7 Practical Uses for Computer Aided Design Software

August 28th, 2017

CAD software is often associated with technical disciplines like engineering and architecture. These days, however, CAD software programs are available for affordable, consumer friendly pricing – so you don’t have to be building a commercial skyscraper or engineering an aircraft carrier to make use of the software.

With the explosion of information surrounding computer aided design, we are outlining a handful of uses for CAD software – some are trusty standbys and others may surprise you!

1. Building furniture. Maybe your home is perfect, but you’ve always wanted to build your own coffee table or rocking chair. Woodworking is a popular activity that’s getting a revival thanks to technologies, including CAD, that takes a lot of the risk out of it. Take advantage of hundreds of online platforms that offer design inspiration, so you can build exactly the piece you’re imagining.










photo credit: popularwoodworking.com

2. 3D printing. Woodworking isn’t the only arena for DIY builders. If you’ve already got an at-home printer, you can get creative with what you need. Think about automotive pieces, replacements for broken knobs and bits, or truly creative pieces like jewelry, custom-made storage, and more. There are also numerous online printers  that can take your files and send you a finished piece!

Take a look at this awesome and functional 3D printed wrench – designed entirely with ViaCAD 2D/3D.

Created with ViaCAD 2D/3D

3. Architecture. For many of us, architecture and engineering are the things we immediately think of when we think about CAD. But architecture can mean something smaller scale – think along the lines of making changes to or building an addition on your home. CAD clearly shows what you can fit in your existing home, and whether you have the space to add that outdoor pool or master suite addition. It will also help you lay it out exactly how you want, without forgetting technical pieces like the electrical and plumbing.

4. Interior design. Whether you’re going big and building an addition or simply want to revamp your living room, CAD software can make you feel like you’re playing the Sims in real life. Playing with CAD software makes clear exactly where you should install a fireplace, or add overhead fans. Looking to buy a new, larger couch? Make sure it fits in the room – and with all your other furniture.

5. Outdoor design. Interior spaces aren’t the only areas worthy of designing ahead of time. Use your CAD software to help layout your garden, yard, patio, or other outdoor space.

6. Fashion. Want to take your wardrobe into your own hands? Just like woodworking, fashion is at a major renaissance for DIYers. Perhaps you have an idea for a brand-new design, or you’re looking to be a little more environmentally friendly by reusing old cloths and fabrics. Whatever you’re sewing, be sure to prototype your designs in CAD. If you need some inspiration, plenty websites offer free patterns from beginner to advanced difficulty.

7. Mapping. With a bevy of map apps available to anyone with a smartphone, you probably think you never need a real map again. Think again! We’ve all been stuck in a cell service dead zone, rendering our useful maps totally worthless when navigating a new terrain. Custom maps can help you avoid this – if you’re heading off to Paris or the mountains or somewhere that you just want to build a custom map for, fill it with places of interest, your hotel, the roads you take to get there. CAD can help you keep it digital, saving it on a smart device, or you can even print it out if you prefer something tangible. You can use a service like mapacad to download maps that you can alter in your CAD software. Custom maps are also a great way to help promote. Maybe you’re holding an event for your business or a party for your family – make it something special by creating your map by hand. Get creative! While Google Maps always looks the same, your map can look hand-drawn or incorporate special places that are unique to you.

Whatever you’re inspired to create or build, try it out in CAD to make sure your design is viable. If you’re new to CAD software, check out these resources that will help you get familiar with it. Happy designing!

Printing Out Your 3D Designs with Third-Party Services

August 1st, 2017

The world of 3D printing is only growing – and quickly!

If you’re ready to jump into your own designing and prototyping, but aren’t ready to invest the time, money, and space required of in-home 3D printing, you have plenty of options for outsourcing the actual printing.

Using a third-party 3D printer comes with many benefits:

  • Convenience – send off an electronic file and wait for your design to be realized; perfect especially if you’re not ready for small-scale in-home 3D printing
  • Scalability – produce more products in less time
  • Quality control – know that you’re getting a top-notch, professionally-made final piece

We are outlining the types of 3D printing services that exist, covering the most popular, though there are dozens of these services that exist globally. We list important factors like materials, printing methods, and bonus factors. And if you need a refresher on printing technologies, check out another blog of ours – 9 common printing methods.

