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Ask Slashdot: Best 3-D Design Software?

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the measured-in-fewest-steps-to-recreate-the-starship-enterprise dept.

Software 218

An anonymous reader writes "I'm just getting into playing around with various maker-related tools, and I've run into a bit of a roadblock. I have access to a 3-D printer, a CNC mill, and a bunch of other fun tools, but I'm not able to make my own designs to use on them. I'd like to learn some 3-D design, but there are a ton of different software options, and I'm not sure which is the best. I've been hesitant to jump right into one, because I don't know how well it'll suit my needs compared to the others, and many of the options have a pretty steep price tag. I also don't want to spend a bunch of time learning one only to find out it's not very good for actually making things. I've played around briefly with Solidworks, Alibre, and AutoCAD, and also some free options like Blender and Sketchup. But these are complicated piece of software, and knowing nothing, it's hard for me to evaluate the differences. Makers of Slashdot, what do you recommend? Also, if you know of good online resources for learning 3-D design in general, or on any of this software in particular, I'd love to see it."

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Rhino (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192429)

Rhino is an excellent surface modeler. People need to understand that a solid modeler is a different animal from a surface modeler. Solid modelers are usually parametric and are good for nested objects and assemblies. Surface modelers are good at smooth ergonomic designs. Many people use both to complete projects.

Re:Rhino (2)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43192521)

Nurbs are a lot less flexible than meshes. A simple subdivision modeler for beginners would probably be better such as Wings3d. I suppose it depends on what he wants to do, but if he's not printing parts for stuff, he'l be much better off with the greater flexibility.

Re:Rhino (4, Informative)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43192575)

NURNS surfaces are *not* supposed to be "flexible", they are supposed to be suitable for industrial design, e.g., with precise control for curvature and its differences, even at joining seams, etc. Subdivision surfaces were developed for artsy stuff, not for modeling things that someone will attempt to actually manufacture without pulling out one's hair and banging one's head against the wall.

Re:Rhino (5, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#43192625)

ALL 3D design software is designed with the idea of having users pulling out one's hair and banging one's head against the wall. I think the software companies in this industry get together in some basement conference room (probably on the Oracle campus) and share tips.

Re:Rhino (1)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43192695)

You're right, but he didn't specify he was going to be doing industrial design. He also said he was a beginner. I wouldn't recommend beginners start with nurbs. They're anything but user-friendly.

Re:Rhino (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about a year ago | (#43192895)

Nurbs are a lot less flexible than meshes. A simple subdivision modeler for beginners would probably be better such as Wings3d.

Subdivision surfaces are great for traditional polygonal modeling approach but lousy for printing parts. Trying to blend chamfers through SubDs is a huge PITA. Something like Rhino with procedural compound booleans + fillets make that kind of work far easier.

Re:Rhino (0)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43192913)

True, but he never said he was printing parts.

Re:Rhino (2)

xclr8r (658786) | about a year ago | (#43193097)

One can infer from this statement that he has access to and wants to use cnc and 3d printing.

I have access to a 3-D printer, a CNC mill, and a bunch of other fun tools, but I'm not able to make my own designs to use on them

Re:Rhino (-1)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43193133)

Still doesn't mean he wants to print/mill parts. Those tools have many artistic uses [] . Printing parts would be a terrible waste.

Re:Rhino (2)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about a year ago | (#43192877)

+1 vote for Rhino if you want to spend a little money. Solidworks and Autocad are definitely better for large mechanical designs but they cost significantly more. Rhino is a good middle ground between the engineering needs and the purely aesthetic focused products. I would shy away from 3ds Max and Maya. Both work (we just finished a 3D printed project in 3ds max) but they're both focused more on film and games than printing.

Re:Rhino (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192963)

I think he is asking the wrong question. A suggestion for a program isn't what he needs. He needs to look up a local college and take some night classes is CADing. There is the tool and then there is the thought process and currently he lacks the knowledge to even know what tool meets his needs when he tries them out.

Re:Rhino (1)

geoskd (321194) | about a year ago | (#43193051)

I think he is asking the wrong question. A suggestion for a program isn't what he needs. He needs to look up a local college and take some night classes is CADing. There is the tool and then there is the thought process and currently he lacks the knowledge to even know what tool meets his needs when he tries them out.

And you think he needs a college class to figure this out? News flash! There are lots of people out there who can learn what they need to know with only a vague nudge in the right direction. On the cheapest end, a college level course will cost you several hundred dollars, and the only thing of value he is likely to glean is which tools to use? Sounds like an actual case of "Ask Slashdot saves hundreds of dollars!"


Re:Rhino (-1, Offtopic)

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Blender is good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192439)

Blender has become easy to learn since a major interface revamp in version 2.5.
I'd suggest jumping between tutorials on youtube.

Here's one to get you started:

Re:Blender is good (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43192513)

Except that "Design Software" is something "slightly" different. Think Rhinoceros 3D or StudioTools. Blender sucks, surface-wise.

Re:Blender is good (2)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43192801)

True that. It's surface tools are almost non-existent. There has been talk of integrating a better nurbs library (Nurbana) into Blender, but I don't think much has come of it. There just isn't much demand. Blender targets artists, not engineers. If you're going to be creating an object for rendering, there are very few reasons to ever use nurbs over subdivision surfaces. Subdivs, while lacking the precision, do not have the same topological constraints.

Re:Blender is good (1)

Noughmad (1044096) | about a year ago | (#43192815)

I tried to learn Blender a couple of times. My major gripe was not its interface, but rather that it's difficult to find written tutorials. All of them seem to be videos.

Re:Blender is good (3, Interesting)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43192991)

Not to mention stuff tends to move around with every single version so a tutorial for version 2.55 may not be applicable to 2.66. It wouldn't be so bad if they documented things, but this is sadly not always the case. Just take the bevel took for example. I don't think that's stayed in one place for any of the past 10 or so releases. Sometimes it's a tool. Sometimes it's a modifier. Sometimes it's under the "w" menu. It can be frustrating as all hell if you don't keep up with every release. Skip a few and it's like learning the program from scratch again.

