Explore 3D

Making for Beginners - Part 1

An introduction to Tinkercad

Andrew Pullin

Issue 60, July 2022

A note from the editor

We first caught up with Andrew Pullin back in Issue 26 with his daughter’s LED Illuminated Ballet Dress. Andrew has recently attended a modernised Wodonga Library and its new maker space, which contains an Emblaser 2 Laser Cutter, a Vacuum Former, and two 3D printers; Artillery 2 and Flashforge Adventurer 4. Based on Andrew’s experience at this maker space, he has kindly written a series of tutorials on using these devices and the software required, along with troubleshooting.

I am certainly not an expert about any of the technologies I will be talking about in this series. My journey began down this road after my local Library decided to update and create a Maker Space as part of the facility. The main equipment that the Library has is: a couple of 3D Printers, a Laser Cutter and a Vac Forming machine.

These three pieces of gear would have to be THE three things that a serious Maker needs to get right into it. I was curious as to how you go about learning to use all of this stuff. I have a bit of an artistic streak in me, and after making some enquiries found myself signed up to an 8-week course. This series is by no means definitive. It is about my own, so far short, wandering down the Maker Road.

This tutorial will be based on the Course material I was exposed to; what I learned each week; some of the problems beginners run into; how to fix those problems; and what can be achieved from very little starting knowledge.

I will talk about what each technology is and a short history; the most important safety things you need to know; how to get started designing; how to actually turn a design into an actual thing; some of the problems you may run in to; and finally what can be achieved and a few light weight resources. After that – it is up to you to get your own creative juices flowing and create something amazing of your own! Here goes!

How do we go about actually doing something with 3D Printers? I will talk about the different kinds of 3D printer available and how they work in the next article, as well as safety and using them.

For now, let's move on to how to create models that can be printed. We start with an idea. That idea might be something you have dreamed up; it might be something you have seen somewhere; it might be something you have roughly drawn on a piece of paper; it might be something someone else has drawn; or it might be a physical object you want.

Whatever the source of your inspiration, the next step is to create a model. Now you might be able to create a physical model using traditional methods. People have been doing this for thousands of years. We need a model that a machine can understand.

To create a model in a way a machine can understand how to make it, another machine will be needed. The machine I plan on using for this is a simple Computer Aided Design (CAD) program – welcome to Tinkercad.

Autodesk is one of the leading Companies that create Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. If you have never heard of AutoCAD then that’s fine, but I guarantee that you own many objects around you that were designed using it. AutoCAD has been the Standard CAD package used around the world for decades.

AutoCAD is way too technical for a beginner to start designing. I have a Diploma in Engineering and I don’t know all of it. Tinkercad was originally designed for Kids to learn Science Technology Engineering Art & Mathematics (STEAM) and was purchased by Autodesk to round out its Product Suite. As the screenshot art below says: From mind to design in minutes.

To use Tinkercad you will need to fire up your web browser of choice and navigate to the page at www.tinkercad.com that should resemble this:

I am going to assume that the readers are not complete Luddites and they at least know how to drive a web browser to a page and create an account and register it. After creating a free account by following the links, you should end up at the Dashboard.

The Dashboard is where all of your designs will be stored. As you can see, this is blank initially. Some people have hundreds or thousands of files. Right now, we know very little about Tinkercad and how to use it, so the first place we will head to is the Learning Center.

Click on the button highlighted and you will end up here:

So now that we are here – what do we do? This series of exercises teaches all of the basics of Tinkercad. Each lesson takes literally a couple of minutes and to complete all of these should not take more than about 15 minutes. Bearing in mind that these tasks were originally designed for school kids, it shouldn’t be too hard to navigate through and get a good grounding of the interface that your designs will be built from.

Now that we have finished the Starters, where do we go from there? By now you are probably itching to jump right on in and start playing with Tinkercad – and you could, but…..there is a little bit more you probably should know to make things really easy.

