Tinkercad is a CAD tool renowned for its simplicity and ease of use. Typically targeted at beginners, this tool is a great entry point into the world of 3D modeling, even for modelers who intend to 3D print their designs.
Tinkercad works by adding primitive shapes in order to create solids. In theory, there’s nothing that cannot be designed with enough patience and time. In practice, though, nobody wants to toil away if there’s an easier way to do it. After all, when the required design is complex, the simplicity of Tinkercad can become a drawback.
Fortunately, you’ve got other options, with some programs modeling certain types of geometry more easily, such as organic shapes, for example. In addition, as an online tool, it’s impossible to use Tinkercad without an internet connection. So how should you go about picking a substitute?
Here are some factors we considered when selecting Tinkercad alternatives:
Without further ado, here are some of the best alternatives to Tinkercad!
In 3D Slash, modeling is done as if you were chiseling a block of stone. The main tools are the hammer and trowel. The hammer removes one block at a time, while the trowel adds it. Sometimes it feels like you’re working in Minecraft, just without the zombies.
It also has other interesting functions. For example, you can project pictures onto the work surface as a stencil in order to make a model based on logos, text, or real life objects. The free version is quite good, but if you are willing to pay for the premium, school, or professional versions, you will get a wider range of colors, higher-resolution modeling, collaboration options, and other extras.
This is no doubt a basic program, but its approach to modeling is so different that it makes you think in new ways. If you only work with a few blocks, the results might feel “blocky”, but just as in pixels, more blocks equal higher resolution.
3D Slash can be used as a web-based version or an on-device app. The application is more powerful and has more tools, this is due to the limitations of web browsers. Then again, for non-paying users some functions of the app are limited.
Company support is good and active. In case you need it, they have a section with tutorials, too.
User experience: Excellent, controls and UI are straightforward. Modeling is done by subtracting blocks.
Learning curve: Gentle, quick to pick up and get started with
Have you ever opened up Microsoft Paint and painted pixel by pixel? MagicaVoxel operates with the same principle but raised to the third power. As the name says, it works with voxels, which are 3D pixels or “volume pixels”. The beauty of this software is in the selection of colors, you can literally select from thousands of colors since it works with a 16-bit palette. So even without printing, the rendering can look like a piece of art.
It’s very easy to use and learn, but since it works by adding one voxel at a time, creating a complex model can take a while. However, it’s possible to use some copy-paste and speed up the process a bit.
This is computer-based freeware. There is no premium or paid version. It works on Windows or MacOS. MagicaVoxel is made by Ephtracy, a single person, thus there is no company support per se. But you can still get direct contact through Twitter where you will also find a community of 22,000 followers.
Cost: Free download
User Experience: A wide color palette and lighting options make it useful for artistic renderings.
Learning curve: Easy to use and learn
SketchUp was designed with a focus on architecture, and its toolset is totally oriented in that direction. In fact, models made in SketchUp can be laid upon Google Maps. It can still be used to model other kinds of objects. Though it’s a bit more complicated to learn how to use it, it can still produce professional results.
Sketchup Free is web-based and not downloadable. Some of its functionality is limited compared to the paid versions. The download is only available to paying users on a subscription basis or a one-time fee. One big feature of paid licenses is the ability to see your models with VR lenses.
Company support is extensive: They have a forum, a blog, an official YouTube channel, and courses on their website.
User Experience: Great for architectural models. Modeling is mainly done with push/pull of sketches.
Learning curve: Training or tutorials will be necessary, even for moderately simple objects.
SelfCAD is an impressive piece of software. Some programs work by accumulating primitive shapes, other programs sculpt the shape with different brushes, other programs try to mimic traditional machining processes. SelfCAD does all these. It can sculpt, it can add primitive shapes, and it can extrude sketches.
The only thing it does not do is to export your files for free. You can work with all the tools, but if you want to download the STL file, you will have to pay. It does have a discount available for students and teachers, though.
Modeling tools are complete and friendly. It can do such things as chamfer, fillet, taper, bend, loft, and revolve. You can generate gears, screws, nuts and other mechanical pieces in one step. It can very well be used in a professional setting. This is a web-based service, there are no options for download.
If you need support you can get in touch with the company through email, or their soctal media accounts.
Cost: All tools are free to use but the download of STL files is not.
User Experience: There are many ways to model and a wide variety of tools to use. Very useful for mechanical parts.
Learning curve: It’s easy to understand. The learning process is linear.
Vectary was made with ease of use in mind. It has an interesting user interface consisting of arrows and boxes around the selected object. It’s not complex, but it is different. Once you understand how this works, you will find that modeling is very easy and straightforward.
Photorealistic rendering is an important part of its functionality. In fact, it’s centered around this concept. You can download the image or generate an HTML website to display the model. The disadvantage is that you have to pay to download STL files or any kind of file.
For support, the company is active on many social media platforms and they have many videos on their YouTube channel, ranging from the basics to the advanced level. There is a chat-based forum, but it does not seem to be heavily populated.
Cost: Modeling is free, but STL file download is paid.
User Experience: Direct and straightforward, the biggest advantage is its capacity for realistic rendering.
Learning curve: Modeling itself is not hard.
If LeoPoly had a middle name it would be “easy”. It has several modes of operation: Sculpting, form-shifting, and block modeling.
The block editor is one of the most simple out there, just blocks and a color selector. Also, the sculpting tool is uncomplicated, you can grasp its functions in one glimpse. It’s advertised as the “easiest 3D creation platform”. The formshifting mode is interesting, but it feels as if you’re working with ClipArt. After all, it’s quick but constrained to predetermined functions. Note that some of the modes of operation are not mixable.
LeoPoly is free to use, web-based, and the download of STL files is also free.
They have a YouTube channel with several tutorials. But with a program so simple, do you really need many tutorials?
User Experience: Nice and easy, a little bit limited in some of its functions, but a great place to start learning.
Learning curve: As gentle as it can get. This is quite an easy tool to learn.
Blender is developed by a community of programmers. It’s on this list not because it’s a simple tool, but because it’s too great an opportunity in some use cases to ignore. For instance, certain low-detail organic modeling applications could make use of Blender quite easily. If you need to make simple organic forms and don’t need to 3D print them, Blender could be the tool for you.
This software was made for CGI as well as 2D and 3D animation. It has been used to make commercials, art, and video games. It’s a very complete program, which is good and bad. You will have plenty of tools for sculpting 3D models, but it’s very easy to get lost in all the options. It’s not easy to learn how to use it, so you might need tutorials for this.
But once you learn Blender even to a novice level, you’ll know a great deal about modeling and sculpting that you can carry forward for the rest of your modeling career.
It requires the download of a large file, but since it’s computer-based, it can handle more polygons than if it were web-based. In regards to 3D printing, this program only does sculpting but is very good at it. For comparison, sculpting tools are nonexistent in Tinkercad.
There is a big community of artists posting tutorials on YouTube in addition to the official channel with almost half a million followers.
Cost: Completely free
User Experience: Fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be a bumpy ride. Yet, it’s one of the best and most complete for sculpting.
Learning curve: It’s not an easy piece of software for beginners.
(Lead image source: AlternativeTo)
License: The text of "2019 Best Tinkercad Alternatives" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.