Blender Tutorial (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43193039)

I tried to learn Blender a couple of times. My major gripe was not its interface, but rather that it's difficult to find written tutorials. All of them seem to be videos.

The Blender 3D: Noob to Pro [] wiki book has been around for years and does a very good job* of teaching basic and intermediate level Blender use.

If you search for "blender 3d tutorial" it's the second result on Google and the fourth on DuckDuckGo (e.g. Bing). Maybe try searching on Google instead of YouTube next time. (That's a joke, for any humour-impaired types reading)

* At least, it did when I first found it four or five years ago. It may not be fully updated to match the Blender 2.5 UI changes now.

Try Wings3d (3, Informative)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43192453)

It'll always create closed meshes and is simple enough for beginners to use with more advanced modes available as you learn more. It can also export to a wide variety of formats.

Sketchup, OpenSCAD (5, Informative)

naroom (1560139) | about a year ago | (#43192663)

I tried Wings3d first, and it's easy to get into and make some compositions of cubes and spheres and whatnot. There's a good starting tutorial here [] where you make a simple table.

However, as a programmer, I find it much faster and more intuitive to use OpenSCAD. Instead of clicking on things and moving them around on the screen, you edit code that generates the objects. There are thousands of examples to get you started at thingiverse [] . Here's one of mine [] .

At the other extreme, Google Sketchup is excellent for the "click and drag objects around" approach. Its UI is way more powerful than Wings3D, and it may even be an easier starting point for non-programmers.

Re:Sketchup, OpenSCAD (1)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43192771)

I've never used Sketchup, but based on what i've seen it seems to be more of a cad program than an object modeler. Wings can be very very powerful, if you enable the more advanced modes.

Re:Sketchup, OpenSCAD (2)

hsmyers (142611) | about a year ago | (#43192891)

Then I can only suggest that you look again and this time take off those silly blinders :) Given the ability to 'push', 'pull' and a host of other actions, Sketchup leaves cad behind. I've used AutoCad since version 1.4 and Sketchup from the beginning and I think it accurate to say the the former is 2D while the latter is 3D. That said, OpenSCAD is a sweet piece of work and quite easy to use---IF you can handle the paradigm of code->drawing. You write code and then compile it to see your object. Very powerful once you get into the swing of things, but for non programmers, perhaps not the best approach. I'd recommend Sketchup over OpenSCAD based on that demographic.

Re:Sketchup, OpenSCAD (1)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43192953)

I have nothing against Sketchup, though I suspect it would be easier to create something like this [] in Wings rather than Sketchup. I could be wrong but most of what I see on Google Images created with sketchup tend to be things like houses. Nothing very complex. Does Sketchup create closed / print ready meshes?

Re:Try Wings3d (2)

Fifth Earth (1172333) | about a year ago | (#43192669)

Another for Wings3D for a beginner. It's free, fast, easy to learn and use, but be warned it does have limitations. Most notably it cannot do boolean operations. like subtracting one shape from another. There are supposed to be mods that allow this, but I've never gotten them to work.

Re:Try Wings3d (1)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43192737)

I agree it has some limitations but personally i've never missed boolean operations. I've never seen a plugin or tool that could create decent geometry. Blender has non-destructive boolean modifiers that can create decent results, but there are serious issues at the intersection with smooth shading. It would be nice if the modifier automatically set the edges created from the intersection to be marked for the cut modifier, but so far as I know it doesn't at the moment. You have to manually apply the modifier and select and set the edges manually. It does transfer UVs, however, which is nice.

Any of the Major CAD Software (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192465)

As someone who has used AutoDesk Inventor, PTC Elements/Pro, and Solidworks in an engineering setting, they are all pretty much the same toolset but with the buttons rearranged. If you want to use CAD software, though, what really matters most is whether you can find a guide that is well-written on how to use CAD software for things. You may, in fact, want to take a course at the local community college. Whatever software they use, you can then buy and be at least moderately experienced with it.

My college uses this book and it's pretty well-written, if you would rather avoid having to take a course. Solidworks is very capable of doing anything a hobbyist might want to and more.

Blender (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192471)

A great way to get your feet wet for no cost. Start by making and manipulating mesh objects. Really, everything you learn in one program is somewhat transferrable to another, so the best way is to just dive in, watch some tutorials and fiddle. Then you can try out a bunch of different packages to see what suits your needs best.

Re:Blender (1)

Psyborgue (699890) | about a year ago | (#43192565)

He already said Blender was too complicated for him, and I agree. It allows greater flexibility than a strict box modeler like Wings3d, but at the same time unless you know what you're doing it's very easy to create bad geometry. With Blender he would have to learn about normals, open and closed meshes, etc. WIth simpler programs such things are done automatically. For example, in Wings, unless you really intend to make a hole in a mesh (and you do this by applying a non-destructive "hole" material), the exported mesh is going to be closed -- perfect for 3d Printing. You'd also have to try very hard to flip the face normals and if you did it would be very clear in the view-port that something is wrong. Blender, on the other hand, defaults to solid shading mode and the editor will happily let you create two faces next to each other with normals pointing in complete opposite directions. You have to know what's wrong and recalculate normals. I love Blender, don't get me wrong, but it's not the tool for this job.

Not just for airplanes (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192481)

Check out OpenVSP . Although airplane focused, you'd be surprised what you can quickly create. It has a number of ways of creating *.STL files ready for 3D printing.

If you don't want to dive right in, you can browse their community file exchange....

It is currently undergoing significant refactoring/rewriting. After that is completed, you can expect significantly greater capability including better support for non-airplane objects.

Guerrilla guide (5, Interesting)

kill-1 (36256) | about a year ago | (#43192495)

The Guerrilla guide to CNC machining, mold making, and resin casting [] is probably one of best resources you can find.

Re:Guerrilla guide (1)

naroom (1560139) | about a year ago | (#43192715)

Yeah, that doc is pretty damn awesome overall. There's a ton of great information in there.

However, it does push milling over 3D printing. For the author's application, making teeny tiny gears, he's right: milling machines are the right way to go. But 3D printing is awesome for making larger things, and it's a MUCH faster and simpler process than milling is. Not to mention cheaper. So bear that in mind as you read it.