On the page entitled Learn how to Tinker you might have noticed a couple of other options: Lessons and Projects. I would strongly suggest you do a bit more learning before you go jumping in. The Lessons are very similar to the Starters you have just completed, just a bit more complicated. It wouldn’t hurt to have a bit more practice, even if you only do two or three. The Projects are even more advanced; however, the first two Projects are well worth doing before you jump in on your own. So, from the Tinker > Learning Center, select the View All button, and then scroll down to find these two Projects:

The two highlighted Projects I think are important because they show how to drive the whole Tinkercad interface (handy to know), and also introduce the Concept of Primitive Shapes. Primitive Shapes are the key to getting your head around how to design things. Every object around you will either be a primitive shape, or be constructed from combinations of them. If you can visualise these primitive shapes then you are half way there to building your own designs.

Computer Aided Design is the logical extension of Technical Drawing which is used by Engineers to describe objects that need to be created. In years gone by, Draughtsmen would draw the design of an object based on specifications calculated by the Engineer so that the Toolmaker or Fabricator could make the object. I must admit that my artistic talent when it comes to drawing is little better than stick figures.

When I started my Engineering Diploma, I had to learn Technical Drawing before I learned CAD and it opened up a whole new world for me. Technical Drawing is really easy once you have been shown how it works. Anyone can learn it and become competent and it doesn’t take long. Technical Drawing only needs a few tools: a drawing surface and paper, a sharp pencil, a ruler, a protractor, a couple of squares and a compass – erasers are optional but come in handy. Sets of these tools can be purchased for as little as $10 at a Newsagent.

So why the big spiel about Technical Drawing? Well, the reason is that all Technical Drawing actually is about is taking basic primitive shapes and combining them together to make an object. Circles, Triangles, Squares, and Rectangles lead into Spheres, Pyramids, Cubes and Blocks in 3D. The best thing about Technical Drawing is that by

using a “View”, a complete 3D object can be described on a 2D piece of paper. The other thing about Technical Drawing is that once you learn the techniques, learning 3D CAD is much easier because you already understand many of the concepts.

The reason we now use CAD instead of Technical Drawing is that it is often faster to create drawings and certainly easier to change and modify those drawings AND because those drawings can now be imported into other software to MAKE the objects! Which is what we are trying to achieve. So, now that you have a good handle on how to drive Tinkercad, click on the Logo on whatever page you are on and it will take you back to the Dashboard. Then click on the Create New Design button.

You will have seen this, or something like it, when doing the Tutorials. There are a few things you will need to do before you start your new creation. In this tutorial we will recreate the Tinkercad logo. The tutorial should not tax anyone if they have done the other Tutorials, but it will give us a simple place to start our 3D Printing in the next lesson. This design will incorporate a few basic but critical concepts that you will need for ALL 3D printing models.

You will notice I have highlighted three areas of the screen. The Top Left of the screen highlighted in Red is the Name assigned by Tinkercad to your new Design. They are randomly generated and are simply used to give a unique name to your file. You should change this to something meaningful to YOU as the first thing you do. This is done by simply left clicking on the name and deleting it, then typing in the new name.

The next area highlighted is the Bottom Right of the screen in Blue. This is the scale that your Object will be measured in and the increments between “steps” of movement in any direction. Right now, it is set to each step being 1.0mm. For now, this is fine, but we will change it later.

The last highlighted area is the Top Right in Black: this is the Ruler function. I find that using a Ruler can make my Design a little easier to navigate around. I usually drop one in the bottom left of the Workplane. It is completely optional and not needed for this design so you can use it or ignore it. I would suggest try using it and if it works for you then use it and if it doesn’t then don’t use it. Start by placing a Cube on the Workplane.

Click on the dimension for height and change it to 5mm. Then make two copies and place each copy 5mm from the Right side and inline so that you have a line of three squares, 5mm apart.

Now make two copies of these rows and place them 5mm apart, above the first row.

If the screen resembles something like this then you are on the right track. The next thing we need to do is create the letters of the Logo. The way we do this is by selecting the TEXT object from the Menu at the side and putting it on a blank piece of Workplane. Edit the Text to a single Letter, then change the dimensions to 16mm high by 12mm wide and 8mm thick. I also like to change the Font. You should then end up with something like this:

Now make eight more copies of the Letter blocks and change the individual letters to what you want to spell – in this case TINKERCAD. Then align each letter up with the centre of each box. It should look a bit like this:

We could from this point actually create the file we need to 3D print this, but the problem we would run in to is that right now all we have is a bunch of Scrabble® Tiles that can easily be lost. What we now need to do is join them all together. The easiest way to do this is simply make a big block at the base, so grab another cube and create a big flat square.

