OpenSCAD is software for creating solid 3D CAD models. It is free software and available for Linux/UNIX, Windows and Mac OS X. Unlike most free software for creating 3D models (such as Blender) it does not focus on the artistic aspects of 3D modelling but instead on the CAD aspects. Thus it might be the application you are looking for when you are planning to create 3D models of machine parts but pretty sure is not what you are looking for when you are more interested in creating computer-animated movies.
Blender is the free and open source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, even video editing and game creation.
Fusion 360 is a cloud based 3D CAD environment from AutoDesk – makers of AutoCAD and many popular design tools. Fusion 360 is a very powerful and fully featured 3D CAD tool that could be compared to the professional Catia SolidWorks and Siemens SolidEdge. While Fusion 360 is a fee-based subscription you can apply for a free startup or non-commercial license. This is a great tool to start and grow with
FreeCAD is an open source modeling software used by engineers, inventors, illustrators and artists to design objects in 3D space. As the name implies FreeCAD is free and can be downloaded from GitHub or Sourceforge. The software is available in different versions for Mac, Windows and Unix. You can download the binary version which installs automatically or the source files which requires compilation but gives you some flexibility in customizing it to suit individual needs.
For this exercise – I am choosing to download the binary version on my older Macbook Pro. I also have a VirtualBox app that runs Ubuntu – a Linux distribution which allows me to run Ubuntu on top of the Mac OS. I will discuss running
Evaluation of CAD software
So far I have tried 3 of the above – FreeCAD, Fusion 360 and TinkerCAD.
FreeCAD is very powerful but clunky and sometimes difficult to install. Its website has a message on the downloads page that “FreeCAD under heavy development and may not be ready for production use”. Not sure what that means or what exactly it refers to. There are Windows, Mac and Linux distributions available – but pay close attention to system requirements and make sure you download the correct distribution for the version of OS you are using. I recommend downloading the binary application instead of compiling from source. Since it is a free-source application and as with anything free-source, it relies on volunteers who get little if any compensation for their hard work. You can donate or volunteer if you feel it is worthwhile. Programming
Tinkercad is a great beginner tool but relies on user’s spatial coordination and creativity to use. Unlike other CAD applications where you can sketch in 2D and extrude, sculpt or create pockets, Tinkercad provides a collection of 3D shapes that you select from a sidebar, modify its properties and dimensions, and then finally group to transform into the desired result. For example – to cut a through hole in a plate, you add and position a cylinder shape into the plate. With the cylinder selected – you change its state from solid to transparent. Select the both the cylinder and plate then group them so it forms a hole in the plate
Fusion 360 Is about as close as you can get to the more powerful, expensive and commercial 3D modeling software like Dassault Solidworks. That being said – if you really want to learn how to do serious 3D modeling – start with this tool. There are
If you want to 3D print something you will need a model to send to the printer. There are two ways – create your own using one of the many CAD applications available (see previous section on modeling) or download a design from one of these sites