Re:Guerrilla guide (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192819)

Considering the cost of the filament, I'd say that milling costs a lot LESS than 3D printing, ESPECIALLY for making larger things.

Re:Guerrilla guide (1)

naroom (1560139) | about a year ago | (#43193073)

Depends how much larger, and how many of them you want. Milling machines are more expensive in setup cost, but *possibly* cheaper in the long run. As long as you don't break too many cutters, and you buy cheap wood. The author of the "guerilla guide" notes that he's spent tens of thousands of dollars on his milling setup over the years.

Another consideration when it comes to filament is that you don't need the total volume of the object to be filled in. All you need is a solid outside, and the inside of the object can be perhaps 10% full and still be pretty solid. So it doesn't take as much filament as you might think, although you're right -- cheap wood or MDF is still cheaper.

If you're making a large enough quantity that the cost of the machine isn't a factor, actually you don't want 3D printing OR milling. You want molding and casting. Plastic's cheaper than both. Send your model into Shapeways, get back one of the thing you want to make, make a mold of it, and cast a million. Or pay a Chinese guy to do it even cheaper.

Solidworks Solidworks Solidworks (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192505)

Solidworks will change your life. Once you grasp the concept of parametric modelling, nothing else goes so quickly from concept to making chips.

Re:Solidworks Solidworks Solidworks (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#43192645)

Solidworks will change your life.

Uh, right. So will overdosing on PCP.

With about the same effect.

Engineering vs. artsy software (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192511)

You'll want 3D parametric, associative modeler. The parametric means the dimensions are parameterized. Associative means the geometry is referenced off other geometries (edges, faces, etc). Alibre is probably the cheapest. Solid Works the most popular.

Complex Choices (1)

BoRegardless (721219) | about a year ago | (#43192517)

1. Who you work with & funds you can spend: vendors, suppliers to interchange files with might be most important, or the company you might work with later.
2. Simple vs complex 3D surfacing-solids needs. You want to learn simpler constructions that are extruded and rotated sections first. Jumping into complex 3D surfacing for "organic" shapes right off the bat can be confusing & frustrating.
3. Training: It takes time to get the subtleties, and that may take a couple days practice on each platform if you can do it. Otherwise finding a good designer you respect which might be at a vendor or job shop can guide you (I happen to use SolidWorks as so many of my vendors & toolmakers use it). Once you pick software, its best to start constructing simple then more complex objects to find out how to best start a solid. For a round part, it takes experience to figure out whether you should start by extruding a shape or rotating a shape. Sometimes it doesn't matter. Sometimes it limits easy changes. Controlling constructions so draft doesn't give you sliver wedges is experience based. Many parts are constructed easier if you leave corner radii until nearly last.

OpenSCAD ? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192525)

If you come from a programming background, you might have a look at OpenSCAD ( It's a FOSS tool which allows you to do constructive solid geometry ( through a programming language rather than a GUI (though you do have a GUI for visualization).

It's pretty cool as it allows you to create parametric objects : for example, there are libraries to generate gears by specifing parameters such as radius and number of teeth.

Quite a few projects of the reprap family are developped with this tool.

Re:OpenSCAD ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192653)

Thumbs up for OpenSCAD! For anyone who has a programmer's mindset, OpenSCAD is the best tool there is. I've used it to model RF structures that I've exported to STL and then simulated using COMSOL.

The downside, I think, is when dealing with standards. Nothing beats SolidWorks when working on complex assemblies of standard parts and with rigorous constraints.

Re:OpenSCAD ? (1)

pantherace (165052) | about a year ago | (#43192693)

I will also suggest openscad. I'm not great at it (I tend to use blender for quick one offs.)

However, it's amazing what you can do with it, when leveraging the community. I made a replacement gear for my lathe last week, and it worked great.

Re:OpenSCAD ? (1)

michael_rendier (2601249) | about a year ago | (#43192713)

You, Anonymous Sir, just made my day...thank you very much.

Re:OpenSCAD ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192789)

Completely agree. I use OpenSCAD with my Ultimaker and it works brilliantly. My workflow is: create the design in OpenSCAD, export it to STL, open the STL in Cura (the Ultimaker slicer), save the gcode file to the SD card and print from the SD card.

As OpenSCAD uses simple text files, like a programming language, I can also auto-generate some complex stuff using python like this couple of scripts that generate metric screws:

ProE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192527)

My favorite CAD software is ProE because of its powerful surfacing tools. If you will only be modeling to make things using subtractive fabrication/manufacturing techniques, then a solid-modeling software like Solidworks will suffice and is simpler/easier to learn. If you want to make things with 3D-variant surfaces, then you'll want to learn at least Pro/E. It's in the middle between the basics like SW and the industrial strength surfacers like Catia.

As 3D printing and fabrication techniques become more and more accessible, good surface modeling capabilities becomes more valuable to more and more people.

depends on the goal (2)

notequinoxe (2668889) | about a year ago | (#43192533)

Solidworks, AutoCAD (CATIA, Unigraphics PRO/Engineer etc.) are software designed for engineering and understanding what they're all about, even if some have some handy CNC extensions(both proprietary or created by others) would require some relevant education in the field; I suggest you play around with the stuff people use for the gaming industry (Maya, Milkshape, Rhino). Anyway, my 2 cents.

Re:depends on the goal (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192731)

Depends on the budget also, Catia for basic 3D modelling costs 3000 euros / year for one license.
Catia with ALL modules (nobody has that, but in case you are caught pirating it) costs around 120 000 euros/year.

ArchiCAD | Houdini (1)

johnrpenner (40054) | about a year ago | (#43192545)

it depends a lot on what you need to do — you can model and design something in a specialized app like ArchiCAD in 2 days what would take you 2 weeks in a generalized programme like AutoCAD.

if you were doing 3D animation, and needed procedural behaviours, particles, and vast datasets — Houdini is the top of the bunch for 3D Rendering and Animation.

needs define software.

