Beyond the blocks: modeling a space plane for 3D printing in Tinkercad

When people think about modeling rockets and space ships in Tinkercad, they can be forgiven for thinking that all you can do is stick a cone shape on top of a cylinder, and call it a day - but they're wrong! Tinkercad can do a lot more.

Tinkercad has a very powerful engine under the hood, and with some creativity and ingenuity, you can make great looking models that rival those from other 3D modeling packages - and do it fast, for free and in your browser.

Keep reading and follow along the Instructable if you want to learn more.

I'd like to introduce you to some favorite techniques that add some extra sizzle to your Tinkercad models.

  1. Using hollows to trim shapes
  2. Embossed effects by using duplicate shells
  3. Transforming shape generators

I'm going to use this super duper space plane as an example. I've described the whole process in an Instructable, if you want more detail.

The first technique takes advantage of Tinkercad's "hollow" material to trim basic primitives to other shapes. In this example, I've used this to make the engine pods of the space ship, by using a hollow rectangle to trim off the bottom of a sphere. By stretching this, I'll turn it into an engine pod, in the following step.

Another useful technique lets you create interesting embossed effects. You can use it to add recessed windows, decoration and text to shapes that have complex curves.

You take your basic shape, in this case an engine pod, duplicate it, and reduce one copy by a small amount in each dimension, then you align them using Tinkercad's align tool. Create a shape that you will use to "cut out" the embossing, in this case a stack of rectangles. Set the material to hollow, and group it with only the outermost (larger) copy of your basic shape.

In this example, I just made a stack of rectangles 1mm thick, spaced 1mm apart. Set the material to hollow, and grouped it only with the outermost of the two copies of the engine pod.

It yields this cool ribbed effect:

Finally, Tinkercad's Shape generators are a rich library of customizable shapes. You can apply all of Tinkercad's scaling and rotation features to them, creating an even greater variety of possible shapes.

In this case, we've used the Wedge from the Community Shape Generators, increased the number of sides to make it more like a truncated cone (or a tapered cylinder, if you prefer), then flattened it and tilted it to make a wing.

The result is a far cry from just simple shapes, isn't it? The cockpit canopy and the windows were made using the same technique of duplicating an object, resizing it, and then subtracting decorative features only from the original. From beginning to end, this project took less than 40 minutes for someone without a lot of Tinkercad experience.

Once done, one of the great things about Tinkercad is that it generates files that are 3D printer ready - just load them in your printer software and go!