Tinkercad is a free CAD program for beginners that provides a simple and fast way to create 3D models compatible with 3D printers.
Tinkercad’s extensive shapes library and drag-and-drop model builder let you build custom models in minutes. You can scale, group, mirror, align and manipulate shapes in multiple ways to hone your skills.
However, Tinkercad isn’t the only free CAD/3D modelling software worth your time – there are five others you should consider, and this is especially true if you want to work offline because Tinkercad is an online-based tool.
As you become more versed in 3D design and start working with complex shapes, you will also yearn for a tool that offers more manipulation features.
This article explores the top free Tinkercad alternatives (some offer paid plans that unlock more features, so check before downloading).
Let’s jump in!
What is Tinkercad, and why is it popular?
Tinkercad is a free online computer-aided design (CAD) program suitable for creating models for 3D printing. It is popular because it is easy to use and teaches code using blocks, helping people of all ages hone their skills.
The downside to Tinkercad is its simplicity – while it is fantastic for simple models, shapes, and objects, it is found wanting when complexity ramps up.
Thankfully, there are free Tinkercad alternatives like SelfCAD and Blender (a professional-grade tool). There are also even easier tools to learn, like 3D Slash. We cover all these below.
The best free Tinkercad alternatives
We’ve listed the five best Tinkercad alternatives below. Note that some do not compete directly (e.g., Blender) due to complexity.
#1 – SelfCAD
SelfCAD is an upgrade over Tinkercad with more organic and technical modelling tools. For example, it makes creating and working with complex shapes easy with a sculpting tool that lets you twist, bend, and pull shapes.
SelfCAD is available as a desktop application for working offline, and it has a built-in slicer, letting you slice models for 3D printing – so you can build, refine, and slice in one place for a complete workflow solution.
While SelfCAD has a steeper learning curve than Tinkercad, the sculpting tool is simple to use, and you can use various brushes to manipulate shapes with chamfer, fillet, taper, curve, loft and revolve tools one click away.
The bottom line: SelfCAD is the best free Tinkercad alternative.
#2 – 3D Slash
Building models is intuitive with the subtractive approach (chiselling away blocks) as if you are building a sculpture. You can then use the “brickwork” tool to add more of these blocks (voxels) and create the model you want.
Compared to Tinkercad, 3D Slash is just as capable but also more fun, so it’s an excellent option for beginners and creating simple shapes. It has the easiest learning curve and is suitable for all ages, including primary school children.
Downsides? While it is easy to manipulate objects and shapes, models are built exclusively from cubes, so creating complex shapes is tricky.
#3 – Blender
Blender is a significant upgrade over Tinkercad for professional design. It is a professional-grade, free 3D modelling/CAD tool available offline, offering a 3D Printing Toolbox and real-time Mesh Analysis features.
Blender’s roots are in graphics design, where it is used for animation, simulation, video editing, and rendering. However, Blender also works fantastic for 3D printing because it works with simple polygons – letting you create anything.
You can sculpt, push, pull, draw, invert, curve, and increase/decrease mass with one or two clicks, with complete information about model parameters.
You can export to STL, PLY, X3D, and OBJ, and you can also import files and convert them to other formats. Blender can also handle textures, rigging, and animation, letting you produce models and simulate use cases.
#4 – SketchUp
SketchUp has a steeper learning curve than Tinkercad, but it’s easy to use and infinitely more capable once you know the workflow: you start with a 2D shape or profile and then use the push/pull tool to create your shape.
Adding model details is done with the line/draw tool or the shape (e.g., rectangle) tool, which lets you define your 3D model’s profiles. The software shows all dimensions and properties, letting you produce precise models.
It’s easy to create complex custom shapes in SketchUp, and you can import and export STL files for 3D printing, simplifying your workflow.
Compared to Tinkercad, SketchUp offers more control over shapes and lets you create more intricate models at the expense of a learning curve.
#5 – MagicaVoxel
MagicaVoxel is a voxel-based model builder, so it uses voxels (cubes) to make three-dimensional models just like 3D Slash. The difference is that MagicaVoxel is more graphical – perfect if you want to produce professional designs.
There are three basic commands: attach, erase, and paint – you attach voxels to your digital model and manipulate them with the other commands. You can also use Line, Centre, Voxel, Face, and Box brush modes to manipulate shapes.
MagicaVoxel exports as OBJ, which is less well-supported than STL, so you must ensure that your slicer supports .obj files. You can also convert OBJ to STL with Blender – a free tool that offers CAD features (see above).
Tinkercad alternatives in a nutshell
- SelfCAD – best for sculpting and manipulating shapes
- 3D Slash – best for building with basic voxels
- Blender – best for professional-level design
- SketchUp – best for refining intricate shapes
- MagicaVoxel – best for building with complex voxels.
Overall, you can’t go wrong with any of these Tinkercad alternatives. However, if we had to choose two, we’d choose SelfCAD and Blender.
If you enjoyed this article, read our piece on the best 3D modelling software for Macs.
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Top image credit: All3DP.