Real Newbie Question... Go easy on me ;-)

I’m just an average Joe, with a background in IT, but have never dabbled in 3D, or even Photoshop for that matter.
I’m considering getting the FormLabs printer, but I figured I would try a design I want to print, and see if I could create it.

I have learned that I am an idiot when it comes to these things :slight_smile: I have been working with Blender, and even to just punch out a circle in the design is proving to be beyond my ability.

Is there a 3D software program that would be more user-friendly (I’m on Mac) and allow me to enjoy designing. I’m kind of the toy mender round these parts, and think it would be great to be able to repair the kids’ stuff in addition to making some unique tools for work and the custom installations we do there.

Thanks for your assistance, much appreciated!

The learning curve on Blender can be a bit daunting. There are a handful of slightly more user-friendly CAD packages out there. Most of the offerings are still targeted towards professional usage and can carry a professional-level price tag as well. On the flip side, most of the free programs have more limited feature sets or less intuitive UIs (i.e. Blender).

Some free applications that I would recommend are FreeCAD, Sketchup, or OpenSCAD. I haven’t used FreeCAD too much but it seems fairly similar to the professional CAD programs. I’ve been playing around with it over the last couple of days and it looks like a great free alternative to the professional applications. Sketchup has a huge community with tons of tutorials, but is better at architectural models. It also requires an external plugin to allow you to export your model as an .stl (the format used by Preform). OpenSCAD is great if you’re doing lots of parametric modeling and you’re comfortable writing code.

I look forward to seeing what you can create!

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Sketchup is pretty good but if you want to buy a nice little cad program that is just about crash proof and intuitive try MOI3d.
Pixologic also puts out Sculptress which is free.
There is a light version of 3d Coat available on Steam that is under $100 which is a more advanced slupting program that is voxel based.

Majority of my work I do through MOI because it produces absolutely clean files that print well and you have really nice tessellation controls (ability to control poly count and smoothness on curves)

Since your using Blender I assume you are looking for a tool more focused on artistic" like 3D models (so you can make those little weird characters everyone seems to like) as opposed to say a replacement bracket for something that broke on your car (CAD focused). If so, not sure if my advice will help but like you, I started out with no background in 3D modeling and tried a lot of tools, all with long learning curves. Cutting to the chase, I eventually landed on 123D Design. It’s more of a classical CAD tool vice a Blender like 3D modeler, but I have found it to have many nice features (I’m currently making sunglasses for my niece), has a very reasonable learning curve, and the price was right: free. I’m on a MAC so my tool choices are slightly more restrictive than those on Windows but I have tried Windows tools and probably would still be with 123D Design. The 123D toolset have a couple nice tools such as Catch (turn iPhone photos into a 3D model) and one that will allow you to create more artistic objects (like those weird characters :slight_smile: called Sculpt. I’m more of a CAD guy than an artist so I haven’t played with Sculpt much. My experience is that it can have its moments, but definitely easier to learn than Blender. As FYI, I have been playing around with iPad apps recently. There is a 123D Design iPad app, little less capable than the desktop version but still a nice tool. I did find a nice app that more for the artist than the CAD guys, not of Blender quality but definitely a nice tool to at least kickstart your skill building. If your interested in my iPad experiences I can pass them on. Hope that helps a little, I do feel your pain :slight_smile:

Awesome advice! Thank you so much, I’ve downloaded and will play with each to see if I can grasp things!


Thanks WendellLuncefor,
Much appreciate the advice. I, myself am less of an artist and more of a designer.
I figure the 3D printer will be used 40% for work projects. Little things like custom brackets and mounts, stands and that kind of thing, but the rest of the time will be making little toys and accessories for my sons. They have these grand illusions of my printing them custom toys. That may be a bit beyond my grasp for a while though!

Thanks again, as I have an iPad, I would be interested in your experiences with the apps for iPad. I will play with 123D as well.



It depends on what your items are. If you are an artist making figurines (which I am by for NOT) it might come easy to you. I don’t want to sound discouraging but the first vertical learning curve is the design end. I have been dong this for 8 years via Solidworks with the end result in being something 3D printed. I consider myself to be an advanced novice still.

