When getting started with 3D printing, it’s easy enough to pull some nifty things from sites like Thingiverse and print them out. But I quickly got bored of that – the reason I got a 3D printer is to turn ideas in my head into reality, not somebody else’s ideas.
There are lots of options to create digital 3D objects, the one I started with is Onshape. It is a completely web-based CAD system with the ambition to take on the big professional engineering CAD systems. I chose it mainly because it ties into another of my interests: learning how web-based applications are replacing traditional desktop applications. CAD has been one of the cornerstones of expensive desktop machines crunching numbers as professional engineering workstations. Can Onshape (& peers) transform that world? I don’t know, but I want to see how well it works (or, potentially, not) first hand while having fun.
Fortunately they’re very friendly to hobbyists like myself:
- Their subscription plan has a free tier specifically for hobbyists and makers. The storage space is limited and you can only keep a few things private. So the scale and complexity of free projects are restricted, but all Onshape functionality is identical. This was important because a few other CAD solutions restrict functionality at the lower cost tiers… functionality such as export to STL. If I can’t export to 3D print, that would defeat the point of the exercise.
- There is an extensive self-training resources section. A free service isn’t much good if I have to fork out a fortune to learn how to use it. With Onshape, I don’t have to.
- There is an online community around the tool. Onshape is new and still has quirks and idiosyncrasies. (Well, to be fair, all software do.) With the help of other like minded people on the forums, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel and solve all problems by myself.
After spending a few days in the training section, I was able to create simple things in Onshape. As I started getting fancier, I started running into problems that need digging into the documentation and/or the online forums. As I learn more about Onshape I’m increasingly impressed with what they’ve done and what they’re planning to do.
It’s a fun and functional tool. Highly recommended.