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I primarily use two pieces of software, depending on what I want to achieve.

DesignSpark Mechanical

Click to download

This is free software, released by RS Components in the UK (and Allied Components in the US). I use it if I've got something that is very mechanical in design - such as cases for electronics.

It's supposed to integrate well with their PCB designer (DesignSpark PCB), but since I've paid for (and am fairly happy with) Eagle PCB, I'm not switching over to use it. Instead, I make a note of the various dimensions, and the created a mock PCB in DesignSpark Mechanical ready to create the case.

Since I'm more used to surface modelling, it did feel a bit alien to me - and I have often created objects which I would deem as 'impossible' using it's volumetric approach - and in some cases, I can't undo things I've done (such as filling in an odd shape hole). Since it looked very powerful, I did dedicate a weekend to playing with it, until I got to the point where I was comfortable with it.

It has a bit of a weirdity when it comes to the origin. For example, if you create a 20mm diameter cylinder starting in the centre, and then 'lop off' 2mm from one side (so it's more of a 'D' shape), then you select the D shaped surface, then the centre of the circle is not the centre of the view. Although having said that, if you glance the mouse over the circle, it will highlight the circle's centre, so you can create new objects referenced to that - the centre it creates is probably the centre of the bounding box, although I would prefer the centre to be the centre when I started to create the design.

This might be a bit of inexperience from me - but unfortunately the manual is very ... lacking. It's a cut down version of SpaceClaim - and in a lot of cases, the manual refers to the SpaceClaim software, so you suddenly see something that looks interesting - only to find that DesignSpark doesn't have it.

For me, a significant omission is a mirror capability - where you mirror an existing object. You can create mirror lines, and mirror planes, but that's only when you're drawing the object - and not when you've got an existing object.

Another thing I'd like to see it do is to import STL files (which is a surface format), and convert them to volumetric (i.e. its internal format). I've taken things like the Elite Cobra Mk III, and redrawn it in volumetric fairly easily (by selecting each surface, drawing them, and then pulling them outwards. When they're all done, it's all subtracted from a rectangle that fits the bounding box). It's a bit time-consuming, but should be easily automatable.

There might be a way to go via Sketchup though...


Click to download

I've only used this for drawing text for import into DesignSpark. I found it very fiddly even to do that - but, again, it's something that I'd need to spend time doing it.


Click to download

This is my favourite - but it's not really software geared towards engineering. Since most of the things I've made need to have exact dimensions, I find that DesignSpark is much better suited - but, as I've said, it's very mechanical. Lightwave is much more organic, and for smooth curves, I would have to use Lightwave (unless they're cylindrical in design).


There's four pieces of software that I've used for converting the STL files into prints.


This is the software that came with the printer, and it's very basic. I printed the Aeon logo using it, but decided that it really wasn't good enough - and I'd heard good things about Simplify3D...


Click to download

This isn't a piece of software that you can trial - you have to read reviews, and then pay for it before you get a chance to use it.

The things I'd heard about it was that it had a good preview capability, manual/automatic support and also support for many printers.

I decided to buy it - and it's my main piece of software which I've printed pretty much everything else.

The only problems I've had are:

  1. It doesn't seem to do 2-colour prints very well (it really should print a wall of each colour either side - which other software seems to do).
  2. I once ended up with it unlicensed - and I have no idea how. I had to contact their support (which meant I was without software for a couple of days).

The last one is a bit worrying, since it could happen again - but it did give me a chance to try MakerBot Desktop...

MakerBot Desktop

Click to download

I was recommended this by Dan at PrintMe 3D as an alternative to Simplify3D. Since Simplify3D was refusing to take my registration code, I decided to have a go while I was waiting for their support team to get back to me.

This software seems fairly functional - and basic in comparison to Simplify3D. For example, when I print, I have a number of things that I do:

  1. I print a 4-line skirt, 2 layers high (in order to get the 'juices' flowing)
  2. The first layer I print at 230 degrees, and subsequent layers at 210

I didn't see any way of doing either of these - so I printed with the defaults (no raft).

The first thing it did was run down the front edge of the printer - knocking off the clips I've got the glass plate attached to. While it did this, it extruded plastic. I later found out that this is it's equivalent of a skirt - but it seemed awfully silly not to print on the plate itself.

The second thing I noticed was that it was much faster at printing than Simplify3D. The machine ripped along very much quicker than I'd seen it run before!

The third thing was that it printed about 5 layers of solid before getting into the infill. Simplify3D will do 3 layers (by default - and I've had no need to change the default). However, its idea of infill is to print hexagons - and the infill was very much more sparse than Simplify3D's default setting.

Now, I do like hexagons - but I didn't really like how saggy the first two solid layers after the infill were. Perhaps that's why it needs to use 5 layers...

When Simplify3D's support team got back to me, I was able to tweak the speed settings, and upped it to the same that MakerBot Desktop was able to perform. I also dropped the mimimum area for reducing the speed (again, more like MakerBot Desktop).


This was another alternative suggested to me - but apart from a very quick play with it, I've not used it in anger.

Updated: 2014-11-23 22:45:41 | Comments: 0 | Show comments | Add comment
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