Bonnie Roskes said...

THanks Kai - I should have mentioned that tinkercad is a true solid modeler, whereas SketchUp does shells. You can export Sketchup to STL so you can produce physical objects (and people do), but it's not intended for that sort of thing.