The standard model for outsourcing 3D print jobs is uploading your design, getting a price and delivery quote, and waiting for the product to arrive on your doorstep. We share four popular services along these lines, but you’ll be surprised with a couple brick-and-mortar options that may exist in your area, as well.

Overall, the companies we researched offer a range of price points based on material and finish, design, and processing time. These are difficult to estimate until you can share a specific design with the company in order to get a price quote. Know that there are very affordable entry-level costs for beginner designs.

(For more specific prices, check out this comprehensive review of some companies included here. They used 3Dbenchy to source quotes in popular materials.)

Without further ado, here are our recommendations for third-party 3D printing services.


This Dutch start-up was formed in 2009 and today houses its primary printing locations, called “Factories of the Future” in Queens, New York, and Eindhoven, Netherlands.

  • Materials and finishes: 50+, including porcelain, ceramic, metal, various plastics, wax, and sandstone
  • Printing methods: selective laser sintering (SLS), Binder jetting, wax casting/material jetting
  • File formats: accepts designs in STL, OBJ, X3D, DAE, Collada or VRML97/2 (WRL); designers can convert into these formats
  • Shipping: 3-10 business days
  • Markets: rapid prototyping; industrial-grade printing; instant pricing; automatic and manual checks on design printability; no up-front costs or minimum order size beyond what you order; dedicated tech support
  • Bonus: Provides printing and design tutorials, and real-life inspiration from community printers


Started in France in 2009, Sculpteo now has several locations, including one in San Francisco. Their app and Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud integration allows for print ordering directly from smartphones.

  • Materials and finishes: Dozens, including acrylics, aluminum, steel, and stainless steel
  • Printing methods: SLS, binder jetting, polyjet, metal casting, and more
  • File formats: accepts over two dozen 3D formats; see their table for more info
  • Shipping: Ships worldwide; in-person pick up available in San Francisco
  • Markets: Rapid prototyping; additive manufacturing; cloud engine; agile metal technology; laser cutting services
  • Bonus: Offers plenty of free tutorials, ebooks, and webinars


This publically-traded company was founded in Belgium in 1990, so they are serious about their experience. They tend to be a bit more professional, with major business partnerships, but hobbyists can take advantage of their experience, too.

Materials and finishes: 20 materials options; 100+ color and finish options, including gold plating and polishing

  • Printing methods: Uses exclusively Industrial printers – stereolithography (SLA), SLS, FDM, binder and material jetting, indirect metal printing, and more
  • File formats: 40+ accepted
  • Shipping: Flat rate depending on your location; can upgrade to 48-hour printing
  • Markets: Major experience; they are the “trusted partner” of Adobe, Autodesk, Microsoft, SketchUp, and Twikit
  • Bonus: Students get 10% discount

3D Hubs

This option works differently than the previous companies, who print your design and ship it to your door. Instead, 3D Hubs is a network of more than 6,000 3D printing locations worldwide. In fact, they claim that 1 billion people have access to a 3D printer within 10 miles of home. Their goal is to reduce the waste, time, and inventory associated with shipping from one location – with an aim to change how we rely on goods.

  • Materials and finishes: prototyping plastic, high-detail resin, SLS nylon, fiber-reinforced nylon, rigid opaque plastic, rubber-like plastic, transparent plastic, simulated ABS, full-color sandstone, and industrial metals and alloys
  • Printing methods: FDM, SLA, SLS, jetting, direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)
  • File formats: STL or OBJ
  • Ship time: Average 48-hour turnaround
  • Markets: rapid prototyping; additive manufacturing; supply-chain production on demand; consulting and design services; bulk orders (from 50-50,000)
  • Bonus: Students and educators get 25% off – always; lots of major companies use these guys, including Texas Instruments, Tesla, and GE

Surprising printing options

Before you head off into the wide world of online options, you may want to check out your local libraries and community colleges. We’ve found a lot of these institutions offer innovation and digital learning labs that provide access to different types of 3D printers. Some offer a limited number of free print jobs with your library card or really affordable options for those enrolled in the community college.