We can see our grid of squares is 70mm x 70mm so make the base square the same and 2mm thick and move it under our squares.

If you zoom in closely to your model, you will notice that the different objects you have used to build your creation overlap. This is very IMPORTANT when you are designing something to be 3D Printed. The file you save from Tinkercad will contain all of the information that you need to 3D Print the model, but if the different parts of the model are not actually embedded into one another then they will not necessarily stick together and will fall apart.

Remember the Snap Grid Scale I mentioned near the beginning of using Tinkercad? It sets the size of the “steps” that objects are moved. As a general rule, it is only necessary to have a small amount of overlap in the parts of a model to make them stick together when they are 3D Printed.

If there is no overlap, what happens is that the 3D Printer interprets this as a new layer and starts to print it on top of the previous layer without “pushing” the material into the previous layer and bonding it together. This forms a very weak connection between the layers and the two layers will often break apart easily – if they stick to each other at all!

The best way to overcome this problem is to embed your layers manually and then Group everything together to create a single object. Doing this is simple. Select everything and then use the Boolean Merge.

Now if you zoom in you can see that the model is all one piece. This is easily undone using the “Back” function or by using the “Un-merge” function highlighted in Red.

This piece is more or less finished and we will be using it in the next stage of our Maker learning. The piece has automagically been saved by Tinkercad for next time and will be available in our Dashboard. It is also possible to use this model as the base of a different model. The way to do this is as simple as Selecting the model, copying it, going back to the Dashboard, opening a new model and pasting it in. Exactly the same way you would cut and paste text in a Document.

There is quite a bit more to Tinkercad, but the best way to learn it is just keep playing with it. If you make a mistake, you can always just use the arrows to go back – Situated in the top left corner just above the View Cube. There are also a lot more shapes that you can use and incorporate within your own models.

The Parts Library contains a bunch of shapes that can be scaled and modified by users, and a whole bunch more that are Defined by their creators and cannot be scaled or changed. In addition, pieces can be imported in to Tinkercad and modified by the User.

This can be done simply by hitting the Import button above the Parts Library and dragging and dropping a file. These files can be 2D or 3D, as long as they are recognised by Tinkercad. It takes no time at all to create some quite interesting pieces using a combination of parts from Tinkercad and parts imported from elsewhere on the Internet.

There are many places that offer free objects that people have created that can be used and modified in software like Tinkercad. In some cases, you get what you pay for, but in others there are some very detailed and exquisite models out there for free.

This model here took me a few minutes to create after I had located the Moai and SR-71 files. All of the rest is put together using Tinkercad. It printed great and has lots of detail and can be scaled to as big as the 3D Printer can handle – but more on that later.

If you are interested in finding models to 3D Print then a quick Google search will bring up places like:

Some of the models on these sites are free, some are pay for but there are many models out there from 3D Print teaching Skeletons for Medical Schools in Third World Countries to the latest Star Wars Creature that is not yet available at the Merchandise Store.

One last thing about 3D modelling – if you can picture it then you can probably create it. There are also many different ways you can achieve the same result. Tinkercad may be designed for children but the principles learned can be used to learn more powerful CAD packages. Fusion 360 is a web-based collaborative design CAD software engine that allow some very complex design and Engineering tasks to be done.

Fusion 360 is also owned by Autodesk and models from Tinkercad can be imported directly into it. One of the things that 3D Printers are very good at is Rapid Prototyping for Industry and Fusion 360 is one of the leading software packages being used for that and other Engineering Design.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. Your homework for next month is to do the basic tutorials and as many of the more advanced ones as you want. I would strongly recommend doing the first two Projects from the learning section of Tinkercad also.

Next time I will be taking the model we created in Tinkercad and exporting it as a file so that we can make it 3D Printable. I will talk about 3D Printers and a little history, and most importantly I will talk a little about SAFETY around 3D Printers. 3D Printers are not inherently dangerous by themselves but there are a few things that it pays to be aware of when using them. I will talk about how 3D Printers work and why they sometimes don’t work, and how to fix common problems.


Andrew Pullin

Andrew Pullin