ArchiCAD (free trial, requires registration): []

Houdini (Apprentice Free Version): []

best regards from toronto island

depends on the design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192583)

If you want something super accurate to the millionth of a decimal point to machine a piece that will go into something with very low tolerances, then AutoCAD. Personally, I'm not a fan of it because of the legacy user input style (command line origins). I find it clunky and it takes me forever to create something simple, but that's just my own limitations. AutoCAD is very different from other 3D packages I've used (below).

Maya is great for organic modeling, if you start out with box modeling. It's versatile and you can export to different packages without much issues. It's widely used and support/ plugins for it is everywhere.

3d Max is another great package but it's more commonly used with architects and low-poly characters for videogames. I find it to be an intermediary between AutoCAD and Maya, mainly because of its snap utilities and ease to change units. Maya tends to stay in metric, or at least that's the implication. I use Max for some technical drawings.

SideFX's Houdini is also great if you mess up a lot and need to go back in the node tree. I had some problems setting up the correct units, but modeling is not their strength (it's particles simulations). For your 3D Printing needs, I'd stay away from this program.

I heard from people that Cinema4D is easy to use with some nice presets. Might want to give that a try.

I didn't like Blender at first, because the interface was a bit clunky, but not as much as AutoCAD. I spent 3 hours trying to figure out the program on my own and it was frustrated. Watching the quick-start video tutorials really helped and I should've done that in the very beginning. It only takes 30-60 min but after that I was modeling without much issues. I'd def. try Blender if you're pursuing this just for fun, as opposed to a business venture.

check out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192595)

You might want to take a look at
It's style is more like programming than other CAD tools I've used, and some folks in the community are doing interesting things with it.

The perfect choice (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192597)

I'd recommend using your favourite text editor to write out .obj or .ply files. You can even change the font without affecting the final file.

3d-design or mech design? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192623)

i would point you to solidworks, why? because you need to learn mech design, 3d modeling is secondary. there is a distinct difference between modeling for 3d graphics, gaming etc and for real world manufacturing, forget about graphics and start thinking about manufacturability, strength, wear and tear, weight etc

Depends on what you want to make (1)

mraiser (1151329) | about a year ago | (#43192629)

For 3D printing, I lean toward OpenSCAD because it's more like a programming language and you can define your model mathematically with great precision. For importing and tweaking existing models I lean toward Blender. Neither is particularly easy to learn, but both are very powerful (and FREE).

Start small (2)

Faraday's Sloth (720456) | about a year ago | (#43192637)

I would suggest you start on 3D printing as that has the most intuitive manufacturing paradigm (YMMV but still...). The easiest solid modeler to learn is probably Tinkercad: [] . Blender and Sketchup are not solid modelers. They CAN produce manufacturable (i.e watertight) meshes if you know what you want from them, though. I would suggest you try 3D printing with Tinkercad to get your bearings and then figure out where to go next.

sketchup (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192649)

I would suggest blender, but for simplicity, google sketchup is great.

Modo (1)

Grayhand (2610049) | about a year ago | (#43192659)

One of the best all around but not cheap.

A good start would be Rhino + Blender (2)

Sla$hPot (1189603) | about a year ago | (#43192665)

Rhino for patch modeling (machinable objects)
Blender for box modeling (organic stuff), animation, and visualization
That would be a good start. And for the next ten years or so (forever).
If you start working on the next Dreamliner or you decide to spend $10-$20K on your hobby.Then you might take look at CATIA or ProE.

Inkscape, 2D first, then work up. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192667)

Do lots of 2D projects first, like making solder masks, PCB boards, print blocks, etc.
Use this to get a feel of materials, the idea of tool paths, etc.

Moving to 3D is just adding depth to some your cuts, or lots and lots of 2D layers if you're printing.

AutoCAD and CATIA are great (1)

ChefJeff789 (2020526) | about a year ago | (#43192671)

The unfortunate fact of the matter is, most 3D design software is quite similar, in that learning the software can require a bit of a learning curve. At first, it is a rather unusual way to design things but once learned can become incredibly powerful and intuitive, especially when jumping from software to software if that is ever required (particularly if you have to write machine code for a CNC mill). My best advice to you is to pick one and simply jump right in and learn it. I know that's probably not helpful, but that's the reality that I faced when choosing design software myself. Solidworks and AutoCAD are both great, but I personally prefer CATIA (I'm biased, though, as an aerospace engineer, so take this as you will). It is more powerful than Solidworks, and CNC milling can be quite simple if it is used properly. Richard Cozzens' book ( is a great beginners resource that walks you through simple projects and it's not too expensive. There's an advanced workbook and an even more basic introduction book that're also not too expensive. There are also plenty of youtube videos that reference CATIA (though this is true for most design software). The Guerilla Guide is great, too (referenced previously) if you want to do some CNC machining. I like CATIA, but it is expensive and has some odd quirks, and most other software will work just as well. My advice is again to just pick one and learn the basics thoroughly, with budget and range of capabilities being the best guides. Then you can move into more advanced work with the same software.

Re:AutoCAD and CATIA are great (1)

Latentius (2557506) | about a year ago | (#43193371)

CATIA? Really?

Sure, it's nice if you need to use it in an industrialized setting, and have assemblies with thousands of components. But as for designing small objects for personal manufacture? All I can say about using CATIA for model creation is that it leaves me sorely wishing for SolidWorks (which is funny, since they're now owned by the same company).

rhino (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192673)

Aka rhinoceros 3d.
This is what architects use these days. It's very easy to get up and running with but can do incredibly complex things if you ever want to. Also excellent community support and plugin ecosystem. That said it is not a "solid modeling" program, so making watertight meshes can sometimes take work.
The key benefit is that it's all about being simple and precise with the fundamentals: points, lines, curves, surfaces...

What's your goal? (1)

LiavK (2867503) | about a year ago | (#43192683)

Depends on what your target is.

If you are planning on doing a lot of complex curved work, you might want to look at Rhino -- it's a highly capable surface modeler. I often describe it as "like autoCAD but inherently 3d and without the suck." The basics can be learned very quickly and you can do relatively sophisticated work with it shortly there after. It's actually kind of a pleasure to work with. Version 5 is just out and I haven't seen it, but I can't imagine it makes a huge dent in some of the UI and paradigm limitations of that package, though. The big, and ultimately frustrating limitation of Rhino is that it's a surface modeller. It's great for sketching ideas out and exploring potential and complex geometries, but if you want to 3d print something, you need to make sure you have a water-tight model, which can be a pain. Making changes to models after the fact can also be a pain.

