A Kawaii introduction to TinkerCAD for the Crafter
What this article covers
- What you need
- What is TinkerCAD?
- Let’s get Cute
- The Look and Feel of TinkerCAD
- Drag and Drop
- Start on our Cutie
- Eight Arms to Hold You
- Cute Over Reality
- That Special Smile
- Cutie is Complete
- Tinker On!
https://www.tinkercad.com – Web based; all you need to do is set up a free account
As names go, TinkerCAD is not very inviting to crafters. We don’t “tinker”, we make, and CAD just sounds out of place in this world. While it may look like a kids toy, with bright colors and lots of premade objects, it can create and modify some very complex objects. So, what is TinkerCAD to a crafter and how do you use it? In short a CAD program is to 3D objects something like Illustrator or Inkscape is to 2D drawings. It is a program that makes 3D things out of objects in the same way a 2D drawing program does with lines and curves.
Kawaii (pronounced kuh·wai·ee or kuh·wai·e·e) is the Japanese word for “cute”. It has worked its way into the English language and in most usages, it means “super cute” not just merely cute. A common aspect of kawaii is to anthropomorphize common objects like toast and cupcakes or animals and fantasy creatures. For this introduction we will create a kawaii octopus with a human face that I am call “Octo Cutie”.
TinkerCAD is a 3D creation app that is web based and runs in your browser. I usually work on desktop or laptop, but you can even use it on a tablet or phone if you like. You will need to sign up for a free account, but that’s all. No “trial” version or hidden fees down the line. The designs you create a kept in the cloud so you can reach them from any device at any time.
When you sign in to TinkerCAD, you will first see the Dashboard showing you the designs you have already created (or not if this is your first time). Click the “Create new design” to start working in TinkerCAD.
In the upper left-hand corner, you can see that TinkerCAD has assigned your work a silly made up name. You can change this at any time by clicking on it and editing the text. This is the same name that will be used on any files you save and files you export. I change the name as soon as I start a new project because I find the made-up names annoying. (but that’s me).
When you first enter the app you will be in 3D Design modes which is shown by the first option being highlighted. The option shown by the pick is a Minecraft-like mode and the third one is a Lego-like mode. Switching between them does not change the project, so if you are curious what you project looks like made of Lego blocks, click on the third icon in that row and take a peek.
The big blue area that looks like graph paper is the Workplane. This is your tabletop workspace. To start with it is 20 cm x 20 cm (7 ¾” x 7 ¾”). You can make it bigger, but we will not need to for this introduction. In fact, I have never needed to make it bigger for any of my projects, but your needs may vary.
In the upper left is the view cube. This shows you what view you how you are currently looking at the objects on the Workplane. Unlike paint and drawing programs, you can move, behind, under and over the things you create. Sometimes you want to be looking precisely from the front or looking exactly down on the top. The view cube lets you do this by clicking on different sides of it. You can also spin the cube around by click and dragging on the sides. You will see the Workplane and all the things on it move in the same way as the cube.
Unlike most drawing programs where you click on a tool in the tool palette and use it, in TinkerCAD you drag things from the collection of objects on the right onto the Workplane. Each object comes in at an initial size that you can then change. Some objects have no options, like the “Half Sphere” and others have a few like the “Polygon”. In other CAD programs, these basic objects are called “primitives” and are usually limited to basic geometric shapes (boxes, spheres, cones, etc.) but TinkerCAD goes further and focuses on the kinds of objects you would have in real life. This makes the experience more like assembling something from parts you buy at a craft store than what an engineer would do.
First change the name of the project by clicking on the made-up name the project was assigned when it was created. I chose “OctoCutie” but to each their own. Next drag a “Half Sphere” on to the Workplane from the objects on the right. If you do not see “Half Sphere”, scroll down in the list until you find it. I suggest you drag it to the middle to make it easier to view and work around.
When you click on the half sphere some boxes and numbers will come up. If you click on one of the corners (circled in blue) you can change both the Width and Depth at the same time. If you click on the box that is circled in green you can change to height of the object.
Let’s make the half sphere 50 mm wide and 50 mm deep, and 30 mm tall. By default, TinkerCAD works in metric, but you can change that to inches if you like by clicking on the “Edit Grid” button in the bottom right of the screen.
Now you have the body of the cute octopus. If it is not the color you want on screen, click in the colored circle in the shape box to bring up some more choices.
