(Written by Lee Brown)
Making an account and getting started
First, you’ll want to create a free account on TinkerCad. You’ll want to make a personal account instead of joining a class with a student account.
Then you should try going through the “Direct Starter” tutorials to get familiar with the program.
TinkerCad is pretty simple and easy to use, so it can be tempting to skip all the tutorials and just hop in and learn by doing.
Don’t do that!
Making a folder on TinkerCad
When you’ve completed the tutorials, go to your dashboard.
On the left, you’ll see a column with a subheading that says “Projects”.
Choose the “Create project” button which will create a new folder/collection for your 3D designs.
Now click on your newly created project, which will be automatically titled “Project 1”.
Then click on the gear that next to “Project 1” and select “Properties”.
You can now name the project folder (Example: “NMR Mandhala Lids”) and provide a description of what’s inside the folder.
Auto-saving a file (and the limitations of this feature)
Like Google Docs, TinkerCad will automatically save your files as you work on them. But unlike Google Docs, there is no “history” saved for the document.
Here’s an example of what I mean by that:
Imagine you place a square on the workspace plane. Now delete the square. If you click the “Undo” arrow, the square will be un-deleted and come back again. Then close the tab and quit your browser. When you open the same workspace, the square will still be there. Yay!
Now image you make a new thing file, and you place a new square on the workspace plane. Now delete the square. Then close the tab and quit your browser. When you open the same workspace, the square will still be gone. But if you click the “Undo” arrow, the square won’t come back again. Now you’ve permanently lost your Very Important Square. Uh oh…
Essentially: You can’t restore an earlier version of the file after your tab has reloaded.
If you have one version of your item, then you alter it and delete some features, print and test the new version of the item, and find out that you actually need to restore some of the things that you deleted, you won’t be able to restore it later without re-creating them from memory.
This is key to remember! Even temporarily deleting an item with the intention of un-doing the change in a second isn’t safe because maybe that will be the moment when your computer loses connection to WiFi, your tab reloads, and the object is lost forever.
Saving an object on TinkerCad vs saving it on your computer
Keeping track of past versions of your work is key to your success. If you delete each past version before you print and test the newer one (or even after you do so) you will eventually wish that you hadn’t done so when you want to restore an element of a past design.
This is why you create a project for each item you’re going to make!
That way you can copy each version of your object into a new file when you update it, and keep an archive of past iterations of the item in the project.
File organization is going to be one of the most important parts of using TinkerCad because when you download an object you’ve created as an .obj or a .stl file, you no longer have the ability to edit specific shapes within the file when you upload the item back into TinkerCad.
For example, if you make a token that says “MF”, download it from TinkerCad as an .obj file, delete your TinkerCad file, then re-upload the object to TinkerCad, you won’t be able to edit the text on the item anymore, only manipulate the dimensions to resize the item to be bigger or smaller.
When you have a more complicated item, you don’t want to have to re-create the entire thing from memory just to edit one small element of the item, and it’ll be more difficult to edit if the object has been saved as an .obj or .stl file.
This makes preserving the TinkerCad workspace really helpful to your future self– or the future Summer Science researchers who may want to update the item or even simply see the dimensions of a particular component of the item so they can make a compatible piece.
The solution to keeping a version of your object after making a change is not to download it as an .obj or .stl file and save it to a flash drive.
How to store an earlier version of an item
Hopefully it’s clear by now that saving your file on TinkerCad is important to do before you make big edits to it that you may want to later undo so you’ll be able to reference back to the item later.
Here’s how to do it:
- Select the item[s] which you want to save in your workspace.
- When all the items that you want to save have been highlighted, select the copy button or type Crtl + C to copy the item
- Now click on the bullet list next to the name of your workspace
- You’ll see a window that says “my design” and in the top right corner there will be a button that says “New design”. Click that.
- Now select the past button or type Crtl + V to paste the item. Your item should now be pasted into your new file.
- Your new file will be automatically titled with a weird default name like “Sizzling Jaban-Bigery”. Click on the title and change it to “Version 2 [old file name]”
- Don’t forget to make sure both versions of the item are in the “project” folder for that item! This will keep you organized.
- Your original version of the object will remain in the original workspace, and now you can edit the object in the new version of the workspace you’ve copied it to!
Copying objects from one file to an existing file
This limitation is frustrating. If you’ve just completed the step above, you may think that you can easily copy objects between two different document by simply hitting “copy” in one document, switching to the other, and clicking “paste”, but it sometimes seems to allow this and sometimes doesn’t.
