The open-source program known as Blender 3D can be used for a variety of projects ranging from 3D animation to video editing. Among this list of features and capabilities, Blender also has the potential as a 3D modeling platform to create models used in the process of 3D printing. But how good is Blender at creating 3D printable objects?
Blender is a decent alternative to creating 3D printable models when you do not have access to CAD software, but to make the most of it you will need to use the 3D print toolbox plugin so that Blender can analyze the feasibility of the model and learn how to use it.
Despite the versatility of the software, 3D printing requires access to a specific set of tools that will allow you to successfully print a design using real materials and have that object remain structurally sound.
Why Is Blender A GOOD Tool For 3D Printing?
In order for a tool to be considered usable for 3D printing, it needs to be able to perform a specific set of criteria during and after the modeling process. 3D modeling is a generalized term for the creation of 3D objects using dedicated software, but you can create objects for different purposes and the purpose of the object changes the workflow that is used to create it.
For 3D printing, any object that you create needs to be the correct scale and size for the 3D printer that you are using. The mode needs to have a certain level of thickness and also needs to be built up so that it is structurally sound.
Blender is capable of meeting this criterion to a relatively basic level. For example, the side panel in the viewport makes it easy enough to determine the general dimensions of your model so that they fall within the required parameters.
You are also free to create any shape that you want using Blenders’ wide array of editing and sculpting tools, giving you the freedom of creativity.
However when it comes to 3D printing the ability to analyze your model is every bit as important as the ability to model it. And so for the analysis stage we have the 3D print toolbox add-on, which makes Blender far more feasible as an alternative for designing 3D printable models.
Enabling The 3D Print Toolbox Add On
The 3D print toolbox is not enabled by default, so to begin using it, go to the Edit menu in the UI header and select Preferences from the list.
This will open up the preferences panel in a separate window, and to the side of the panel, you will have a series of tabs. Select the tab labeled add-ons to access the Blender Plugin library.
There are a lot of add ons here to choose from, so to locate the one we want more easily go to the search bar at the top corner and type in 3D print toolbox. This will automatically reduce the list to a single add-on, so left click in the tick box to enable the add-on and then close the preferences panel.
How To Access And Use The 3D Print Toolbox?
The toolbox is located in the side panel of the 3D viewport, which can be accessed by pressing the N key on your keyboard while your mouse cursor is within the border of the 3D viewport. The side panel is constructed by a series of tabs that you can view down the side of it.
The tab for the add-on will be labeled as 3D-Print, so select the tab to access all the tools for the add-on. If the tab is not there, then double-check that you have enabled the correct add-on from the preferences panel.
The print toolbox is a great tool because it allows you to analyze various aspects of the model.
Under the statistics section, you are able to assess the volume or surface area of the selected model. This is useful because one of your requirements may be to limit the size of your model to a set volume range. Maybe you want to print superhero models and they all need to be of a similar size.
The checks section allows you to highlight potential problem areas of your mesh by defining certain parameters. For example, the thickness of the model may need to fall above a minimum value, such as 2mm, depending on the 3D printer being used.
You can type this value into your thickness parameter and then select the check all button to see if any areas of the model fall below the defined threshold.
Ideally, you should be looking to get 0 for as many of these parameters as you can to make the 3D design suitable for printing.
The add-on will also allow you to clean up any nonmanifold geometry, which is a form of geometry that cannot exist in its current state, such as a single extruded vertex.
Going back to the volume and area values, you can quickly resize any object to the scale that you want by using the transform options.
Finally, you can export your model as a printable format using one of the four export options at the bottom of the panel. This makes it easier to know what files to use for your export compared to the traditional export method of Blender, as many file formats do not export the correct data for 3D printing.
Why Is Blender A BAD Tool For 3D Printing?
The 3D print toolbox is transformative in terms of its impact on the Blender software in terms of its ability to create 3D printable objects, but this remains limited when compared to more dedicated alternatives.
First and foremost, Blender is not a dedicated 3D modeling application for creating 3D printable models, even though it certainly can.
The application is a jack of all trades, which means that even though it can do just about anything it is not the best at any specific task.
When it comes to 3D modeling, the entire setup is designed for the creation of digital purpose models rather than physical purpose ones. Digital purpose models can include assets for video games, character models used in 3D animations, and environments for realistic scene rendering.
This does not make Blender a bad tool for 3D printing, but there are many alternatives out there that are better suited to the creation of physical purpose products developed for additive manufacturing, architecture and 3D printing industries.
The best software to use for this is dedicated CAD software that follows a specific workflow for creating 3D printable products.
Think of Blender as the pair of black trainers that you need to wear for a formal occasion because you can’t find your fancy pair of shoes. It’s not that you can’t wear the trainers, as they will obviously do the job and fit your feet, but its not the occasion that they were designed for.
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How To Create 3D Printable Models In Blender?
So what is the process for creating your 3D models in Blender for printing? Well, you obviously need an idea as to what you are trying to create.
Before you begin modeling, you need to acquire a list of specifications for the model itself, including its required size and shape. What are the capabilities of the hardware that you are planning to use? This is important because a 3D printer can only create what it is designed to create, and it what scale.