If you are planning to send drawings out to contractors for fabrication work, or ever want to work in an architecture office, autoCAD is (god help you) still a viable route to do that sort of work. It's industry standard, the only problem is that it's paradigm for drawing is one that was bad even by the standard of R&D prototypes done in the 60s -- it's basically the equivalent of an electronic drawing board. It brings some level of intelligence to the problem of drawing, but it fundamentally doesn't understand that two orthogonal views of the same object should be linked.

Solidwork is a great option if you're willing to put in a lot of time to understand it's paradigm: everything is about defining geometrical constraints and relationships. It's all number and sketch driven. The joy of it is that if you set things up to be reconfigurable, you can change tweak fundamental elements of your model. The horror of it is when you need to make a change that you didn't anticipate, the complex network of relationships that you've created can totally break. This is often not actually as bad as it sounds -- the relationship networks can be repaired and there are best practices and design patterns for setting up assemblies and parts, but there's definitely a bit of a feeling of trepidation on opening a complex solidworks model and thinking about making a change to it after weeks or months of work. After more than a year and a half of working with this package, I went out and bought one of those mega Bible books on it, and it's been very rewarding to page through. As I said, a great option *if* you want to invest the time in learning a deep deep tool. The other thing to understand is that Solidworks is a solid-modeler: it inherently understands that the world is composed of closed, water-tight objects. It's associative and parametric, which are technical terms related to the fact that you can build associations via sketch geometry and drive dimensions and other elements via numbers (extending all the way to creating a link with a spreadsheet, if you want). It's also fairly easy to get drawings out of it, if you ever do want to communicate with a fabricator or someone else: it'll do the projections for you. It's definitely not as aggressively NURBSy as Rhino (NURBs are the name for the splines that construct curvy surfaces) but you can do curved and organic shapes with it. Just be prepared to go down another rabbit hole -- there's an entire solidworks bible devoted just to surfacing techniques.

I know some people who prep laser cutting files in either Illustrator or InkScape. Personally, the though of doing serious cad work in Illustrator makes my teeth hurt. And I'm a proficient Illustrator user.

I've been lucky to generally have access to commercial grade cad packages. My very limited experience with free and open-source CAD suggests it's skill a bit of a ghetto. This may have changed in the past year or so -- if people can recommend a genuinely good, O.S. package, by all means jump into it. But if it hasn't, I would suggest that learning any CAD package, even the relatively user-friendly Rhino, is a pretty big investment in time -- you don't want to then be hobbled by your tools.

Milling: again, depends on your goals and what your equipment is like: if it's three axis, you'll probably be doing top-down profiling operations, maybe some surfacing ops, maybe some complex pocketing ops. Generating the geometry in that case is actually likely to be the least of your worries -- running the machine successfully is your new head ache. CAM work is its own mega rabbit hole. This is one of the best resources I've found for getting up to speed on the basics of that: [] -- there's a lot of wisdom there. Good luck!

I'd recommend Rhino (1)

banditez (1617697) | about a year ago | (#43192685)

I'm an architect and I've used Rhino for quite a while and have found it to have the most intuitive workflow between 2-d and 3-d, working between making curves or projections and using those to make solid geometry. It is also great at interface with both CNC mills and 3d printers--I've used it quite a bit myself to print architectural models and also know of quite a few other design offices that use it in a production setting. It also has quite a large community and a great scripting interface in grasshopper if you are into that. If you are more into sculptural mesh modeling I'd recommend Maya or 3D-Studio Max but I'm not sure how it would interface with a 3d printer or CNC mill. With regard to Sketchup or Blender or any other free software, I've never found their features or interface to be up to the level of commercial programs, and the cost for a Rhino seat relative to the productivity gains is negligible, and personally, while I'm sympathetic to open source, I'm reluctant to let software ideology preferences limit what I can do. If cost is a huge factor, though, and you can't amortize the software cost over a large number of projects, by all means look into those.

freecad (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192689)

How about freecad ?

Re:freecad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43193219)

It's a work in progress and thus lacks a bit of features and you may bump into a bug from time to time. That said, the community is _very_ responsive and the developers seem to know what they're doing (they take their time to plan a feature).

Alibre! (5, Informative)

Keick (252453) | about a year ago | (#43192697)

Alibre is worth learning if your serious about CAD/CAM. The personal version is only $99 and should do anything you want outside of NURBS. You absolutely don't want to use something like Blender for 2D/3D precision work.

Alibre tries to follow the Solidworks way of doing things, so if you learn Alibre then you can quickly migrate to something more high-end if you ever need too.

It has support for full parametric solids cad, so it isn't the old school Autocad stuff where you have to pretend you know what its going to look like from your 2D sketches.

When your ready to cut metal, or print plastic, Alibre can output a number of solid models (STL) formats, as well as DWG and DXF which are critical for using importing into a good CAM package (whole nother ask slashdot on choosing a good CAM).

Alibre has some pretty easy to follow tutorials to get you started.

I don't work for the company, just a VERY happy camper when I bit the bullet 2 years or so ago and got the $99 version. Used it to design a 3D printer down to every last nut/bolt.

Yes its a challenge, but like everything worth doing...

Last, but not least, get plugged into the forums at They have categories for every type of machine from mills, lathes, to 3D printers; from every type of CAD package to every type of CAM. Its a great asset, and once your hooked you'll spend more time reading on cnczone than here on Slashdot (sacrilegious i know).

How life? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192699)

Are you also not sure of what the best pants and shoes to wear are? Or what the best picture to have on your desktop is? Ask Slashdot!

There are plenty of hapless and helpless people submitting questions for Slashdot on how to arrange desktop icons, how to not get fat from sitting down at work, how to keep the cables behind the computer tidy, or how to just cope with being alive.

We'd love to have more questions from people like you who like to pretend being helpless so you can get picked up by helping hands and get advice.

Re:How life? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43193113)

I'd like to know if I should eat porridge or yoghurt with cereal for breakfast. I personally like yoghurt with cereal much more. Please tell me which one I should choose, as I am completely confused.

