Creative design in 3D printing.

Creative design in 3D printing isn’t an easy skills to master. Firstly you need to be a CAD wizard and have the ability to create and manipulate your own models. Mastering CAD can take years and hundreds, possibly thousands of hours and you still might not be able to design your master piece. One of the main reasons for growth file sharing websites is to make 3D printing as easy to access as possible. If you can download the design in an instant this will save hours of design work. This is great if you can find a model, but what if you can’t, what tools are available to make the creation of models as easy as possible? Below we will outline some of the most accessible free apps and software where you can easily get creative and design your own models.

Shapeways pendant creator

This is a great app found on their website. Sketch a design, photograph it and upload it to the app and then customise your design. You can easily create a stunning 3D printed model in minutes and then either download for free or choose one of their vast materials and order it. Shapeways will then 3D print your creative design and post it to your house. If you haven’t got your own sketch then you can use their pre-built templates and customise by using the slider controls. If you are a total novice to 3D printing but have artistic flair and want a high quality outcome in a very quick time, this is definitely worth looking into.

shapeways pendant creator


3D Slash

3D slash is the ‘worlds easiest cad software’ and we have it embedded right here into the 3dfilemarket. The concept is simple, your start off with a block and then smash away at the tools to create your own design. There are various different tools available to help you customise your creation and once you are finished you simply download the model for free. You can even export your model and view with google VR viewer. Another great thing about this app is you can work as accurately and precisely with their scaling tools. This is great fun and anyone can use it.

tools menu 3dslash 3d slash basic design


TinkerCAD is a great free modelling package. Basically TinkerCAD works on a drag and drop process. You have a pallet of basic shapes and you simply drop them into the modelling area and manipulate with their sizing tools. If you can change the size of a photograph in microsoft word then you can use TinkerCAD. From creating a very basic design, to modelling more challenging complex outcomes, TinkerCAD is a must for aspiring 3D printing designers. Included in the website is a whole host of educational tutorials to get you started. The design below, took us 2 minutes to create and then it’s simply a case of downloading the design for free. If you are new to 3D printing and want an easy way to create your own models then this is a great resource. Sometimes trying to master a full parametric modelling software package can just be over whelming and take the fun out of designing. TinkerCAD is certainly a fun package to use.

tinkerCAD 3D logo design

123D Design

So you have mastered TinkerCAD and now feel the need to start sketching out our own designs. 123D Design by Autodesk, is from the same family of software as TinkerCAD which also includes 123D Design, Make, Sculpt and Catch. Whatever your level of design skills you can access free software to enable you to create great models to 3D print. 123D Design is free and needs to be downloaded to your PC. Think of it like TinkerCAD on steroids. As apposed to the drag and drop format, this is all about sketching your own designs and then using more common design tools such as ‘extrude, revolve and cut’ to create your design. What is good about the Autodesk suite of CAD modelling software is there are common features that run through all the packages e.g. in the top right hand corner there is a little cube that you can drag and rotate that then rotates your model. This feature is also found in Autodesk Inventor and Fusion 360.

123D Design screen shot

123D Catch

Catch a model on our smartphone and then convert it to a model that you can 3D print? Sounds amazing and it’s another free tool by Autodesk. 123D Catch is a downloadable app that turns your smartphone into a 3D scanner almost. Pick and object that you want to 3D print, it could be an artefact, furniture, even human beings and then use the app to photograph the object at various angles. You then upload the model to Autodesk and you can download it for free. If your scanned design has lots of unwanted background in the scan then you can download Autodesk Meshmixer or Remake and clean up the STL file so you only have the object that you have scanned ready to 3D print. This is a great app and required no prior modelling skills as its as simple as snapping a picture on your phone.

Dinosaur with smart phones in the background


Morphi App

Morphi App is a free app to download for the ipad and ipad mini with an android and windows version coming soon. This app is great for both children and adults. If you can use your finger to swipe then you can use this app. Once you have downloaded the app there is a set of pre-built 3D models to customise through scaling, rotating, moving designs up and down or stacking them on top of each other. For an app that is finger controlled this is a powerful tool and free. No prior modelling experience is needed. If you want to be creative and create basic models fast then this is worth checking out. Also as its tablet based, you can easily design 3D models on the move rather than being constrained to a desktop computer or laptop.

two candle holder CAD models

Nervous system Cell Cycle

Cell Cycle allows you to easily create rings and bangles based upon cells structures. This app is based upon world acclaimed design agency Nervous System. They create designs based upon inspiration from ‘natural phenomena’ using complex computer models. To try and create models like this yourself would be extremely difficult and would require advanced modelling skills along with some advanced CAD packages. This app is part of a series of different design apps on their website that allows you to be creative and customise designs and then order them. There are a variety of different templates to choose from and then you decide on the materials and colours you want and then you can order your print. They will then send it to your address. This app is certainly one that isn’t mainstream and widely known about but it’s probably one of the most creative 3D printing apps out there at the moment. You can even create and customise a fully printed dress using their ‘kinematics cloth’ app. They also offer free downloads of a select number of free downloads under the creative commons licence. Nervous system are definitely one of the most creative examples of 3D printing we have seen and with nearly 10,000 followers on twitter they are worth following.

ring based upon a cell structure


MOI – Moment of inspiration
Frustrated with the complexity of standard CAD packages? Moment of inspiration is aimed at designers and artists who want to create complex advanced designs but don’t have the advanced technical knowledge that many high end CAD packages require (e.g. Blender). This is not a free download, however you can test it out for 30 days before deciding if to purchase or not. Also you can download a full version so you can familiarise yourself with the software, however the save command is disabled. To create models with this you do need to have a good basic knowledge of CAD and confident with sketching profiles and basic parametric modelling. Not for the total beginner, but this is one that does allow you to create designs that are impressive and unique and you could save time on not getting swamped with the thousands of different features.

3d printed heart shape box


3D rocks Lithothanes
Want to create in image in 3D? This is a great free resource where you can upload a picture and then the image is put on the surface of a pre-defined custom object. You have the choice of a set of different templates that you can have the image formed on. You can alter the depth of the image and also the size. There is a ‘settings’ tab where you can really tweak the model to your desired preferences. For a free service this is a great resource. No CAD modelling skills are required. You don’t even need a 3D printer as there is a 3D hubs button integrated into the app. Once you have finalised the design press he button and then choose your local hub where you want to get it 3D printed. We would recommend that photographs are 3D printed using natural or clear/translucent filaments. This will then allow light to high light the photograph.

image of blue curved 3d model

Sketch up
Sketchup is a great package that has been around for a long time. Sketchup allows you to easily create basic models fast with little cad experience. We featured sketchup in CAD packages for 3dprinting page. It is free to download and has a very user friendly interface. The great thing about sketchup is the vast amount of resources that are available to access. Youtube has thousands of online tutorials. When using sketchup it’s very easy to sketch out shapes and make them 3D using the pull tools. You can download your creations using the stl file export function and then 3D print your designs. Depending on the version you might have to download the stl export extension. Sketchup can be a very powerful CAD package that if learnt fully your can do some really creative designs.

Screenshot 2017-01-08 13.57.35


These apps and software packages mentioned above are a good place to start when considering how to design creative models for 3D printing. There are hundreds more available that are both free and paid. Our advice is to think about what you want to create and then how competent you are with IT skills and CAD modelling skills. All of these can help break down the barrier that currently exists between creating your own designs and then 3D printing them. To find models to 3D print immediately, then check out our vast database.

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