While it’s always possible to copy new objects to a new file, copying objects from an existing file into another existing file with objects already inside seems to be a bit more glitchy.
If you do encounter an issue with copying an item into another document and you need the components to be semi-editable instead of copying the whole item as a solid chunk that can’t be easily altered, your only solution is to break it into parts and download each individual part as an .obj or .stl file and then upload those into the workspace where you want the object, and then reassemble it there.
Hopefully your TinkerCad and computer will function correctly and you won’t need to do that though. Reloading the various windows may help, and it may not.
Sharing objects with your fellow researchers
The prerequisite to collaboration is being able to share your work!
To share a particular workspace, click “Send To,” and then scroll down and click “Invite People,” then generate a new link and share that link with them.
If you copy the link listed as your browser’s URL for the page and share that, the document can’t be viewed by others. You have to specifically generate a sharing link and send that to someone.
When your document has been shared, it will only be available for a limited amount of time. Currently, documents can only be shared for 2 weeks before the link expires and the person you’ve shared it with loses access.
If you want someone to have permanent access to the file, you can either generate the sharing link and suggest that they make a copy of the object into a new file so they can keep it on their TinkerCad server after the link expires, or you can make the object public.
To make the object public…
- Go back to your homepage and then the project page where all the different versions of the object are listed.
- Now click on the gear next to the object you want to share with people.
- Scroll down to “Privacy” and change the field from private to public. This means the object is viewable and discoverable by everyone.
- Now click on the picture of the object (don’t click “Tinker This”) and scroll down to where it says “Link” and copy that link
The advantage of sending your collaborator a public link is that it’ll never expire so they won’t lose access to the item. But the disadvantage of a public link is that the collaborator can’t edit your item with you; they can only create a copy to edit by themself.
The advantage of sending them a “sharing” link is that you two can work on the same file at the same time, so you can work more cooperatively on the same object instead of passing it back and forth between you. The disadvantage is that the link will expire in 2 weeks, and if you forget to grant them access it could delay their work.
Either of those two options are useful if you want to work on the file with someone else during the summer or let them pick up where you left off on something, but if you have finished the project, printed and tested it, and deemed it successful, then you can export the object and then upload it to ThingiVerse where it’ll join the collection of other Officially Published versions of the project.
The object will no longer be easily editable if it’s been exported, but if it’s the Final Version then it doesn’t need to be edited by the public. But future researchers in the Summer Science program may still want to edit the item to update it, so a “Sharing” link should be shared with Merideth while it’s still in TinkerCad so she can take that final editable version and save a copy to her TinkerCad files to let future researchers edit it.
Enough on organizing, sharing, and saving files. Any tips on editing objects?
Again, if you haven’t already done so, you should try going through the “Direct Starter” tutorials to get familiar with the settings and controls option on TinkerCad.
Yeah, it’s annoying but you Just Gotta Do It.
So I would set aside around 30 minutes and go through all of them on your first day of using the program!
Fine, I just went and did the tutorials. Any other tips on editing objects?
Okay, here’s a few tips. (Note: You will not be able to view the videos linked below unless you have joined the SLCPhysicsResearch Slack workspace.)
Switch to the flat “orthographic” view instead of the “perspective” view! I find the orthographic view easier to navigate and understand, and I think it helps people to spot and notice cracks in their object.
While merging two objects together to form one larger shape, don’t “eyeball” it! You should calculate the necessary dimensions to get the two shapes to fit and then use the “align” tool and a calculated number of snap grid position moves to place the object where it needs to be. There shouldn’t be any cracks to spot.
Use a paper-and-pencil notebook and a calculator! If you want to see if something will fit, you’ll have to do a lot of addition and subtraction, and it can help you avoid making silly mistakes to draw out a simple sketch of the items and their dimensions
Stategically group and un-group objects! Even if you use the same shapes in the same place, the order in which you group objects can determine how the object looks if you’re using any hollow shapes. An example of this technique can be seen in this linked video.
Stategically rotate objects! Rotation helps to get objects in the place and you’ll be rotating things all the time. It becomes particularly strategic when you have a pattern that can’t be created with the duplicating tool. An example of this technique can be seen in this linked video.
You may want to alter the number of sides on a shape before you incorporate it into your object; often you’ll want to maximize the number of sides on something that you want to be smooth and fit into another object because you won’t have to fiddle with it to align the sides. At other times, you’ll want fewer sides, but you should always deliberately choose what you want to do instead of going with the default. An example of this feature can be seen in this linked video.
Here’s a nice video showing how to export the model from TinkerCad, load it into XYZPrinting and saving the print file to 3D print your model.