Re:How life? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43193287)

Maybe he wants opininons from a wider community, ranging in philosophy from open source advocacy to whatever-works, commitment between hobbyist to making-a-living, on budgets from allowance to business. On a topic that's not exactly Yahoo Answers material.

At any rate, it's clearly stated in the title and you clicked on it, so browse the answers and make the best of them or just buzz off.

Do by hand, then by machine, then by robot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192701)

A friend of mine wanted to get into CNC milling. I ended up taking a regular milling class with him.
It's best to learn the "how", before you try to automate the process to make many.
Spending 30 hours to make a part by robot is silly when you need one and it takes 10 hours to make by hand.
Spending 300 hours to make 100 parts by hand is silly when you have robots.

Solidworks is the easiest to use (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192711)

The tutorials in solidworks are actually extremely helpful making it my everyday go to program. Other programs are more powerful in the simulation areas but are generally a pain to use (E.G. NX)

Just a quick response (2)

Angel Del Piero (2867513) | about a year ago | (#43192721)

I have been doing 3D modeling for over 25 years. If you really want to get good or create some neat stuff, it doesn't matter what program you use. They are all "hammers" and we all prefer a particular "handle" to pound nails. If you really want to do some scripted 3d renderings, use POVray, If you want a program with a UI Blender,3DSMax, or something along those lines works great. If you need precision, any form of AutoCAD works great. Pro/E and others like it are a bit more difficult. Pick a program and buy a book and learn to use it, or search YouTube for video tutorials. I use autodesk programs and I am in the ADN, because I enjoy writing my own plugins and all autodesk programs are fairly easy to write add ons for. If you want to create great models you will, but you will have to learn the terms and quite a few complex operations regardless of the program used. That's just the reality of it.

Rhino + Grasshopper 3D (2)

omershapira (2446398) | about a year ago | (#43192733)

It's amazing.
The command-line in Rhino is robust (scriptable via Python) and Grasshopper allows node-based geometry workflows (like Max/MSP, Houdini, Quartz Composer, etc). It also allows you to create complex scripts and control their input in real time. Rhino is impressively accurate (algorithm-wise) for its price. I've seen this setup where my girlfriend studies architecture, but also at NYU's interactive telecommunications program (where I study) - two places that have quite different requirements (one designs large-scale and shares with engineers, one designs fist-scale and prints directly), yet it serves them both quite well. I wish all of the 3D programs I worked with had this workflow.

One major caveat is, however, that this stack works only on windows. Grasshopper is written in .NET (and, until recently, only scriptable in C# in VB - python is new and experimental). But it'll take you a long time to hit a wall with the available functions and have to write something.

Re:Rhino + Grasshopper 3D (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192883)

designs large-scale and shares with engineers, one designs fist-scale and prints directly), yet it serves them both quite well. I wish all of the 3D programs I worked with had this workflow.

One major caveat is, however, that this stack works only on windows. Grasshopper is written in .NET (and, until recently, only scriptable in C# in VB - python is new and experimental). But it'll take you a long time to hit a wall with the available functions and have to write something.

formZ (1)

Bongo (13261) | about a year ago | (#43192735)

formZ deserves a mention.

Solidworks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192739)

Ive used several, and do a lot of work like this ( I work in a cnc shop) i would t use anything but solidworks. The tutorials it comes with are great, spend the hour or so to go through them and youll br able to do a fair bit right away. Because its so popular there is tons of people making tutorials on youtube and lots of resources on the web. inventor is good but solidworks is better. Sorry about the grammar/composition im on my phone traveling.

Voxel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192765)

You can use 'Voxel' on iOS to make simple voxel-based models.

AgentCubes (draw 2D, turn into 3D) (2)

the agent man (784483) | about a year ago | (#43192775)

AgentCubes/Inflatable Icons allows you do create 3D shapes very quickly with no 3D modeling background. Paint images in 2D and turn into 3D. You indicated that you are struggling with 3D tools such as Blender and even Sketchup. I guess I don't know what kinds of shapes and what kind of quality of 3D shapes you have in mind. We have been exploring for some time why many people have problems using these kinds of tools. The short answer is that these tools are aimed at typically professional 3D designers or, more generally, at people with a lot of time at their hands to learn an interface with a steep learning curve. If your goal is to produce 3D shapes of the Pixar level quality then there just is not way around these kinds of tools. If, on the other hand, you just need to build very simple shapes that you can produce in, say, a couple of minutes, and maybe print that on a 3D printer then perhaps Inflatable Icons may do the trick.

A benchmark with Inflatable Icons was that if it takes more than a minute to explain how to make a 3D shape it is too complex. The idea is to make casual 3D tools. We have tested this with many kids and it works great. The short version of the concept is that practically all 3D tools work on the "First Shape then Paint" while we have flipped this around to be "First Paint then Shape" You are basically drawing a 2D image first using a Photoshop-like editor. Then you use tools including inflation to turn then 2D image into a 3D shape.

video: []

sample Inflatable Icons (you can even edit them in the browser): []

3D part design is complex (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192797)

I'm trying to understand what you are asking for, and I'll just take a wild guess and say that you are a complete beginner who really wants to use advanced tools to make some stuff, not just a saw+hammer+nails?
Consider what you are asking of your CNC/printer/etc. vs. what you want to create. If you want to make things that are composed of many things attached together for some function, then the idea of make something in 3D becomes a layer of more of complex considerations. If you want parts to fit and move, or not, in a certain way then you have added yet another layer of complexity. There are many options available at many price points. If you want to create geometrically (mathematically) precise parts, then a NURBS surface or a solids modeler will be very helpful. If you want to create assemblies with parts that mechanically fit together and function together properly, then it would be wise to consider an app that can provide associativity and assembly functionality. If you want to create organic forms that don't need to work functionally together (ie slide, rotate, not move, etc.) then you can utilize the organic, yet relatively imprecise mesh modeling apps. The two types of software (mathematically precise and polygon mesh modelers) rarely work well together, at least in my 20 years of experience. There are apps that will get around this impediment, but they can be pricey.
If you are going to make things then output from the design process (CAD) needs to transfer/output/export to the next phase (CAM), and from there to your advanced tools/machine. I am not trying to advocate, just explain the process and the steps between the phases.
If you want relatively cheap but good 3D software that can output to CAM and 3D Printer, you can try ViaCAD ($), FreeCAD (free), and some others.
Wow, its difficult not to go into detail. I've erased 1/2 of what I typed and tried to answer all of the OP questions without going over board.

