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Learn 3D Modeling Basics with Tinkercad

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This chapter teaches the components necessary for a simple 3D model. Upon completion you will have learned many of the standard features that Tinkercad offers for 3D modeling.
This chapter is from the book

It’s time to start digging a bit deeper into the workings of Tinkercad, and the best way to learn about this amazing tool is to get hands-on with it. Now, before you can go and create your own amazing models, you’ve got to realize that there are a lot of basic skills you’ll need to master first. This doesn’t mean you can’t create some 3D models right now, however. It just means that it might take you a little bit longer.

The better way to learn Tinkercad is to start slow and first learn how to use its most basic tools and features. An even better way to learn Tinkercad is to create an actual model as you’re learning the ins and outs of the application. And that’s exactly what this chapter is all about. By the end of this chapter, you’ll have created all the components necessary for a simple 3D model and you will have learned many (but not all) of the standard features that Tinkercad offers. To show you how to make the parts of a simple 3D model, I’ve picked a fun little rocket for you to build. Go ahead and open up Tinkercad, log in, and click the Create New Design button on the Dashboard.

The Launchpad

This first model is simple. You’ll be using basic shapes to create a model of a small toy rocket, preparing to launch. You’ll need to create the pieces for both the launchpad and the rocket—starting with a launchpad that’s sitting on a tiny piece of land. The first thing you’re going to want to do is create that small piece of land. As you can see in Figure 4.1, I’m zoomed in quite a bit on the workspace. I need to zoom out a bit so I can see the entire workspace.


FIGURE 4.1 You can zoom in and out on the workspace.

To zoom in and out, you can use the + and – buttons indicated in Figure 4.1. A few taps on the – button shrinks the workspace a bit so you can see all of its boundaries, as shown in Figure 4.2.


FIGURE 4.2 Zooming out to see the workspace boundaries.

Click the + button to zoom in and see more detail on a model. If you’re using a mouse that has a mouse wheel on top, you can also scroll it away from you to zoom in and toward you to zoom out. Finally, if you’re using a Mac touchpad, you can swipe two fingers down to zoom in and swipe two fingers up to zoom out.

Go ahead and drop a piece of the launchpad on the screen. To do this, you need to click, hold, and drag a copy of the red box onto the workspace. You can find the red box shape in the Geometric section of the toolbar that runs down the right side of the screen, as shown in Figure 4.3. If you don’t see the red box, click the word Geometric to open the list of geometric shapes.


FIGURE 4.3 Dragging a red box object onto the workspace.

When you drop a shape on the workspace, it may or may not appear with various controls around it, such as arrows or tiny white boxes in the corners. When an object is selected, a few controls appear on and around it. In Figure 4.4, I’ve zoomed in on the box from Figure 4.3 so you can see these controls in more detail. If you don’t see the controls on your screen, simply click the red box, and they appear.


FIGURE 4.4 Controls allow you to manipulate an object.

You’ve dropped a box object onto the workspace, but it might not completely look like one from the angle shown in Figure 4.4. It would be nice to rotate the workplane a bit so it’s a more obvious that this is a box. To do this, you can use the rotate controls shown in Figure 4.5. Likewise, if you’re a mouse user, you can either press and hold both mouse buttons simultaneously while moving the mouse to see the workspace move or press and hold the middle (wheel) button; test both to see which works for you. Mac users can press and hold two fingers on a touchpad to achieve the same result.


FIGURE 4.5 Using the rotate controls to change the view of the workspace.

Find a suitable angle to view the box object and then click on the box object to select it so the controls are visible once again, as shown in Figure 4.6.


FIGURE 4.6 The controls on the selected box object.

Compare the controls shown in Figure 4.4 to those shown in Figure 4.6. With a simple shift of the workspace view, you should now see in Figure 4.6 that there are three rotate arrows surrounding the box instead of just the two shown in Figure 4.4.

You’ll learn about the rotate arrow controls in Chapter 5, “Putting Together a Model,” but for now I want you to focus on the small white dots that are visible in the bottom corners of the box object.

Move your mouse pointer over any white dot, and a measurement appears. Some dots, such as the one in Figure 4.7, displays two measurements.


FIGURE 4.7 White dot controls display measurements.

As you can see in Figure 4.7, the length and width of this box object are both 20mm (millimeters). This means the base of this box is a square. You can check the height of the box by clicking the white dot control on the very top of the box: Move your mouse pointer over it as shown in Figure 4.8, and the height measurement appears.


FIGURE 4.8 The top white dot control reports the height measurement.

Because the height is also 20mm, you’re looking at a perfect cube. But a cube isn’t the best place to launch a rocket. You’re going to modify the cube so it’s very flat and a bit larger, and you’ll do it by clicking and dragging on those white dot controls.

Let’s start with the height. Click and hold on the white dot on top of the cube while dragging down. Watch as the cube begins to flatten in size, and the height measurement value decreases. Notice also that the length and width remain the same: 20mm. Shrink the box object’s height to 1mm and stop. Your box object should now look like the one in Figure 4.9.


FIGURE 4.9 Flatten the box object by dragging down on the top white dot control.

You can verify the height at any time by hovering your mouse pointer over the top white dot control again. Once you’re satisfied that the height is 1mm, click and drag on one of the white dot controls that make up the corners of the box object until the object’s length and width values are both 100mm. When using one of the corner white dot controls, you can change both the length and width at the same time. Experiment a bit and see how moving the mouse pointer while clicking and holding down on a white box lets you change the length and width simultaneously.

Your box shape should end up looking like the one in Figure 4.10, at 100mm in both length and width and 1mm in height.


FIGURE 4.10 The rocket’s launchpad is done.

In Figure 4.10, the launchpad extends beyond the workspace. This isn’t a problem, but it can affect your view when you zoom in and out of the workspace. Ideally, you want to try to keep your models within the boundaries of the workplane for easier viewing. To move an object such as the flattened launchpad, simply click and hold on any part of the object’s surface (but not on any of its controls) and drag it and release it where you want it.

This is a good time to point out just how easy it is to change the color of a selected object. When you have an object (such as the launchpad) selected, click the Color button indicated in Figure 4.11 and pick a new color. (You can use the Custom link to create a unique color if you like.) Figure 4.11 shows that I’ve changed the launchpad’s color to green and centered the object in the middle of the workplane.


FIGURE 4.11 You can drag and drop model pieces anywhere on the workspace.

Before you move on to creating the pieces of the rocket, I want to give you some more practice with dropping objects on the workplane and modifying their sizes. To get this practice, you can create the launch scaffolding. This will consist of three pieces that will eventually be stacked. Just create four blue objects using the box shape object and give them these dimensions (length x width x height):

  • Scaffold1: 10mm x 10mm x 10mm
  • Scaffold2: 7mm x 7mm x 20mm
  • Scaffold3: 4mm x 4mm x 15mm
  • Scaffold4: 30mm x 5mm x 2mm

Drag and drop these launchpad scaffolding pieces around the edges of the workspace, as shown in Figure 4.12. You’ll put these together in Chapter 5, along with the pieces of the rocket that you’ll be creating next.


FIGURE 4.12 The scaffolding pieces, sized and ready for assembly.

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