To make the eight arms of the octopus we’ll drag out eight more half spheres and space them around the body. They should overlap with the body so that it is all one solid object. Unlike making this physically (say out of foam balls) TinkerCAD will join these parts together when we get to the final step. Let me share two tricks with you to help place the arms of the octopus. The first is to click on the view cube where it says “Top” so that you are looking down on the body of the octopus. This makes it much easier to see what you are doing.
The second trick is for those amongst us (including myself) that are terrible at spacing things out. There is another shape on the right-hand side called a polygon. If you drag this on to the Workplane, and set it to have eight sides and you can use the points as a way of lining up the legs. I made my polygon 60 mm on each side and 1 mm tall. Then I selected both objects and used the align tool at the top right to center them on each other. From this point it is easy to drag a half sphere and drop it on each point. You don’t need to be exact; cuteness often comes from the quirky off-center bits. If you use the polygon as a guide you will want to delete it when you are done (or your octopus will have odd pointy bits).
We have a body and eight legs, but nothing that says “cute” yet. Eyes and a mouth will do that. For the eyes we will use spheres (balls) instead of half spheres because they will be sticking out of the body. And this is where it get’s a little tricky. When you drag a new object on to the Workplane TinkerCAD puts on the ground. But the eye needs to be up and over some. Since we are working in a two dimensional view of everything, “Up” and “Over” have to be two separate steps.
If you are still not in the top view, return there again. Looking down on the body we can better place the eyes. The problem is that when put the eyes where they should be horizontally and vertically, they will be hidden inside the body until we lift them up to the right height. What we need is to make the body invisible, so we know where to place the eyes. To do this click on the body and then click on the lightbulb icon in the shape box (not the one at the top of the screen). Now the body is hidden, but we have a good idea where it is based on the eight legs. While you are at it, make the front most “leg” invisible also. You will see why in a minute.
Now, drag a sphere out on to the Workplane. Click on one of the corners (red corner circled in red) and while holding down the SHIFT key, drag the corner to make the sphere smaller to 5mm. By holding down the SHIFT key, all three dimensions will change equally, keep the shape a perfect sphere.
After you have a 5mm sphere, click on the duplicate button in the top left. This makes a copy, but it is right on top of it. You can either click and drag it away or use the arrow keys to move it over. Now you should have two 5 mm spheres for eyes. Still looking down, move them into the body about where you would expect them to be if they were halfway up the height of the body. This may take some fiddling since we are not as used to manipulating objects in 3D space on our 2D screens. If you play a lot of 3D video games, this may come easier. I placed them where the front leg would be. Which is why I made it invisible as well.
Now switch to the front view using the view cube and select both eyes. Using the height arrow, circled in green below, move the eyes up 15mm.
To get the hidden items back, click on the lightbulb at the top of the screen and everything that was hidden will be shown again.
All that is left is to give your octocutie a nice smile. We’ll use the scribble tool which is next to the sphere on the right-hand side. Scribble is different than other shapes because you completely define it yourself by scribbling.
As soon as you drag a scribble on to the Workplane, you will be whisked away to the scribble screen.
With the blue dot you can draw anything you want. When you let up on the mouse, what you drew will be shown in 3D in the preview window. In this case all we need is a smile, but you can draw and erase what you created using the clear button on the left and click done when you are happy with what you have.
When the scribble comes in, it will be 10 mm tall, which is more than we need. I changed the height down to 3mm.
The problem now is that the smile is sticking up and we need it sticking out. To get a better view, click on “Right” on the view cube to see the smile from the right side. Now when you click on it you can see a double ended curved arrow (in the green circle pointed to by the red arrow) that allows is to rotate the smile. Rotate it 90 degrees and you have a smile. Now position it on the body like you did the eyes, using the same tricks of taking it in two steps and making things that are in your way invisible, then visible again. Just like the eyes, have some of the scribble in the body and some sticking out.
The mouth on our octopus, like most creatures, should be an “inny” and not and “outy”. To do this, click on the mouth scribble and click “Hole” in the shape box (red arrow). This tells TinkerCAD we want this to be a hole in the body when we are done. To finish, select everything and click on the group button (green arrow) at the top of the screen.
Cutie is Complete
I changed the color to make it a little easier to see that the eyes stick out and the mouth goes in. This is as far as this tutorial goes. If you have a 3D printer, you can export the file as STL and print it. You can also play with this shape more, maybe adding a hat, or ears. The choices are up to you.
You made it to the end and have a kawaii octocutie to show for it. You also learned how to create objects in TinkerCAD, manipulate them, hide them, and combine them with other objects to make more complex things. TinkerCAD will do a lot more, but for now you have a great start and I encourage you to have fun with it. Afterall, it’s free and fun.