Solidworks, CATIA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192813)

Solidworks is the de-facto standard in many industries for 3d models. CATIA's great if you're made of money. If you want something a bit cheaper try [] And you'll get more experienced responses by looking at threads about this question on cnczone or practicalmachinist.

Processing (2)

LiavK (2867503) | about a year ago | (#43192841)

A totally different approach, if you like programming is processing [] . If you're not a serious coder, it's got a light-weight IDE and is specifically designed to be a gateway drug for artists/designers to the world of computational design. If you're already comfortable with Java, you can import the processing core into eclipse and really go hammer and tongs at it. It's got a ton of libraries, several of which are specifically devoted to creating STLs, meshes, NURBs and exporting that geometry out to STL, dxf, dwg, etc. Take a look at toxilibs [] for some particularly cool functionality with meshes and physics libraries. There is also a good online forum [] .

Not familiar with computational design? Check out some of the examples on the processing gallery [] .

Re:Processing (1)

LiavK (2867503) | about a year ago | (#43192863)

Actually also being actively ported to other languages, including javascript [] , ruby and [] python [] .

You sound confused. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192843)

You sound like you don't know how to use your tools, not how to use 3D software. Or maybe you can use them, but can't come up with your own design - in which case knowing the design software won't help much.

You can program CNC mills (3 axis) without knowledge of 3D software. FeatureCAM and MasterCAM will let you create 2D toolpaths and specify the depth. 3D milling isn't much more complicated, since the software handles the post. If you know conventional machining, this is very easy to do.

If design is your shortfall, I suggest (besides completing an engineering degree) getting your hands on as many blueprints as possible. Punches and dies, components for the aerospace and medical industry are very good places to start. They will teach you about tolerances and constraints. From there you can adapt to 3D software fairly quickly. After that it's just practice. Your designs will ALWAYS have room for improvement (performance, ease of manufacturing, cost, etc) but building and failing is part of the learning process.

I can't speak about 3D printing, as I don't have any experience with it. I've been doing mechanical design and manufacturing parts in a high-precision machine shop for 20 years.

123D Design from Autodesk (2)

drgould (24404) | about a year ago | (#43192879)

123D Design [] from Autodesk is free and compatible with 3D printers.

Here's [] a guy who used it to replace a critical piece of a mounting bracket for his TomTom GPS.

The video [] gives you some insight into the workflow from design to 3D printing.

Maya, 3DSMax, or SolidWorks (1)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | about a year ago | (#43192889)

For building abstract, conceptual 3D objects, I find Maya or 3DS Max are the best. The uniform interface style Autodesk provides is very easy to learn across programs, and they both seem to achieve the same end result in different ways. I use these mostly for creating models for video games or for CG animations, but I have saved the odd .OBJ and 3D printed it before.

For creating something you actually want to mass produce, or even I would suppose for the one-off 3D printed objects, SolidWorks can't be beat. It is the fastest and most accurate CAD/3D platform I have ever used. I was able to create some very complicated and measurement-accurate CAD drawings - complete with 3D render, engineering diagrams and tests, and various export formats - in just minutes with zero experience.

All of the aforementioned programs are very expensive, but Autodesk has free student software, and if you look hard enough everything is free on the internet.

solids or surfaces? (1)

kwikrick (755625) | about a year ago | (#43192917)

I'm not sure what the requirements are for models to be 3D printed. I can imagine you need a solid model to make a print, but the software that comes with the printer can probably convert a surface model into a solid model. Most objects you'll print wont be very solid anyway, but rather thin-walled hollow objects.

I'm guessing a surface modeller like Rino, Blender or Wings3d are the best option, since these a cheaper than solid modelling software and more suitable for creative design.

Solid modellers like Solidworks, Catia and Proengineer are used in industry, and may give you more control over the solidity of your model (like where supports should go and how thick these must be). For the extra money you'll get many extra features that you'll never use.


Re:solids or surfaces? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43193011)

Just to clarify, surfaces are both polygon mesh and mathematically defined/driven geometry. Rhino can create polygons, but it is normally used to create mathematically defined surfaces. Wings and blender don't seem to provide that functionality.
From my experience, solids are just enclosed surfaces (watertight). I say this because a solid can be exported as a collection of surfaces, but a surface has to be zipped up along its edges to create a solid. No offense. Just what I've observed over the years.

Catia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43192919)

Catia is my personal favorite since I work with it every day. Solidworks is good and less expensive, but still pricey. I haven't use ProE for a decade. All of these are expensive. I DO NOT recommend getting a bootleg copy of good software rather than paying for crap that you can afford. That would be unethical. Good CAD is priced in the thousands of dollars and up.

"Artsy" modeling software is not good for work on engineered parts. 3DS max, rhino, blender are all not CAD.

Tinkercad (1)

Pallas Athena (2855215) | about a year ago | (#43192927)

It will depend on what you intend to make - but if you don't know anything about 3d design and want to build something with a regular form (i.e. composed of cubes, spheres, and the like) you may want to look at Tinkercad ( I'm quite sure there are much better 3D modelers out there - but first you have to concentrate on learning how to design an object. Spending the learning curve required for most 'true' CAD systems is for later.

Oh my (1)

Holistic Missile (976980) | about a year ago | (#43192937)

Many of these 'Which CAD system is better' discussions can devolve into quasi-religious, zealotry-laden arguments akin to 'Should I use Linux or Windows?' discussions. Just a friendly warning. :-D

I've been using Pro/Engineer (now called 'Creo') for over 16 years. Which package you use really depends on what you think you will want to accomplish. For designs to be used in 3D printing or for CNC machining, you are probably better off with a CAD package. The dimensions are absolute, and are inherent to the model. There is also sufficient precision for these processes. The 3D modeling packages like Blender, Maya, 3DS, etc. are more for creating aesthetic models - sizes are relative by scaling, mainly to get the perspective right.

