LOS ANGELES — As 3D printing creeps into more and more projects, making product production more accessible, I’ve always wondered how we can make product design more accessible. How can the average person take advantage of the plethora of resources out there for creating new objects? While open-source tools like Audacity and Open Office have made music and word processing easier and more affordable to engage with, the resources surrounding 3D printing and design are steadily growing.
Enter Tinkercad, which calls itself the world’s first browser-based CAD. (CAD stands for computer-aided design, and is shorthand for the software that engineers use for drafting 3D models.) What does this mean for the user? For just a low subscription rate, anyone with a web browser can embrace the world of 3D product design. Tinkercad comes with a host of interactive shapes and modeling tools. Designs can be ported directly to Tinkercad’s partner 3D printing services that can print and then ship your work to you. Browsers have to be WebGL-enabled, so that means only Chrome or Firefox at this time.
The software is relatively intuitive, with a simple tutorial that helps you learn the ropes of CAD software. It ran smoothly on my MacBook, though your mileage may vary depending on your RAM and processing power. You can drag in rulers and shapes, change the camera, even import shapes from other programs. It’s not quite as powerful or detailed as Sketchup, a more complex piece of software, but Tinkercad’s advantage is that it’s easily accessible and approachable for beginning modelers.
Tinkercad isn’t free, but an account starts at just $19 per month for storing 100 designs. A demo account is free to try, and it allows you to play with the program to your heart’s content. 3D printing is coming of age, and it’s great to see new tools like this arriving to help anyone create and experiment. What kinds of experiments might you carry out with your newfound capabilities? You could design a new piece of custom jewelry and have it delivered within days, or make that sculpture you’ve been dreaming up. The world is your 3D-printed oyster.