3D Design Software Lifehacks: Basic 3D Printing Features Every Designer Should Know About (Part 1)

For all who are new to 3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping and Additive Fabrication in general
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There are common software tools that make it easier to 3D print a design— and that all designers should know about. 3D Design software can be categorized according to how it works and is used: “sculpting,” “building,” “scanning,” etc. But a designer’s project needs might overlap, so there are commonly available tools that all designers can use and benefit from: wall thickening, subdivide (i.e. smoothing), symmetry, sculpt, and “boolean”/“hole making.”

These tools aren’t available in every 3D design software package, but just knowing that they exist saves time. Once you know what type of tool you need for a project, you can seek out the design software that has it— just as you would “seek” pizza at a pizza parlor, and sushi at a sushi bar.

Read on for how wall thickening, subdivide (i.e. smoothing), symmetry, sculpt, and “boolean”/“hole making” work— and for free software packages with those features.

Basic Overview: 3D Design Terminology diagram featuring polygon, vertex, and mesh

When all else fails, bluff with this.

Wall thickening tools such as “solidify” do not usually work well on surfaces that have too complex geometry or that already have wall thickness. You cannot, for example, use this tool twice on the same model without making a mess.

Wall thickening

Increasing the size of your model can increase wall thickness (if it has wall thickness to begin with), but there is also another way. Most design software packages include tools that automatically “thicken” or “solidify” surfaces to create wall thickness. As a general rule, you don’t have to “build walls” unless your design’s “inside” is radically different from its “outside.”

“Solidify” and thickening tools work best on models that have simple, clean geometry (i.e. not too many vertices) and no wall thickness.

One way to create wall thickness is on Blender, via the Solidify modifier:

  • 1. Import your model: Delete the default cube, select “File” from the top menu, and then click “Import.”

  • 2. Select the model (once it appears on your screen) by right clicking it.

  • 3. Solidify: Left click on the wrench in the bottom right menu. Click “Solidify” on the drop down menu that appears. Enter in the wall thickness you want.

  • 4. Hit “apply” to create wall thickness (or else it’s just a pretty preview.) For best results, use “solidify” on a mesh with no thickness whatsoever— and with relatively few vertices, squares, or polygons.

Subdivision automatically smooths rough blocky or rough surfaces. It’s best to work with as few polygons, squares, and/or vertices as possible, and then subdivide as your final step.

Created by Roxy in i.materialise.com

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