Across the U.S., UPS Stores are beginning to offer 3D printing at select locations – simply access your CAD files and head in!

These 3D-Printed Products Will Surprise You

June 27th, 2017

The technology industry is buzzing at how 3D printing is the next big thing. And it is! But it’s not something that we are just waiting around for something to happen – it’s happening right now.

3D objects can feel limited to plastics, ceramics, and metals. Or the application of 3D printing offers products that are nice and convenient, but not quite yet changing the world. In today’s article, we are sharing some incredible 3D-printed products that will surprise you.

Oral medication
In 2016, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) gave its first-ever approval to a 3D-printed drug. Spritam is an oral medication that helps treat epilepsy – and its website highlights how 3D printers made it.

The producers of Spritam credit printing process stereolithography (SLA) with helping to create ZipDose Technology. This patented technology is a new way for medicines to rapidly dissolve and disintegrate with only a small sip of liquid, something that hasn’t been done with traditional drug production methods. The 3D printing process means the drug isn’t made using compression, punches, or die casts. Instead, the technique allows the drug’s production to bind layers of powdered medication with a water-based substance. The pill is a solid medicine that has many tiny spaces or holes, allowing it to dissolve quickly.

3D printing allows for this drug to hold a lot more active ingredients, up to 100mg of medication, while still being easy and quickly dissolvable, and still tasting better than a lot of oral medications.

The potential for 3D printing in this field is huge: imagine the taste options printing a drug could offer – while still ensuring precise dosage and easy-to-administer medicine. It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to see a time when a person could print their medicine at home.

People have been making glass for thousands of years, and it’s even considered an art. So why are we excited about glass that could be 3D printed?

For nearly a century, glass has been made in factories. The process starts with melting sand, and then floating the molten sand sheets into large tanks of molten tin. It’s a process that is very risky and can be unsafe, as it involves extremely high heat. Combustibility of the glass is major concern. Further, glass factories can be significant polluters and users of raw materials, so the environmental risks must be weighed.

3D printing could be changing this decades-old process. In April 2017, a German research team offered a new method for making glass: “liquid glass” that can be shaped into complex shapes using 3D printers, then heated into a solid.

Other organizations have already 3D printed glass, but the process of this German team makes it much easier to create a smooth and transparent object. More complex details are easier to design and execute, reducing the time and cost of creating such glass. That means 3D-printed glass could revolutionize the eyeglass and mirrors industries, reducing the time and materials required for creating these customized pieces, thereby reducing the cost.

It’s also a lot safer, and relies on a lot less valuable environmental resources. As an additive process, 3D printing allows for using a nearly exact amount of raw material, without much waste.

Body tissues
Healthcare was one of the first forecasted industries ripe for a 3D printing revolution. Industry experts and hobbyists alike immediately seized on the potential for 3D printing to offer custom-built medical devices, like pacemakers, prosthetic limbs, and medical models and tools. Traditionally, these pieces require a lot of time and money to build, and their useful lifespan may not be that long, with quality sometimes remaining elusive. 3D printing is already changing that – allowing medical professionals to print pieces as-needed, and customize them to the individual patient.

But recently, several universities and companies are starting something beyond just implants and objects: they are 3D printing skin tissue, blood vessels, and heart tissue.

In January 2017, a collaboration of a Spanish university, research group, hospital, and health firm presented a prototype for a 3D bioprinter that creates human skin. The printed skin can be used directly in transplants to patients, or as research substance for chemical, drug, and cosmetic testing.

Instead of using cartridges of material or colored inks, the bioprinter relies on ‘bioinks’. These bioinks allows the user to mix biological components, such as cells, in a way that the components continue to function. The prototype offers affordability and scalability: depending on the intended purpose, skin can be printed in large quantities or customized for an individual patient.

Bioinks are being used in other bodily tissue printing, though these are still in developmental stages. A Chinese research team confirmed in December 2016 that they had implanted 3D-printed blood vessels into monkeys. Other researchers and scientists worldwide are developing ways to use 3D printing to create heart tissue.

The future of 3D printing is here. With the time, money, and research investments made into this technology, we can fully anticipate revolutions in several important industries in the 21st century.