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Free 3D design CAD software opinions and recommendations?

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Started by Carol Kendall 18 Jul 2017 3:09pm () Replies (5)

Hi there - we're looking at the availability of 3D design and printing software (having used nothing previously). I'm keen to have students designing products, and being able to have them printed elsewhere (at least until we have our own 3D printer).

I'm told that the very popular 123D Design software is no longer available (especially for Mac) - it has been withdrawn by the developer (Autodesk). An alternative is apparently Tinkercad. This latter has the advantage (and disadvantage) of being available online - but is not (I am told) as good as the aforementioned software, and can cause reliability issues for less powerful computers and wifi/internet. It also requires accounts for users. Should we consider Fusion 360

Does anyone here have any gems of wisdom to contribute on this topic?


  • Rebecca Ronald (View all users posts) 19 Jul 2017 10:52am ()

    I use tinkered with classes and it's fine. Easy for them to pick up. I've got 123D on my own laptop and I agree it has way more complex functions. Is also way harder to learn how to use. I've not tried Fusion 360 - will be interested to hear whether other forum members have tried it and how they found it?

  • Dave Knapman (View all users posts) 19 Jul 2017 6:54pm ()

    I have used Tinkercad (an Autodesk product) for a couple of years now because it is free and easy for the students to learn.  Only issue I have had is with older computers with slow processors and 2GB RAM.  It can lag, frustrating some students when they are moving shapes on the workplane.  Newer computers with 4GB + RAM have no issues with lag.  It is a good way to get students started before moving on to more complex CAD software.  Because it is online  students can design at home and then print when at school.  

  • Dave Winter (View all users posts) 19 Jul 2017 10:50pm ()

    Hi Carol and Dave.  Tinkercad is a capable 3d design package that suits younger students and those new to 3d design. Because it is online it has the benefit of being able to be used on chromebooks. Like much online software students younger than 13 need to have approval code from you as a teacher . They are not entitled to create their own accounts without this and/or parent approval and moderation. I agree with Dave K that this is easy to learn and able to bring success to a large number of students without them getting lost in complexity. Also agree that 2 GB of Ram will limit performance of Tinkercad.

    Autodesk are a fabulous supporter of education and if you sign up as an one you can get access to a large catalogue of products from 3d design to animation https://www.autodesk.com/education/free-software/all . Fusion 360 is a great product that offers powerful capability. It will not however run on a chromebook as while described as online needs a software download as well as  hardware requirements. With Fusion 3d we can create full designs eg https://academy.autodesk.com/course/119049/product-design-prosthetic-design. This software is more complicated and powerful. It will be challenging for alot of students even high school ones. Fusion requires students to be over  13 for this I believe.

    Onshape is my favorite and is equivalent to Fusion 360

    It runs completely in the browser so works on chromebooks. Learners can collaborate in an onshape design like they can in google docs. There is a commenting feature and many other sophisticated functions. Onshape has steepish learning curve that is helped by the tutorials and videos. Again 13 plus.

    If your looking to get things printed  through someone I would suggest 3dhubs . You will find reasonable priced services there. Hope this helps. 

    It is an exciting and motivating space for learners and learning.


  • Rebecca Ronald (View all users posts) 20 Jul 2017 11:57am ()

    Thank you - lots if ideas there for me to try, as well! I just remembered another online one - vectary. A few of my students had a play this year. It seems trickier than tinkercad but more versatile

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