3D Print Your Invention: Learn 3D Modeling and Digital Fabrication

Lance Atkins, Product Designer

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12 Lessons (1h 29m)
    • 1. Trailer

    • 2. Welcome to Class!

    • 3. 3D Printers and Their Materials

    • 4. 123D Design Intro

    • 5. Modifying Faces and Edges

    • 6. Snapping and Cruising

    • 7. 2D Sketching and Extruding

    • 8. Upload and Price 3D Prints

    • 9. Lofting Solids

    • 10. Revolving Solids

    • 11. Model Your Final Project - Part 1

    • 12. Model Your Final Project - Part 2


Project Description

3D Print Your First Design

3D Printinters and Materials

  1. Discover 3D Printing Materials and Companies


    Let's get an idea of what 3D printing can do for you.

    After watching lesson "Materials You Can 3D print,"  explore the various 3D printing services and the materials that are available. This is a great time to be building your "toolbox" of knowledge that will help you dream up your project.

    Some popular 3D printing services... Take some time to see what they're all about:




    From there, go see what sort of materials they offer. For example:

    Shapeways Materials

    i.Materialize Materials

    To really wrap your head around what you can do for your final project, Pick a few materials that you're interested in, then read up on their "Design Guidelines." These will, in plain english, teach you the capabilities and quirks of each material. Plastics may need to be 1mm thick to prevent warping on large pieces, Ceramics may need to be quite thick so they don't break before the kiln, and most materials will need an 'escape' hole to let unused material out. A few examples:

    "Strong and Flexible" Polyamide Plastic (reccomended for your first project -- it is inexpensive and simple to design for)

    Silver -- great for jewelry

    Elasto Plastic


    Stainless Steel

    -What would you like to design for yourself?


  2. See What Other People are Making


    The internet is full of people that are doing awesome things with 3D printing. Artists, Engineers, Product Designers... Explore what people are making. Go looking for ideas that inspire you. Start imagining what you want to model and make for yourself!


    Shapeways Marketplace

    i.Materialize Marketplace

    Thingiverse - Downloadable, shared designs


  3. Explore Types of 3D Printers


    After watching lecture video "Not All 3D Printers are Equal," take some time to watch these videos showing different styles of 3D printers in action. The videos seem kind of nerd-technical... but don't worry, you don't have to be any sort of super-hero to do this.

    • SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) is the most common printer used by the companies you will be using to make your 3D prints. SLS Video & Material Example
    • "SLA" (Stereolithography) is capable of incredible detail, often used to build small figurines, scale replicas, or anything you may want to be very accurate. SLA Video & Material Example
    • "Extrusion" printers work like a precise hot-glue gun. It spits out melted plastic filament, laying it down in rows and layers, eventually building up an entire print. These are the most common "home" machine, such as MakerBot. Etruder Video
  4. What Makes a Good 3D Print


    The price of a 3D print is largely determined by the amount of material your print uses, i.e. the part's "volume."

    In the interest of making this class fun for you and your pocketbook, a few things to consider:

    • 3D printing is great for improving and iterating your designs. If your 3D printed ring doesn't fit correctly, or your flower vase just doesn't look good to you any more, you can just make another one!
    • -If your design costs $10 and not $100, you'll probably have more fun with all of your first designs. At this point, you'll be learning and improving your 3D design skills so quickly, that you may want to start with cheaper materials and prints, eventually making your more expensive "masterpiece." For example, you've designed a new ring. You want it made in pure Silver, which could cost $60. Try printing a plastic one first for $6, see how much you love the concept, and then redesign or order it in Silver. I enjoy this method... it keeps things more fun and less stress. You don't need to get it perfect every time.
    • For your first designs, consider keeping  you design smaller than the size of your fist, and be brainstorming how it could be "hollowed out" as well. You'll learn exactly how to do this a following unit.

    For your class project, what material should you use? I reccomend using "Polyamide plastic", an awesome material. It is flexible yet strong, comes in a variety of colors, and is one of the least expensive materials out there. It goes by many names, usually something like "Strong and Flexible Plastic." I've extensively used this one from Shapeways.

  5. Sketch Your Design Idea

    Time to dig in! Sketch out some of your ideas out on paper.

    • What could you make for your home?
    • Could you replace something that is broken?
    • How could you integrate 3d printing with other materials to make something awesome? Glass bottles? House keys? Your car? Flowers? 


    Sketching is the easiest place to sort through, improve, and solidify your designs. Once you start designing in 3D, it's helpful to have a good idea of what you'd like to finish with.

    Also be thinking about your design's dimensions, especially if your design will need to work with or attach to other things... Does your ring need to be 10mm in diameter to fit your finger? How tall does a lamp need to look good? Grab a ruler and see what you think might look good. This helps establish a sense of scale... something that is helpful once you're on a computer screen, zooming in and out with your digital model.

3D Design - The Basics

  1. Install 123D Design

    It's time to install the software you will be using to create your 3D models! If you're running a Mac or Windows machine, 123D Design will run great on your computer. They also have web and iPad versions, but we won't be using them for now, as they aren't quite as full-featured.

    Download and install the full program on your computer from here.

