Until a few years ago, designing 3D models involved computer-aided drafting (CAD) software that required powerful computers and expensive specialized software. For years, CAD was well beyond the capabilities of most people outside of a dedicated group of specialists.



Additive manufacturing allows the creation of complex internal structures rather than simple, solid-block components — an improvement over traditional CAD tools which cannot always create models to rival the true capabilities of 3D printers. New tools are becoming available in specific arenas, as in the case of medical implants that must be customized to fit an individual's bone structure while also allowing complex lattices and other forms of fabricated non-solid models.


Within Medical Software

Beyond high-end and special-purpose CAD software that require extensive training and practice to use properly, much more user-friendly and available alternatives have been recently developed for home users. Options include the SketchUp package originally developed by Google, Blender, and a host of other applications that can be obtained for little or no cost.



Public school teachers in the SOLID Learning program often use the browser-based TinkerCAD program because it is free, does not require a client installation on their computers, and has a simple, easy-to-understand user interface.


123D Design Program

In addition to computer-based design applications, Autodesk has also released a series of free-to-use options for popular tablet devices. These rely on cloud-based processing instead of calculations done by the tablet device itself — so you can get an excellent result in very little time.


123D Creature Application

Not all 3D-modeling programs require strict dimensioning and hard edges, because additive manufacturing allows a much more flexible build environment than traditional manufacturing could accommodate for home designers. Another free application in Autodesk's tablet suite is 123D Creature, which Kirk's kids love because they can use it to create 3D-printable monsters using a simple drag-and-drop interface.