One of the most difficult parts of getting involved in the 3D printing space is turning the idea in your head into a print ready, digital file. One option would be to head over to Thingiverse or some other free repository for digital models, but with this option, you’re only going to get something close to what you want, and usually not the thing that is exactly in your head. Or, you can go the route of hiring someone to create a model for you. Again though, this might not get you exactly where you want to go since it’s going to come from someone else. It can also be quite expensive to hire a professional digital modeler.
The last option you have is to do it on your own. Problem is, many pieces of 3D modeling software can be either incredibly dense, with a steep learning curve, or so simple that they lack the feature set and detail control that you need to realize your vision. This post is meant to help you solve this problem with a collection of ways to learn about 3D modelling – from free online courses for beginners, to intensive, week long courses for advanced modelling.
Generally, the best bet for a beginner would be a combination of affordable online instruction to give you a good foundation in 3D modeling and 3D modeling tools, combined with a more intensive, in-person course to take you deeper into the details of the 3D modeling software of your choice. The best path, however, will be different for everyone. Take a look through some of the more popular options for learning 3D modeling below.
Online options are generally better suited to those who are willing to spend a bit more time practicing and hacking their way through complications. Since you will not have someone you can speak with directly, in real-time about any issues you might have, it is a great place to get a foundation, but can leave you frustrated if you have specific questions.
Lynda.com – Lynda specializes in offering short, accessible training videos for just about anything. They offer a few types of 3D design/printing courses, mostly directed at specific types of 3D modeling software such as Zbrush, Meshlab, Maya and AutoCAD. Lynda is very affordable with a free 10 day trial and then a $25/month subscription fee after that. As with any video course, it does have its drawbacks. The videos generally do not go into a very high level of detail and it can be difficult to get answers to specific questions you might have.
Udemy – Udemy offers several short, self-contained courses specific to 3D printing and design. Courses are created and uploaded by people from around the globe. The courses offered here are mostly suited for beginners and tend not to get into very much detail, but typically cost less than $100. Keep an eye on the reviews for each course – they can say a lot about the credibility of the teacher.
Skillshare – Skillshare is similar to Udemy in offering a few beginner level courses that usually cost less than $100.
While less accessible due to constraints of time and location, in-person courses will generally be much more hands-on and give you more specific instruction to meet your needs.
Hackerspaces and Local Businesses – Many local businesses and hackerspaces may offer 3D modeling and design courses. These will generally vary quite a bit but focus on beginner skills and can be relatively affordable. In the NYC area there are several options from a beginner introduction to more involved 3d printing courses that span a weekend. You should definitely email or call your local hackerspaces to see what is available in your area.
University Certificate Courses – Look at local universities and community colleges to see if they offer any stand alone courses that focus on 3D design and modeling. For example, NYU offers a certificate course in 3D modeling and printing. New York City College offers a more involved series of courses in digital fabrication as well. These courses will usually be best suited for intermediate skill levels and can cost quite a bit more than other options (the NYU option is $2850)
If you know of other options, feel free to post them in the 3D Modeling Forum on 3DPB.com. Our aim is to make 3D modeling accessible to more makers who are interested in 3D printing their own designs, and the more resources we have the better!
Blair Gardner is a co founder at Make Mode, a Brooklyn based digital fabrication studio.