Fusion 360 is one of the best CAD tools on the market for 3D printing. Many are often intimidated by its learning curve -- but never fear! This tutorial will take you through the very basics, step by step.
Fusion 360 offers a free 3-year educational license for students and educators. Make sure to take advantage of this if you’re eligible! Otherwise, you can activate a free 2-week trial or pay for the official license.
Sign up for an account on Autodesk’s website, then activate your account and download Fusion 360, which is available for both MacOS and Windows. Follow the steps on the installation wizard to install it to your computer (this may take a few minutes).
Once the installation is complete, double-click to launch Fusion 360. Log in to the Autodesk account you just created, and you’re good to go!
With Fusion 360 launched, your screen should look something like the picture above. Let’s walk through some of the main areas of the user interface.
Toolbar: Located across the top of the screen, the toolbar displays a selection of the main functions used to create and manipulate models. Clicking on the drop-down arrows will display all possible commands available in each category. The shortcuts displayed on the toolbar are customizable. Here’s how to pin your favorite commands.
Browser: The browser, located on the left of the screen, shows you all your components, bodies, and planes in a file structure. Right now we have one component (Unsaved), with just one body (Box). You can rename items by double-clicking on their names. Use the triangles on the left to open/collapse folders, and toggle the visibility of bodies and planes with the lightbulb.
Timeline: The timeline at the bottom is a key part of Fusion 360, setting it apart from other CAD software. It contains a running list of commands executed in creating your model. Right now, it merely displays the “Create Box” command we used. This allows users to see exactly how each model was made, roll back the timeline to any point they wish, and make edits and additions to features as needed.
Navigation and Display: These boxes let you toggle the display settings and manually navigate the view. There are some useful shortcuts for this with a mouse:
Try them out and see if you can navigate around the Fusion 360 space.
To demonstrate some of the basic Fusion 360 modeling principles, we’ll create a simple popsicle on a stick.
In general, the flow starts with a basic sketch, which is then extruded and lastly modified as needed.
There are many different commands we won’t cover that you can try out for yourself. Keep in mind that there’s more than one right way to model, so feel free to explore and try things out!
Sketches are exactly what they sound like: lines and curves on a 2D plane. To create one, click on the “Create Sketch” button on the toolbar, and select which plane you would like to draw on. The view will switch from a 3D to 2D perspective.
To begin, draw the basic popsicle shape with two rectangles and a circle. You can select both shapes from the sketch dropdown or using the ‘R’ and ‘C’ hotkeys, respectively.
One useful function of Fusion 360 is sketch dimensioning, i.e. arrows with numbers, as seen above. Create a dimension by selecting “Sketch Dimensions” or by pressing ‘D’, and then select the line you want to dimension. Double-click on any dimension to resize it. This makes it super easy to specify the exact height of your sketches as well as to go back and change them later if necessary.
Once you’re satisfied, click “Stop Sketch” on the far right of the toolbar to exit sketch mode.
Now, we want to turn our 2D sketch into a 3D object by expanding it from the plane. To begin the operation, press the “Extrude” button on the toolbar (or ‘E’ on your keyboard). Doing so should cause a menu to pop up on the right side of the screen.
The first thing we have to do is select which profiles to extrude. Let’s start with the main popsicle part, excluding the stick. To select more than one profile, just hold the shift key while selecting. Use the arrows or the menu to specify how far to extrude (we chose 15 mm).
Make sure that “Operation” is set to “New Body” and you’re golden! As a side note, the operation setting also has boolean operations such as join, cut, or intersect to create all kinds of shapes.
Next, we need to inflate our popsicle stick. Extrude it the same way, but this time selecting the only the stick part. If you can’t see your sketch anymore, it’s probably hidden. Just unhide it in the browser on the left.
Naturally, we want this part to stick out from the center of the popsicle. Instead of extruding from the profile plane, we’ll offset it by 5 mm, as seen above. We’ll also join it to the main popsicle body so that they’re a single element.
We now have a 3D popsicle that looks a bit blocky, especially along the edges. To achieve a more natural, curved look, we can use the “Fillet” command, which is under the “Modify” drop-down menu. (Or hit ‘F’.) This will apply a curve of specified radius to the edges we select.
Fillet the top and bottom edges (6, in total) of the popsicle by 3 mm, as shown in the picture.
You can also add 5 mm fillets to the bottom of the stick to make it a bit curvier. And with that, our model is complete!
Think your popsicle needs to be thicker? Fusion 360 makes it easy to edit your model and propagate the changes. Simply right click on the extrude command for the popsicle in the timeline and hit “Edit Feature”. (Clicking on a timeline item will highlight what faces the affected command.) From there, feel free to modify the extrusion as you like.
For bonus points, try making a sketch on the popsicle and extruding it to make your popsicle unique.
Make sure to save your project with Ctrl/Cmd+s or via the save button on the top left. Fusion 360 stores all your files in the cloud so they can be accessed from any computer through their website. Within Fusion 360, just open the data panel on the left to view and organize your files.
To get your popsicle component in STL format for 3D printing, just right-click on the component and select “Save as STL”. You can also save individual bodies as STLs if you just want to print one part of the component.
From there, it’s peanuts to load the STL into a slicer and send your popsicle to a 3D printer.
You’ve now learned the key concepts of Fusion 360, and you’re ready to take on the wonderful world of CAD modeling. Here are some great resources to help you with that:
The key to mastering any CAD software is practice. Don’t be afraid to make lots of models and try out all the commands! Before you know it, you’ll be a Fusion 360 pro!
License: The text of "Fusion 360 – 3D Printing Tutorial for Beginners" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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