So once you get your items designed you have to let the Form1 abuse you until you make friends. This will be a double whammy because you will not be completely sure if the failure (which you WILL have) is your design or the printer. I still have some of that but both are improving.

Still for my interests (model railroad items) I am now having the best time of it in years. You have to decide how much frustration you can handle.


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First off Blender is far from user friendly, It has one of the worse gui designs I have seen in and I have modeled in many programs on Mac and PC from Spline based to poly to sub-d and cad.
If your modeling mechanical objects you should lean towards cad programs because they are dimensionally accurate and not reliant. Poly based objects are only accurate as you increase poly counts to ridiculous numbers. That isn’t to say that eventually your model will be poly based ie obj or stl but you won’t be able to extract forms from one shape and translate them to parts that fit on another part. As an example you could do the peg in a hole, make the peg, then take the curve and adjust the dia for say +.002" larger and use that to cut the hole so your parts will fit.

There are free cad programs out there and probably good reason why many are free. Google Sketchup has a lite free version and the full robust version is around $500 and competes with Bonzai. Both are very good programs. Rhino is a bit better than those but is a little harder to use and has more tools and plenty of add ons.
The guy who originally wrote Rhino went on his own and made a down and dirty program called Moment of Inspiration also known as Moi3d. It works well on most machines and doesn’t require a lot of memory or any special video card and runs really well on laptops.
If your learning you should learn from programs that have a simple interface that don’t require digging for tools and scrolling through endless menus while looking at fly out menus with more options and endless check boxes that will overwhelm you and you will never learn and only get frustrated.
Tool you need to learn and when to use them are:
Solid and Line Primitives
Revolve or Lathe
Booleans (add, subtract, intersect, divide)
Aside from those there are more advance tools that allow you to build on what you made with extract lines and project lines. All will fall in place once you know the gui and placement of the tools.
If you noticed I am not a fan of Blender. Some people love it and do fantastic work but I find that it is too awkward especially for someone new to modeling.

For something free try sketchup, For something with a price tag under $250 with the ability to model just about anything with a reduced tool set try the demo of MOI3d.

Doodling around with sculptures or characters start out with Sculptress.
Good clean program that doesn’t crash makes all the difference and should never be tedious. I have been modeling for over 25 years and won’t mind tossing you some pointers if you get stuck.

Any tool that will create files that can be ultimately output as .stl or .obj will work for you, and every single one of them will require a non-trivial amount of time to get up to speed on.

SolidWorks is parametric, and it’s solids-based (rather than mesh-based), so some things are easier to do, like modifying a dimension, or clean boolean operations, but it’s kind of hard to use to create anything organic (at least for me). It’s also close to $10k a seat once all is said and done.

Blender has the advantage of being OpenSource and having a very vibrant and talented developer base as well as a very helful user base (#blender on freenode). It’s GUI is unique, this is very true. It works in ways that are initially offputting and confusing. Alien almost. It’s easy to get frustrated at first. But once you start to understand the thinking behind why things are the way they are, it makes perfect sense. It comes from the Animation head, not the mechanical CAD head, so it’s bound to solve problems from a different angle. For me, it has turned into one of the most elegant interfaces I have ever used anywhere. I think it’s gorgeous. I’ve used it almost every day for a year and a half, and I know 1% of it. It’s massive and amazing.

I thought FreeCAD had a lot of promise, but alas, I’ve since uninstalled it. It was not stable enough, and lacked many features. It did have good file format support though.

I can’t speak to SketchUp, never used it.

@KenCitron, I will investigate MOI3D - sounds cool.


Scott, Scott, just finished pulling my iPad notes together. It’s sort of long so I think I will post in General Discussion under “Designing on the iPad”. It doesn’t look like I can post a .doc file so I may have to break it into parts. Hopefully later today


I suggest you take a look at ViaCad and SharkLT for more affordable and easy to learn (think Adobe Illustrator in 3D) CAD Apps. The forum is very helpful and the developer, Tim Olson, is active on it as well. Its not free but has a strong set of features. I use SHarkFX for some professional projects, but also SolidWorks. I’m slowly getting up to speed with Autodesk’s Fusion 360.