Which CAD package you use really depends on what you intend to do. Any of them will work for basic modeling of individual parts or simple assemblies. If you want to be able to do more advanced engineering work, such as simulations, finite element modeling and analysis, optimization and feasibility studies, shear diagrams, etc., you will want one of the more advanced packages such as Pro/E (Creo), or Catia. For modeling parts and small assemblies, SolidWorks or Unigraphics could fit the bill, too. Pro/E (Creo) has built-in 3-axis CNC programming, and SolidWorks interfaces with MasterCam for this functionality.

They are all rather expensive systems, and unfortunately, vendor lock-in has always been a huge factor in the CAD market. Be sure to choose up front based on what you expect to use it for ultimately. There are interchange formats for the files, but you lose many aspects of the file vs. the native file formats. Be sure to check into student versions - they can be had for around $200, usually with a one-year renewable license. The most common restriction is they will not be able to share data with the commercially licensed products, and some may print a watermark on any drawings you produce. Neither sounds like it will be a problem for you.

Good luck, and have fun!

blender - Cross-platform, opensource (2)

Zimluura (2543412) | about a year ago | (#43192939)


When learning complex and powerful software look for two things: Cross-platform & Open-source.
Cross-platform code is usually much more stable, having a healthy abstraction layer from the os.
Open-source: It can never be taken away from you - say you learn autocad, and use 1 feature allot, then there is a new version of windows and it's not compatible with your autocad, so you get new autocad, but that feature isn't there anymore. if it were opensource you could maybe do something about it.

You put the two of them together and you also get the benefit of possibly flying anywhere in the world, and being able to download powerful software that you already know how to use on whatever computer they have there.

I started 3d modeling on truespace, and the many hours (and dollars) i spent on that are gone forever now.

Autodesk Inventor (1)

richtopia (924742) | about a year ago | (#43193043)

If you are a student or unemployed (or lie) you can use any of Autodesk's software for free. Personally I have trouble thinking in meshes, I learned parasolids from my intro CAD courses and when I try Blender or 3dsMax I get mad at the logic behind them.

One thing you have not mentioned is if you have CAM software. I am not satisfied with free CAM solutions, and if you do need to buy CAM software you may want to consider BobCAD, which is affordable for the hobbyst but can make cutterpaths also.

Solidworks (4, Interesting)

twistedsymphony (956982) | about a year ago | (#43193081)

Since your goal is 3D printing or CNC machinging I would say you definitly want a "Solid Modeler" type package. I prefer SolidWorks personally, In my experience it's the defacto among small to medium sized manufacturing shops that keep up with the times, Pro-Engineer is popular too. AutoCAD seems pretty popular among shops that are a little behind the times.

Larger companies (Auto and Aerospace manufacturers) tend to use packages such as Catia, but that's way overkill (and way out of budget) for 3D printing and the like, it's more suited to massive assemblies with thousands or millions of components. Solidworks isn't without it's faults but I find the interface fairly intuitive once you learn the basics and it's perfect for small-scale stuff. I've used it many times to design small components and assemblies for car and computer projects among other things. Most professional software solid-modeling packages can export to whatever format you'll need for your 3D printer, CNC software, or whatever it is that your manufacturer requires.

You want a solid-modeler like Solidworks/Pro-E/Catia/etc because they're all designed with dimensional accuracy in mind. Surface modelers are generally used for 3D graphics production and have a higher concentration on making things look good than being dimensionally accurate. It's like the difference between MS Word and Adobe Photoshop... if you want to write a book, Word is probably the better software, but if you're designing a poster, Photoshop is probably the better choice... both create "documents" but they have very different uses... similarly if you need a 3D design software for manufacturing or real world production you want Solidworks, but if you wanted to make a 3D move or game Maya would be a better choice.

Uhhhh, has it been asked? (1)

Slugster (635830) | about a year ago | (#43193151)

If you have access to such machines, what software are they using already?

You might not want to pay for a full version for hobby use, but if you have to make last-minute adjustments on your files before cutting/printing then you would still want to know how to use what's already there.

Alibre vs SolidWorks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43193155)

I would recommend Alibre because it's a lot like Solidworks, and I use that at work and play (because I have it at work). Scupltris is cool is you want to play with a ball of clay. TinkerCAD is just fun.

If you have to ask, then you have no clue ... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43193195)

... of how to do the job.

3D software is a TOOL you use. Not something that will do the job for you.

The fact that the submitter (allegedly) has access to a 3D printer and has no clue of what software to use, shows that he is not qualify to get anywhere near it.

Siemens Solid Edge ST5!!!!! (1)

XtremeMachineX (1442405) | about a year ago | (#43193201)

I work as a CAD/CAM Supervisor at a company that Designs and Manufactures mechanical components for reciprocating compressors. We use to use 2D CAD to design our products. We wanted to move to a 3D CAD/CAM. We tried SolidWorks, Alibre, Inventor, and Solid Edge. We found that Siemens Solid Edge was the Most Powerful Mid-Range design package. [] [] Check it out Slashdoters!!!!!

IronCad (1)

vladilinsky (1071536) | about a year ago | (#43193257)

I am working/in school, as/for mechanical Engineering. I have used Pro/Engineer and IronCad extensively they are polar opposites in the way that they operate. They also both have there advantages and disadvantages.

When I had to chose a 3d Cad Program for myself I chose IronCad mostly on price but after using it for two years I genuinely feel that It is the fastest to model and easiest to use (but coming from Pro/E offers at times hair pulling levels of frustration mostly due to differences in methodology) It has a 30 day free trial that you can use to see if you like it. [] That is what I would point someone on a budget towards (if money were no objective I would still go for Pro/E but would miss a lot of the features of IronCad)

As a lover of open source I often look towards FreeCad [] longingly and have great hope for it. it may be worth a look

123D (1)

durgledoggy (1931480) | about a year ago | (#43193325)

How about Autodesk's 123D [] . If you want something designed more for engineering than artistic work. It's free of charge.
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