I have been reading about 3D Printers and while doing so I ran into the other side of things, which is software. Obviously if you use any 3D printer or cnc machine no matter what type, you will need a way to draw the parts up before you can print them or machine them. Unfortunately the programs that a hobbyist can have access to have been very limited. If you're not working or not a student then you really are stuck. So I have been looking at and trying out different programs over time and this is what brings me to making this new page. It's now 2014 and things have progressed a bit so I'll be adding this information here.
3D Printers are slowly becoming more and more readily available which is nice, because in the not so distant future anyone can have a 3D printer right next to their paper printer as they are also looking much more like them. Although 3D printers won't be for everyone, they are becoming more and more common. So to simplify this I found this site where you can take a look at a list of them in one page instead of trying to find each individually. It's nice to see a price and specifications for each. Just head on over there to read about them. Their respective websites are also on there so that should help you find even more information.
Now, as far as software that you can use, well that is pretty much open from the many free programs to the paid professional versions. I just found this program callded DesignSpark Mechanical which they offer for free so anyone can use it. The company seems to focus on the electronics PCB making, but they also have the Mechanical program which is a 3D CAD software and I find it very intuitive to use which is why I want to learn a bit more about it. I just started using it and it looks very promising. You can find it here.
The full version of this program is from this company...
Since I have been playing with this program on and off. It works okay, but because you get a limited version it tends to sometimes not work when you try to do something. Other times the loading takes a while. So in this respect it can actually get pretty annoying, so it is what it is. Some features are not on here either which is fine unless you are actually doing manufacturing. This thing seems to log into the server every time you try to use it which just makes it slow as a dog sometimes. I just give up and go do other things at that point.
The other CAD program that I thought was very easy to use as well was Alibre which also worked in a similar way to this one when you first open it up. Unfortunately the hobbyist version is no longer available and I always had problems just opening that program without being connected to the internet. Not to mention a 30 day trial so I stopped using it just as fast as I found it. Now I'm not sure if this uses anything from them or not, but although it's similar I really don't know.
For those that still would like a completely free 2D program without any nagging, I have found this one...It's a nice looking program too, but once you go 3D with a program as intuitive to use as the above, you never want to look back, but it's nice to know that there is something out there. I have tried most of the freebies out there, and so far these two are the ones I think anyone can use without any fuss or trials. This now opens the door for many many different people that would like to learn these type of programs. Many programs are just frustrating to use. Now I know there aren't perfect either but should allow you to at least work on things at home, or anywhere without having to be connected to the internet.
At the moment I'm in search of some training/tutorial videos so that will take a while because most of the ones I see are for the PCB program. So I'll put a link or add the videos here as I find them. I should note that DesignSpark is I believe made by a company called SpaceClaim. So you'll see this on the videos but you'll notice that in the toolbar of DesignSpark, there are other things missing from it, but it is the same software.
Here are two nice introduction videos to the program. He does a nice job but only has a few videos.
This is another intro video but can't seem to find it with the options here in blogger so I added the link.
Here's what you can do with this program which I find more intuitive to use...
DesignSpark Mechanical tutorials are on this page...although I do think they need to get a php or similar forum as their online forum is limited and well, even a simple search is hard to do. I also went through most if not all the posting about mechanical and couldn't find much on it. It feels as if most users just give up and never come back since there are not that many posts and I think it's been out for years on there. So I really don't know but that's what I got from using it. Although the people there seem to be very nice the progress on the program fixes seems to be slow.
I just read this article which shows that designspark does use or works with or does something similar to Geomagic which is the same company that bought Alibre. You can tell by the way the program opens up. I always found that very annoying myself as the program seems to have the need to log into some server before it can open. I'm still not a fan of that, but at least this program seems to work, once it finally opens up as it seems to take its sweet time doing it. It does have its quirks that I'm still trying to get past as I'm trying to work through the tutorials but hopefully that will get sorted out. Maybe the full program from spaceclaim works better since it looks like it has all the features, but I'm sure the cost is out of reach for most hobbyists. There's no pricing on the site so I can't say what is or isn't in terms of pricing.
The other two free programs that are close to being usable 3D without any hassles just to use them are:
So I guess I'll keep playing with these in the meantime.
January 2, 2015
So it looks like Design Spark just came out with a free version 2 of their software. I have installed it but have not used it yet, so check it out. There were a bunch of small annoying things I couldn't do, so hopefully those have been ironed out.
January 29, 2015
I don't remember if I mentioned this, but although designsparks is one of the best featured programs, it comes with one huge flaw. This is really unfortunate because it basically makes a really great program, bad. You can't use it off line and after updating it to the new version 2, it's slow to start since it has to connect to their servers where they can log in to see what the user is doing. This makes it slow as a dog when you're trying to work. I would really like to use it in a stand alone mode but it just won't let me. I don't have a fast line so it's a dog to work in most of the time unfortunately. I really wished they would fix this as I am having more freezes now than before. Don't get me wrong, I like it but that flaw makes it almost unusable at at times. Here's the new message I got when I turned off the network card even though I was just working on it for a few hours.
Update March 12, 2015
My computer is not the fastest and I have found Desing Spark very intuitive to use, but since the biggest flaw of this program is that it has to connect to their servers, when someone on their side decides to see what you are working on, my coputer just freezes. I have also found the new version of the program to not even open when offline. So due to the frustrations this has caused I have decided to installed FreeCad and finally started reading the manual. I finally figured out how to use the mouse to move the parts and thought I give it a shot. I have now created two simple parts and exported them to an stl file format for my 3D Printer so I'll be using this on my main machine as I can now work without all the problems of Design Spark. Don't get me wrong, I really like using their program but I need something that just works when I want to use it not when it can connect to any server. FreeCad has a bit more of a learning curve, but I think now I got it to work for a bit.
March 24, 2014
I finally decided to purchase the cubify invent. It's only 50 bucks and although it works similar to Design Sparks in that it needs the internet to connect, but only for registration. I can now work offline without any problem. I have been using Design Sparks on my laptop with 8 gigs of memory and better graphics card, but the program still screws things up when someone there looks at what you are doing. It's very frustrating to say the least so I'm trying to use it less and less because of that. It's just so darn frustrating when you're trying to do something and all of the sudden the program freezes on you or worst, what you're trying to dimension just doesn't works and gives you some random number throwing your part off. But it's free and I you can use it if you want to put up with that. I'm getting better at using it but that still drives me nuts. So I recommend Cubify and FreeCad for any home use. There are others but these are the two that work as close to what I'm looking for. I paid for the cubify so I may as well learn it. It's a bit different but usable. So until these programs get easier to use and not get in the way of your work, you're pretty much stuck.