3D Modelling TinkerCAD

3D Modelling is the process by which a virtual computer generated model of an object is created in 3 planes or dimensions i.e. x,y,z.  There are many 3D modelling packages however most are unsuitable for beginners or non-designers.

TinkerCAD was created for Primary school students to make it easy to develop 3D models specifically for 3D printing.  TinkerCAD is now part of the AutoDESK family which includes autoCAD and Inventor etc.

Classroom Tips for TinkerCAD

Like any technology or teaching aid, its success or failure to produce learning outcomes and successful classroom management depends greatly on utilising that technology wisely.  Based on many years of project based STEM education utilising TinkerCAD I can offer the following advice to aid successful learning, engagement and classroom management.  This refers to mainstream mixed ability large classes not specialist design or extension classes.

  1. Common Logon:
    •  Its best not to ask students to create their own TinkerCAD accounts -partly for online safety reasons and partly to aid student work monitoring, assessment and class flow
    • Create a generic TinkerCAD account with your teacher email and allow students to log in with that- its no problem having 30 students logged into the one account at a time
    • Get students for put all their work in the one project and name it with their name
    • Teacher then has immediate access to all student work and this also helps with getting the files onto the 3D printer
    • It is a risk that students may modify other students work but this has never happened accross many years as students are usually so engaged they don’t even think of such a thing.
    • TinkerCAD does have a new “Teacher” account that can link to your student accounts and it is a great system technically but be advised to check with your admin as this could lead to unwanted outcomes and may expose you to duty of care issues- if you are going to direct students to create a TinkerCAD account then get admin approval first.
  2. TinkerCAD is a cloud based system and must be accessed with a browser that has WebGL (Chrome or IE11)- it is rather bandwidth friendly and runs fine with a full class on the internet in schools but please check your bandwidth and test as some regional schools may have a problem.
  3. TinkerCAD has a great Learn/Tutorial system:
    • Utilise the Learn tutorial projects as a unit of mainstream work or as differentiated curriculum for not so abstract learners.
  4. 3D Modelling is inherently abstract:  To make your TinkerCAD based projects accessible to all types and levels of learners it is crucial to make the inherently abstract task of creating a virtual 3D model as concrete as possible
    • Use real physical props and modelling aids
    • Utilise rulers and measurement aids and sketches 
    • Focus on simple design projects that all students would have concrete familiarity (like a key ring, name badge or ring for their finger
    • Set multiple simple design projects that are quickly prototyped with the 3D printer to help keep the process concrete for all learners 

Design Project Tips

It is presumed that you are combining the 3D modelling in Tinkercad with 3D Printing, so most of these tips relate to easy, fast, successful 3D printing for classes with multiple prototypes for an introductory mainstream class (not a specialist design or extension class).

Project Design Tips:

  1. Small and Simple Designs
    • Its possible to not do any lessons using the TinkerCAD tutorials and just use Project Based Learning (PBL)- so keeping the design projects to about 1-2 hours of class time allows for repetition to consolidate TinkerCAD techniques.
    • Simple basic shapes with vertical faces- for example making a ring for your finger is just two cylinders (hole + solid)
  2. Limit “overhangs”: 
    • “overhangs” are parts of the model or print job that do not have anything directly beneath and are defined as degrees from the vertical i.e. straight up is a zero degree overhang while a horizontal protrusion is a 90 degree overhang
    • Limit overhangs to 30 degrees or 45 at most- this means that you don’t need any “support” material when 3D printing and makes printing faster and simpler for beginners- so a pyramid has no overhangs while human with outstretched arms has lots of overhangs and is not suitable for beginners to 3D print
    • Consider simple model rotation:  for example a table standing upright would be horrendous to print but if you flip it so that the table top is on the bottom plane and legs sticking up then it would be simple to print with no overhangs
  3. Avoid projects with large surface area to volume ratios:
    • such projects, for example a thin tall wall has a large surface area and a small volume so it dissipates heat quickly and unevenly which will cause “warping” and lifting of the print job from the print bed.
    • “Squat” and “Chunky” models have low surface area to volume ratios and are thus less prone to warping and lifting issues.
  4. Use a minimum of 3mm wall thickness
  5. Avoid fine features with lots of detail– stick with simple coarse designs- for example a key ring with your name and phone number that’s about 40 by 70mm in total would be easy to print,simple to design and look good- however putting an embossed photograph of your loved one on that same keyring is an advanced project and would look amazing but takes considerable design and 3D printing experience.
  6. Set specific design guidelines: it is unwise to set the task as “make a key ring of your choice” as this leads to dubious learning outcomes and is not suited to Project Based Learning in mainstream classes- Rather the task should be “design a key ring that has 70mm x 40mm base of 3mm with your choice of end shapes and your name perfectly centred with a 5mm border with the text either embossed or cut through
  7. Do not allow students to “drag” and redimension objects– insist they use the ruler and directly enter dimensions with the keyboard or they will find it extremely difficult to progress to complex designs and it is poor design and engineering practice.

