People have been asking me about 3d printing and how to get started. Luckily, it's both cheap and easy to get started in 3d modeling, but there are a few things you will need.
First, you'll need a 3d modeling program. If you are new to 3d modeling, I highly recommend Google Sketchup. It's both free and very easy to learn. You can download version 8 here. Another free option is Blender, though it has a much steeper learning curve and a lot of tools that are unnecessary for 3d printing, such as lighting, rendering, animation, etc. However, it is much better at creating organic models.
Organic models are humanoid shapes, odd faces (such as hands tree trunks and the like). While Sketchup is capable of creating them, it was not meant for nor does it facilitate their creation.
You can learn more about Blender here.
Other paid options include Rhino, Maya and AutoCAD. These tend to be very expensive ($300 to $1000 dollars) and also have a bit of a learning curve. I generally recommend these to people who have spent time with Sketchup to learn the basics and decide if you want to continue working with 3d models before dropping a large sum of cash.
Second, you will need plugins. Sketchup can export to .dae, which 3d printing natively supports. However, there are a number of tools that will make your life much easier, especially when working with rounded surfaces.
You can begin by registering at Sketchucation. This is fast and free, and allows you to download several powerful tools. Once you've registered, click on Plugins Index to view the available plugins.
I know, it's a lot to take in at first. Don't worry, there are only a few you need to start with.
A lot of plugins rely on the Fredo library, so make certain to install that first.
Solid Inspecter to check for problems that will prevent 3d printing.
An additional list of very powerful tools can be found here (make certain to sign in so you can see the animations describing how the tools work).
To install the plugins, simply unzip the contents to your sketchup/plugins folder. This is typically found at C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Google SketchUp 8.
Make certain Sketchup isn't running when you install the plugins. If it is, don't sweat it, just restart Sketchup and you should be good to go. Your plugin folder should look something like this:
Now that your plugins are all installed, you're ready to start modeling! Tune in tomorrow. I'll be posting the do's and don'ts of modeling for 3d printers.