Different printers can use different materials, and certain materials may prove to be structurally weak for certain shapes. You may also need to consider the minimum thickness that your printer is able to work, which can also change based on the material used.
Once you have a guide of what your model needs to be, the modeling stage is similar to creating any 3D model in Blender, using modeling tools like extrusion and insets to define the shape, and sculpting tools for the finer details of the model, before retopologizing the model so that it becomes more suitable for 3D printing.
The 3D print toolbox add-on is a valuable tool here that should be used throughout the modeling process to keep on top of the guidelines set out in the previous stage.
Once you have created and analyzed your 3D model you can then use the toolbox to export the model as an appropriate file format to a splicing software, which will allow you to prep the model for printing and finally produce it using your 3D printer.
Is Blender A Better Choice Than Fusion 360?
Fusion 360 is one of the best CAD applications that you can use for 3D printing and object design but is it, and any other paid software, a better choice than going will a free program like Blender?
This depends on the type of model that you are looking to create. For example with organic modeling, we try to create natural objects that may have many curved edges or very distinct features that make it unique. A tree falls into this distinct category and a piece of fruit like an apple is effectively a curved shape.
For the tree in particular, fusion 360 would find it difficult to design this type of object, and while it is by no means impossible, it would take a fairly long time to compete.
Blender on the overhand is more flexible and allows you to create objects of any shape and size with ease. It even has added ons for generating certain object types, like the sampling tree gen for creating an infinite variety of trees. So in terms of creating organic models, Blendr is a much better choice.
However these forms are not commonly used in manufacturing or 3D printing anyway, so what about objects that are designed in manufacturing, like car parts or specified work tools? Both do a good job at creating these kinds of models but fusion 360 is designed for this sort of thing.
The primary way to use Fusion is to first create a 2D design of your model, getting it the right size and shape, before converting it into a 3D object via the method of extrusion. This is a very different workflow to polygonal modeling techniques used in Blender and it’s much simpler to visualize the shapes in 2D first before converting.
Again there are add ons such as the box cutter add on, that really improve Blenders ability to create hard surface objects, and close the gap on Fusion in terms of modeling.
Basically, Blender is the better choice for organic objects while Fusion 360 is the ideal choice for production parts.
Is Blender Classed As A CAD Program?
The term CAD is used to define an application as a Computer Aided Design program, which follows a workflow tailored to the design of objects used in additive manufacturing. Including Fusion 360, there are many different forms of CAD software out there, ranging from high quality applications like Revit used in industrial design to powerful free alternatives like 3D builder.
Blender is not strictly speaking a CAD program, but it does have access to tools that allow it to perform similar functionality to CAD software, particularly the modeling stage of designing models for 3D printing and manufacturing.
It is not a CAD program because it is designed as a general 3D modeling suite that is used for whatever is required of it.
So What Can You Use Blender For If It Is Not Just A CAD Program?
There is a lot that you can use Blender for both in terms of both physical product development and digital ones. Below we have a small list of some of the things that you can use Blender for on both sides.
Using Blender For Designing 3D Printable Characters
One of the most common uses for Blender in the 3D printing space is to create small models that only be a few inches high. These models may be of famous characters, animals, or superheroes and are designed on Blender and then printed using a form of splicing software.
If you know how to create a 3D printable model then you can export it using the print toolbox adding to your splicing software, where you can add supports to the structure for the printing process and then use your 3D printing to create the model.
Creative Design For Jewelry And Other Trinkets
You can 3D print far more than just character models to stand on your desk, including jewelry and other wearable items. Blender allows you to create just about any shape, and a popular design choice that is easy to 3D print is the ring.
With the software you can create any design that you want for your custom ring, and if you have access to a printer that can use metallic material your jewelry can even potentially be made from metal too.
Manufactured Parts For Larger Objects Like Vehicles
Taking things a step further, Blender 3D can also be used for additive manufacturing and production. For example, say you want to create a new vehicle, like a car, and you need to design the various parts of the car to fit with each other.
A software like Blender can be used to model the car parts individually, and even preview all the parts together as a whole to gain an idea of the final result and to judge if the design of the chosen parts is feasible.
Architectural Design For Buildings
At this time you cannot print an entire house of building, but you can design it to inch perfect detail using a 3D modeling application like Blender.
While the 3D print toolbox add-on is not much used for this kind of workflow, there are other add-ons that will make designing buildings a much easier experience.
The Archviz addon is an example of an excellent plugin for adding and organising the various base parts of a building, such as its floors, walls doors and windows.
This allows the artist to create a foundation for the model in a matter of minutes and offers an additional layer of creativity to the process.
Interior Design To Preview Housing, Offices, Etc
If you want to use Blender from a design perspective rather than a production one, then interior design is something that Blender can do very well, as it is excellent for scene production and for creating digital previews of objects and scenes.
Some companies in the field of interior design use 3D renderings to preview different layouts in their catalogs because it is more cost-effective than creating each setup physically and then hiring a professional photographer to photo the layout.
Thanks For Reading The Article
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