3D Printing Tools: SketchUp, Meshmixer & Skanect

img_0682Evanston Public Library currently offers 3D printing for teens in the Loft. We have partnered with schools and after-school programs to provide 3D printing demos, classes and ways to interact with our printers. We began teaching teens how to 3D design using SketchUp—this was before Tinkercad existed. The great thing about SketchUp is that it allows you to free-design, creating 3D designs from scratch, not from pre-existing shapes. For teens that have exhausted Tinkercad’s per-fabricated universe and are itching for something more challenging, SketchUp is a good next step.

Unlike Tinkercad, which allows you to use the mouse to adjust how you are looking at an object, SketchUp’s controls are located only on the screen. SketchUp is a free tool that can be downloaded from the web, but it is a desktop only application.

One feature absent from Tinkercad that SketchUp has allowing a user to import a JPEG image and trace around it to create a 3D object. This works best for images like car blueprints, silhouettes of objects and other simple images. This does not work for making a regular photo into a 3D object. The image import tool on Tinkercad is better suited for this type of image transfer.

car         car2

SketchUp also allows you to manipulate text more freely, giving you more font choices and the ability to move letters individually. If you’d like a more detailed tutorial about how to manipulate letters, please see: Creating 3D Letters in SketchUp

If you’d like to check out SketchUp for yourself, you can download it here:  http://www.sketchup.com/download?sketchup=make

Another program we use is Meshmixer. Our primary use for this program is to fix minor holes with already designed 3D creations or with our head scanning. Oftentimes, we will scan a teen’s head and small portions of the scan will end up having holes in key areas such as the top of the head, shoulder area or face. Meshmixer can be used to fill in these holes. If the head scan has sizable chunks where the entire top of the head is missing (candy dish head!) or the nose is gone, Meshmixer can help you fix those areas but won’t necessarily be able to completely fill in those holes. You may be able to cover up the problem areas with some of the other features of Meshmixer like adding animal arms and legs.


If you’d like to check out Meshmixer for yourself, you can download it (for free) here:  http://meshmixer.com/

We use Meshmixer in combination with head scanning in the Loft. Scanning heads is one of the most popular 3D projects we offer. When talking to incoming sixth graders and giving our spiel for summer reading, we always bring along 3D busts of teens, explaining that this is a project you can come in and do on the weekend.The great thing about head scanning is


that it can be done in a relatively inexpensive way. We use an Xbox Kinect (no Xbox system is needed), a PC laptop (Macs are cool, too) and Skanect (a free scanning software). Patience is key with head scanning, both for you and the teen. It will take some practice to get this process down. Teens can choose to sit or stand while you walk around them with the Xbox scanner and the process can take anywhere from 30 seconds if you’re a wizard to ten minutes if your computer doesn’t want to cooperate. If teens are taller than you and you don’t feel comfortable stepping up on a chair or other object to get the top of their head, have teens sit for the head scanning process. The cord of the Xbox scanner is not long enough to be able to walk completely around a teen, so at some point you will have to stop, retrace your steps and go back and get their other half. The most important part of the scan (and also the most difficult) is the top of their head.

Head scanning is a fun process that gets everyone in the space involved. Keep in mind that you will need at least five feet of distance between you and the teen getting scanned. Also, include teens in the process! Once you’ve demonstrated how the process works, hand the scanner over and have them scan each other. Because you will be out in the open, everyone who isn’t directly involved with the program still gets to see what is going on and usually wants in on the action, too.

If you haven’t ventured into head scanning territory yet, you should! Take a look at Skanect here: http://skanect.occipital.com/download/

If you have any questions about any of the programs or processes above, I’d be happy to talk more about them. My contact information is: ahamernik@cityofevanston.org

Thanks, everyone!


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