Blender is a free, open-source 3D design software that's useful for creating models to 3D print. This tutorial will show you how to get started, taking you through the steps of making a pyramid box!
One of the most appealing parts of 3D printing is the ability to create and produce your own ideas. While there are many good sources of downloadable 3D models, there’s growing interest in being able to design your own.
Enter Blender, a wonderfully accessible program that allows you to design your own 3D models and export them to be 3D printed. It’s free and open source, so anybody can use it!
In this tutorial, we’re going to go over all the basic knowledge necessary to start creating your own printable objects. To do this, we’ll build a simple printable project, a pyramid-shaped box. Along the way, we’ll set up Blender to streamline the design and printing process and take a look at a number of useful tools.
By the end, you should be well on your way to developing your own designs!
First, get Blender by downloading and installing it on your computer. For detailed instructions on how to download and install it, check out the online Blender Manual. This also has a lot of other useful information about the different parts of Blender.
Particularly important to check are the minimum hardware requirements.
It’s important to set up Blender with the settings that’ll make it easier to 3D print your model. The first thing you’ll see when you open Blender is the default ‘Startup File’. It has an object (a cube), a camera, and a light source. Right off the bat, the latter two aren’t necessary to create models for 3D printing.
The window where the object can be seen is called the 3D Viewport. The menus on the top, right, and bottom are called Editors. The menu on the left is an extension of the viewport.
The red, green, and blue lines in the bottom left corner of the viewport represent the X, Y, and Z axes, which are used to define three-dimensional space.
You’ll want to change the basic unit of measurement. By default the program uses ‘Blender Units‘ but this can be changed to real-world units. Do this so that your model is properly scaled when it’s printed.
On the right side, the default Editor is ‘Properties‘. Go to the scene data page by clicking the third icon. Select the drop menu for Length to choose imperial or metric units. Select Unit Presets to change the base unit. Most slicing software uses metric and will convert your model upon import so you can choose whichever works best for you.
Next, let’s familiarize ourselves with the basics of navigating the 3D Viewport. This is primarily done using the left, middle, and right mouse buttons (LMB, MMB, and RMB) combined with Ctrl, Alt, and Shift. (The scroll wheel on a mouse is usually the middle button.)
There are three methods of movement: orbiting, zooming, and panning.
These are explained in greater detail in our tutorial on the Viewport and the Camera View.
Another method of navigation that’s useful is to use the Perfect Views. This allows you to view the scene along the main axes from different directions. These can be found in the View menu on the bottom Editor. You can also use the Numpad together with Ctrl to quickly switch to these views.
Objects can be selected either by clicking on them in the 3D Viewport with the LMB or by selecting them in the Outliner Editor. This can be found in the upper right of the viewport.
To the right of the object names, you can see three small icons:
If there are objects in your scene that are only for reference, it can be helpful to turn off their selection and rendering. Toggling visibility can help you manage a complex scene or an object made from multiple parts.
Should you need to remove an object completely, you can select it and press Delete. Alternatively, you can select it with the RMB in the Outliner and choose Delete.
The Transform Tools allow you to manipulate objects in three ways: movement, rotation, and scaling.
These can be selected on the menu below the viewport. If you can’t see them, you may need to switch off the manipulator widget by pressing Ctrl + Spacebar.
There are two ways to use these tools.
The first is to manually manipulate an object by selecting it in the viewport. Click and hold the LMB while hovering over one of the XYZ arrows, restricting the transformation to one of those axes. If the pointer is anywhere else, the object will transform freely in all directions. Move the mouse up or down to make the adjustment.
Alternatively, when you click on an object using a Transform Tool, properties will appear on the left panel. The options are particular to each tool. This allows you to precisely input numbers to precisely make the adjustments you want.
There’s also a way to transform objects without using the Transform Tools. This can be done by expanding the right panel of the viewport. Click the small (+) in the top right corner of the viewport and drag it to the right. This shows the object’s properties and you can make adjustments to its dimensions or transform it directly.
There are many different objects in Blender, but all we need to create an object for 3D printing is a Mesh. These can be created either by selecting Add > Mesh on the bottom menu bar or by selecting them from the Create tab on the left panel. From there we can create a variety of mesh objects:
These objects could be 3D printed all on their own, but we want to do something a little more interesting. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll delete the default cube, substituting it instead with a cone.
When you create an object, it will appear where your cursor is placed. You can place the cursor by clicking anywhere in the viewport with the RMB.
Create a cone. Upon creation, new properties will appear on the left panel, allowing you to make adjustments. Note: This is the only time you can make these adjustments. Once you transform or edit the mesh in any way, these properties are set and can only be changed through manual operations.
For our project, we’ll reduce the number of vertices around the outside of the cone down to four. Then we’ll set Radius 1 to two so that it matches the depth. This will give us a perfect pyramid shape to work with.
You can center the cone in the field by adjusting the Location values on the right panel to zero.
With just a bit of editing, we can easily turn this pyramid into a printable box.
There are three main components to a mesh object: vertices, edges, and faces. These are what the mesh geometry is composed of. We can take a closer look at these components by changing from Object Mode to Edit Mode.
This mode allows us to directly manipulate these three elements. Modeling in this style is often called “box modeling” as it typically starts from a cube.
You can select between the three mesh components using the buttons on the bottom menu bar:
A general rule of thumb is that a Face should have no more than four vertices, as this can disrupt the flow of geometry. That’s because, when models are exported, they’re converted into triangles.
When selecting components on an object, you can use Shift + RMB, to make multiple selections, or Ctrl + RMB, to select along a pathway. Clicking a selected component again will deselect it.
Now that we have our pyramid and know how to use Edit Mode, we can now make some simple changes to turn our pyramid into a box. We begin by subdividing it:
Now that we’ve made a cut, we’ll need to actually separate the two pieces:
Naturally, something will be missing from both pieces. Let’s fill the gaps:
If our object is going to be a box, it’ll need walls! Let’s prepare them:
It’s important that the face for the lid is slightly smaller so that the two parts will fit together nicely.
In CAD software, extruding is the process of “pulling” or “pushing” a surface. This is how we’ll create the chamber for our box:
Now let’s do the same for the top piece:
Now we’ll ensure that the parts of the box are their own individual pieces:
Now that we’re all done making the model, all that’s left is to export it as an STL file, which is usable with slicing software. This is easy to do: Simply go to File > Export > STL (.stl). On the left side, be sure to check Scene Units so as to retain your scaling.
Once this is done, you can import the model into your preferred slicer and 3D print it!
License: The text of "Blender 3D Printing Tutorial – 16 Easy Steps for Beginners" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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