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3D printing grows up- with some personal touches

From using sketch pens, pencils, erasers and blank pages for sketching out an idea to using Photoshop on computers and then illustrating on the iPad, the definition and application of visual creativity has changed over the years.

tech Updated: Apr 15, 2014 00:12 IST
Gagandeep Singh Sapra

Let’s say you are making a small toy car for your school kid.You’ve got five different designs sketched out and want to make a prototype of each one. Normally, you would need to build five different moulds and then develop each one to make your prototype.

With 3D printing, a hot new phenomenon, all you need to do is to enter the five designs into your PC, and the machine will build out each of them!


From using sketch pens, pencils, erasers and blank pages for sketching out an idea to using Photoshop on computers and then illustrating on the iPad, the definition and application of visual creativity has changed over the years.

So has the concept of printing, which evolved from the humble printing presses to the speedy little machines that sit prettily on our desktops. And then in 2009, a New York-based firm, MakerBot, founded by Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer and Zach Smith, changed the game completely.

They came up with 3D printers, designed to be built by anyone with basic technical skills. Prototyping no longer was limited to firms, now you could build your own objects.

So, if you want to build that missing part of your bicycle, or a cup holder for your computer’s old CD Drive that lies defunct or the missing lego piece in your kit – here’s how to get started.

1 TinkerCad

If you ever tried your hands at 3D, you would know it’s not for everyone. Getting the design elements right, learning all the tools and getting them to work takes too long, and this is where Tinker Cad comes in handy. Go to www.tinkercad.com, launch the editor (no sign up required if you don’t want to save what you create) and it’s absolutely free.

Start creating objects, use readymade templates to learn or just draw your own bugs or clips whatever you like. Once you are done, you can save the file too and send it for 3D printing. You can even import other 3D objects to work or modify them. The only catch is that your Internet connection must work all the time and you should be able to use your mouse affectively.

2 123D Catch

Drawing is fine. But what if you wanted to take a picture of something and create from there or what if you just wanted to work offline. Head on to the website or download the app for free on your iPhone / iPad. It has a huge toolset of 3D tools. Take a picture of an object, convert it to 3D and start modifying it — a tilted sofa, or a jagged-edged table, and create whatever you want.

3Buying 3D Objects

Ok, so you have designed your own 3D object. What if you want to use somebody else’s creation or change the design or order directly? Thingiverse is a website from Makerbot that lets you create and buy objects, from a working ukelele that needs you to string it up to a lemon juicer that is more effective than any other kitchen equipment you have used until now — or even a 3D-printed jewel if that’s your fancy.

4Printing 3D objects in India

Solidry was started by 20-something engineers with full-time jobs. You can upload your 3D file on their website and order it to be printed and delivered to you. The website is still in its start-up phase and requires a lot more work — including giving you a quote on what the printing cost would be or the time it would take to send your object. But the point is that 3D printing is coming to India faster than we think.

5Complex 3D

What if the Leaning Tower of Pisa was straight? Or how would the Qutab Minar look a little bent? You need more complex 3D stuff to do that and that is where Sketchup comes in handy. It is available free and as a professional version, both for Windows and Mac OS. Head on to the website and download your own copy. There are templates that will let you stand in the middle of your virtual world and draw around. A number of video tutorials on the website let you learn and use it. So just let your imagination run wild.

6Buying your own 3D printer

There are several options available, from the Makerbot to cheap Chinese versions that will let you play around with 3D. However, a recent project in the US that ended up raising an astounding $2.47 million against the targeted $50,000 is likely to take the crown. Priced at $299, the M3D will let you print 3D objects at home, whether it is a cookie cutter or children’s toys. This desktop model is small and usable anywhere at home and will start shipping later this month.

(The writer is a technology expert who calls himself the Big Geek)