Learn to Speak 3D Design (in TinkerCAD)

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

What is a primitive? What does CAD mean?

If you're new to 3D modeling, you may find yourself lost in some of the new words you encounter. When I first started out in 3D printing and design, I had heard of a variety of software to use to model my own prints: TinkerCAD, Blender, Autodesk Fusion 360, and the list goes on...

TinkerCAD was a great starting point for learning the basic concepts of 3D modeling that I found even my children could pick up and learn quickly. That said, there are some concepts and verbiage that you'll want to learn to get started. Below is a small glossary of terms commonly used in TinkerCAD and you'll also find most of them in other CAD software too. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but I hope this post encourages you to play around in the online tool and come up with your own 3D designs. And remember, we can help you refine the design and/or print them too!

3D Modeling Language Glossary in TinkerCAD

  • Align: To use the Align tool, select at least two objects by Shift left-clicking on them or by dragging a box around them. Once selected, click on the Align icon at the top.

  • CAD: Computer-Aided Design is the use of computer systems to aid in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design. CAD software is used to increase the productivity of the designer and to assist in the fabrication process. Using CAD is often faster than drafting by hand, and it also allows you to easily export files, such as for 3D printing.

  • Diameter: a straight line going through the center of a circle. This is essentially the total width of a circle.

  • Dimensions: a measurable extent of some type, such as length, width, or height. In 3D design, you must always thing in terms of those three dimensions.

  • Export: to convert a file into another format. For example, you must export your design in order to print it. TinkerCAD also allows you to "share" your design in the form of a PNG image file.

  • Group: to combine two or more shapes into a single part. Do this by selecting them and then choosing the Group icon at the top. You can also group a regular shape and a "hole" object to subtract the hole from the shape. This is similar to "Join" in Blender and "Combine" Fusion.

  • Handle: the little squares that appear on the shape when you select it that allow you to resize it by left-click and dragging.

  • Hole: a tool used to subtract from a solid shape when grouped together.

  • Import: to bring a file from a different program into the one you're using. In TinkerCAD, you can import STL files in order to analyze and build upon the 3D designs of others, or SVG files in order to add 2D images like logos and patterns to your designs.

  • Millimeter: a millimeter is 1/32 or 0.039 of an inch. This is the default unit of measurement in TinkerCAD. You can change this to inches by selecting the "edit grid" button on the bottom right. I recommend you start learning the metric system if you don't already know it as it's the most common measurement system in the world (Us silly Americans just HAD to be different!).

  • Pan: to move the virtual "camera" up, down, left or right in relation to the part you are viewing. Use the right mouse button to do this. Unfortunately, this isn't universal and other programs can use a different button.

  • Plane: a flat surface with no thickness. This can be used to align or cut into objects in other software too.

  • Primitive (or shape): a starting point or building block for 3D design. These basic shapes can be added, subtracted, and combined with one another to build just about anything. They include: Cube (Box), Cylinder, Tube, Sphere, Torus, and Cone.

  • Rotate: to move in a circle around an axis or center. When you select an object, the arrows are for rotation. You can rotate on any of the planes. You can rotate the object or your camera perspective.

  • Ruler: I think you already know what this is but just know that it's your lifeblood to great design! You can access this handy tool for measuring by dragging it out on the workplane. It will allow you to see an object's exact location on the workplane and make it easier to manually set measurements.

  • Scale: to change the size of an object so that its dimensions are proportional to the original size. You can do this by holding down the Shift key while pushing and pulling the handles to resize.


If you've enjoyed this post, check out How to Teach the Language of 3D Modeling and Design on Instructables for a deeper dive into 3D modeling terminology.


Post shared via https://blog.tinkercad.com/learn-to-speak-tinkercad - Check out their site for more great articles, tips and more on TinkerCAD.

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