    Upon downloading, you'll be asked to create a free account with Autodesk. Make sure to remember your login info... you'll use it later to activate some extra features within the software.

    While you're at it, take a look at the full suite of 123D products. They've made some really cool software for the 3D world, much of which you may be excited to try after finishing this class.

  2. Test Out Your New Skills

    After watching this unit's video lectures...

    This bit is simple. With what you've learned so far, go pick something around your house.

    Then model it. Or invent something. Or create a new Transformer toy. Or fix something in your house that's broken.


    Put the rubber to the road.

    If you get stumped, the next unit will teach you more. But for now, make something that seems fun. That's it! The more time spent in 123D Design, the more comfortable you'll become with its functions, quirks, and interface.

    Post your progress to the class board. There's a bunch of great people there that like solving questions, and life is more fun with people around.

    Oh, and remember to save your model intermittently -- you'll be relieved if the program happens to lock up!

Rough Draft Your Project

  1. Rough-Out Your Final Project

    At this point, gather the bits you need to sit down and make your project:

    • Sketch what you think you want
    • Determine approximate dimensions.
    • Ruler. This helps you visualize the size of things, helping you make things the correct size. 
    • Good music
    • Coffee!

    With these things in hand, you'll find yourself doing less backtracking and more enjoying.

    See how far you can get with your project. As you're progressing, if you reach to a point you like, save a version of your model. If you end up somewhere you don't like what happened, you can always "go back home."

    There are more skills coming, so don't feel like you have to finish just yet.

    Last, take a moment to update your class project to show us all what you've been up to!


  2. Quote Your Model

    Using the 'Quote and Order 3D prints" lecture, upload your model to a 3D printing service.


    Get a feel for how much your model might cost. What 3D print materials are you considering using?

    Could you save any money by shelling and hollowing parts, printing it smaller, or by simplifying your design?

3D Design - Perfect Your Craft

  1. Troubleshooting 123D Design

    Following "Troubleshooting 123D Design," sometimes things just don't work as you wish they would! 123D Design is generally pretty friendly, but there are just times it doesn't agree with you.

    I've built a list for you to consider when things just don't work:

    • If an operation (extrude, mirror, etc...) doesn't work -- If you've selected a face, try selecting the whole solid, the edge, or anything different until it works.
    • Sometimes you'll need to hide/delete a sketch to be able to actually select a solid object.
    • You can "undo" until you get back to a place where things were working smoothly.
    • If you realize you built your model in the wrong order, consider rebuilding your model.
    • SAVE often! If 123D crashes...

    If you really get stumped, turn back to the video lectures, your Skillshare community, Youtube, or 123D Design help topics.

    I've learned that it's better and faster to turn to help topics and teachings before I start getting frustrated by continuing to try to fix a 3D model. Watch someone else do it and then try it again!

  2. Practice Your New Skills

    Is there something in your final project that needs the skills you’ve learned in this unit’s video lectures? Go try them out on something! Simple as that. Have fun!



Finish and Order Your 3D Print

  1. Model Your Final Project

    You've now learned 123D Design and you're only a few weeks away from receiving your first 3D Print in the mail!

    All that remains is to finish your final 3D model! If you get stumped along the way, don't fret. There's great resources out there and sometimes just seeing someone else do it can help:

    • Refer back to a video lecture.
    • Post your questions and progress to the class' community
    • Use 123D Design's "?" button for extra help
    • Youtube! There's a lot of people showing you cool 123D Design skills that can help get you unstuck.
  2. Upload and Order Your First Print

    Once you’re finished with your model, get excited! It’s time to order your 3d print!

    If needed, refer to the video lecture “Upload and Price 3D Prints” within the “Rough Draft Your Project” unit to get your model uploaded.

    Select your material and color... Order it... Now you’ve got two weeks of excited waiting!  

    So, you’ve just created your first 3D print. Take some time to show us your project, some pictures of your model, and the actual 3D print when you get it! We’d love to see what you’ve made. 

    Also, by showing the Skillshare community your project you’re also eligible to win $100 in 3D printing credit! On January 31st I’ll be selecting three of you to win $100 each in these categories -- most creative project -- most popular project -- and one randomly drawn student.

  3. Growing Your Skills

    So you’ve completed this course and made your first object. How do you continue to grow as a 3D printer-er?? 

    Practice makes perfect! You’ll find yourself becoming more comfortable and faster with 123D Design. This program is quite capable and should keep you challenged for the near future. 

    If you ever feel like you want to take the next step in 3D modeling, take a look at Autodesk Fusion 360. It is made by the same company as 123D and an intuitive “next step” to continue your learning. Inventor is a subscription service, but much, much cheaper than most every other high-end 3D software out there.

    Better yet, take a look at the free, slightly older version, “Inventor Fusion.” This was the initial version of Fusion 360, and is still available for download at the bottom of this page. It isn’t supported with updates anymore but should still work splendidly for the foreseeable future. And it is free -- can’t beat that!

    Thank you so much for taking this class. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed creating it for you. If you’ve enjoyed this class, would you take a minute to leave a class review or share it with a few of your friends

    Have fun! Cheers,



Additional Resources

  • Lecture Slides

Student Projects