Computer Aided Design for Makers

As a “maker” we all love to build stuff however before you build it you need to design it. Computer-Aided Design programs come in many different prices from free to tens of thousands of dollars. They range from easy enough for a 6th grader to requiring advanced training. This forum is a place to discuss your favorite CAD program; from Tinkercad to Fusions 360, from free to thousands of dollars.

Unlike many CAD communities targeting professional engineers this community is dedicated to “makers”, folks most often working from home, building things for the enjoyment of the build. I hope that this forum will address how to design models at a level anyone using a band saw or a lathe, a 3d printer, or a laser cutter, can understand.

Hope Everyone’s day is going well. I started 3 d printing the end of last year and with the help of Dr Vax and others learned tinkercad. I’m looking to move to the next level and am willing to put in the time and effort to learn a real cad program. I’m leaning toward fusion 360 but have seen favorable discussion of free cad. I have no plans of using the program for commercial purposes. I am happily retired and enjoy designing and printing my projects. Looking for everyone’s thoughts.

@Stevemcnerney I will be creating a video series about using FreeCad targeting folks with no CAD and limited technical backgrounds. For folks comfortable with a more technically focused presentation Mark Granson has an extensive series of videos at I have personally learned a lot from Mark.

Freecad is a toolbox of CAD tools. Just as it is possible to turn a bolt with pliers or a socket wrench, in FreeCad there are often multiple ways to solve a problem. Each of the collections of tools is called a Workbench, and Mark does a great job of demonstrating these.

For my series, I am exploring the easiest to understand approaches that leverage the strengths of a parametric design (I will define this in the videos) program without overwhelming my viewers. I would expect that viewers will start with some of my videos and then watch several of Steve’s videos to learn more advanced techniques.

A discussion of Fusion 360 vs FreeCad is complex. The Autodesk license model for Fusion 360 is a bit unclear. It is a commercial product that is not inexpensive. However, they offer free licenses to the hobbyist with a 1-year term, and the potential but no commitment to renewal. I pay for an annual license to Fusion 360 and in some ways find it more difficult to use than FreeCad while clearly more polished.

For hobbyists, I think the combination of TinkerCad and FreeCad is a good combination. Learn basic object manipulation in Tinkercad which is extremely easy to use then move to FreeCad, both because it is free and because it is valuable to contribute to the open-source software community. Even better give a small donation, or I guess a large one, to to support this valuable project.

Thanks. I’ll install free cad and give it a try.

Hi there! I use Free CAD as well as Rhino 3D ( as the cheapest CAD software) for many years! Their capabilities are almost limitless!

I only started learning about 3D printing a few weeks ago! My ender 3 arrived a few days ago, so much to learn!
I have installed Fusion 360, Meshmixer and played with TinkerCAD.
I am looking forward to learning to model basic things (brackets and functional items).
I only just found the Dr. Vax youtube channel, so i will have to go and watch the earlier videos!

Is Meshmixer considered a CAD program? I loaded it a while ago and haven’t gone back to it in a while. I’m presently working on learning Tinkercad and having a good time with it,

I used Meshmixer to smooth out / remove text on an existing 3d model. I am sure fusion could do it but I couldn’t work it out.

I must say, I’m finding Fusion 360 pretty daunting. I’ve been in tech for more than 40 years, and I’ve never had as much trouble picking up a program as Fusion 360. I’ve watched most of Kevin Kennedy’s video series, but it doesn’t seem to stick. I’m going to have another look at FreeCAD, or, maybe OpenSCAD is more my speed.

Not technically a CAD program, I use Blender for all my printable models.
It can offer so much if you are willing to give it a try.
It will always be free, and only gets better and better with the massive support behind it.

I believe, Blender replace 3D Studio Max for good!

I’m looking into Blender now. I found a series of YT videos on it called Blender 2.8 for 3D Printing. I’m only on the first video, but already it seems better than my experience with FreeCAD, which I am finding unbelievably frustrating.

FreeCAD just doesn’t work the way I expect, and its inconsistencies make me want to throw things ?. I found this video from an experienced FreeCAD user who points out just a few of the inconsistencies: [U]5 Ways FreeCAD will Annoy You - YouTube. This is supposed to be a fun hobby. With FreeCAD, it is anything but.
FreeCAD is a great example of what I find most annoying about open source software. I get that it’s free software, that no-one working on it is getting paid, and I admire and applaud them for their efforts and contributions. But the very nature of open source means different contributors have different ways of implementing features, often in ways that contradict each other. Others are willing to overlook this fact in order to support open source and to get powerful software for free: I am not. I can’t stand all the inconsistencies; they drive me nuts!

I have not tried TinkerCAD. I’ve gotten the impression that it might not be up to designing some of the things I want to create, but I could be totally wrong on that.

I have looked at Freecad, some time ago. I wanted to like it, but it just didn’t gel with me.
Blender has a great community, and so many learning resources that are getting updated all the time

Well, to understand a CAD or CAM software, you have to understand its architecture or its logic. When you’ll find the edge, then it will “unwrap the bucket” if you get me!

Getting to understand how a program works is what I’ve done for more than 5 decades. Overcoming & working around inconsistencies, though, is something I grew out of a long time ago. I’ve actually had to fire programmers who refused to adhere to standards & conventions. The system architects would bring me a plan for some new application and it was our job to implement it. Programmers who deviated from the agreed upon ways of doing things in the application were not only not helpful, they were distractions and resource wasters.

So far, I’m finding Blender a lot more comprehensible than either Fusion 360 or FreeCAD. I was actually able to modify an STL from Thingiverse and have it work. The 1st thing I tried to create in FreeCAD showed it as completely constrained, but the slicer software still said it had a open face. And this is despite it passing all the in-FreeCAD checks. So, for now, I think I’ll stick to Blender. Granted, Blender is not parametric (AFAIK), but I don’t anticipate designing things that I’ll be coming back to later to modify for another project (each of the objects I have on my list is pretty unique).

I love Blender so far as i learn it.

I just used Blender to design a simple clamp to hold my glass bed to the Ender 5’s main bed. It was really quite easy. I had to hunt a bit for a couple of tools, but it didn’t take long, and there were zero errors when I sliced it. Now that’s the way I like it…

Because Blender works in STL enviroment. Rhino 3D works in SPLINES enviroment and converting to STL creates errors.

I was using FreeCAD, but I take it you’re saying the same splining issues apply.