TinkerCAD Intro

Resources for Learning TinkerCAD:

If you are completely new to 3D modelling then allocate about 5 to 10 hours to become reasonably proficient with create models in TinkerCAD.  If you have experience with design or modelling then you’ll be creating immediately and probably don’t need to do the tutorials.

There is a TinkerCAD Youtube Channel with “Tinker Tips” and general TinkerCAD videos.

The following is a good introduction to TinkerCAD:

Learning to change your position of view is probably the most important skill which involves, panning, zooming and rotating.  Its highly recommended that you use a mouse as touchpads are very difficult for beginners.

Embedding Models

It is highly prefered that you “embed” your TinkerCAD models into webpages and digital portfolio so that an interactive model appears in your page not just a static hotlink or image etc.  An embedded model is above.

To embed TinerCAD models:

  1. Make you TinkerCAD model “public”
  2. use the global search box (top right) of TinkerCAD and find your username
  3. Click on the required model and down the bottom you will see an “embed code” box which you click on and then copy the “iframe” code
  4. paste the “iframe” code into this window using the advanced editing tools (top LHS button) and the html tool “<>”
  5. Your TinkerCad model should now be embedded as a 3D viewable and interactive mode

TinkerCAD Tutorials

TinkerCAD have some great self paced tutorials that cover basic modelling skills:  You will need to be logged into tinkercad to access these tutorials.  Also note that if all your students are using a common login account for TinkerCAD then it will think that the tutorials are done after the first time.  However, this is not a big problem as students can just use the “step” button on the top left to go back to the beginning i.e. step 1.  Also, the teacher could model the tutorial from the front of class and students could follow along but not actually be using the TinkerCAD tutorial but just create a normal project.

Steminabox Tutorials-TinkerCAD:  

TinkerCAD Projects

TinkerCAD has a heap of supported projects.  However most will not be suitable for beginners to 3D print.  

The following TinkerCAD supported project tutorials are suitable for easy 3D printing:

STEMinaBOX Projects

All of the public TinkerCAD projects from STEMinaBOX are available.  There are catapults, bridge trusses, robots and examples for our tutorials.  Eventually all the free projects will be written up and presented below.

Example Unit

Introduction to 3D Modelling & 3D Printing using TinkerCAD

Level: Introductory level appropriate for Middle Primary and Up- no prior skills required

Time: approx 10 to 15 hours (example 2 or 3 hours per week for 5 weeks)

Resources: TinkerCAD accounts, computers with internet access running browsers with webGL (Chrome or IE 11 or above)

Assessment options: Students could screen shot evidence of completed models into a word assignment or a portfolio etc

Unit Tasks (10-15 hrs):

1. TinkerCAD Basics (2-4 hours):

  • Watch

Complete the following tutorials: Learning the movesCamera ControlsCreating Holes and Scale Copy Paste

2. Design Task: Name Tag (2-4 hours)

  • Must have a base module of 40mm(x) x 70mm(y) and 3mm(z)(height)
  • Your choice of narrow end shape
  • must have a hole for key ring
  • must have appropriately sized name or initials centred with a 5mm border
  • Name can be embossed or cut through
  • Watch the Steminabox Name Tag Tutorial Video:


3. Design Task: Personalised Ring (2-4 hours)

  • When printed the ring must properly fit your chosen finger (measure your finger diameter and add 2mm- this is the ring inner dia)
  • Ring should be “chunky” (use a wall thickness of 3mm) but comfortable to wear
  • Your initials or symbol on the ring
  • Use primitive shapes not the ring tool
  • no “overhangs” greater than 40 degrees (i.e. unsupported print areas)
  • This TinkerCAD tutorial may be useful