3D printing for kids-getting my son started

This last weekend was my son’s first foray into 3D. One of my concerns about the changes in the future is how everything will be available in a 3D digital environment. With the growth of 3D printers and virtual reality, I feel it is not too early for my son to try out some 3D software and kind of get his mind to understand how the process works. As with most things software related, one of the key things is to understand how the software communicates and if I can get him to understand some of that, it should make things tons easier.

We started with a fairly easy program called Sketchup. It allows you to draw basic shapes then “pull” them into a 3D figure by giving the 2D shape a height. The software was created by Google maybe 6 years ago and has since been bought by Trimble. It is available for free (there is also an upgraded version for a small price). You can find it here.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what to do to get started:

  1. Download it and install it
  2. Start the software by clicking on Sketchup 2016 (it has this icon) kohtob83zevb2ulvyd10_400x400
  3. Select a template-maybe pick english units so your stuff is in feet & inches
  4. When you get to the workspace/screen to draw on, press “R” for rectangle.
  5. Draw rectangle
  6. Press “P” for pull. Hover on the rectangle (it should be gray/dark blue) Then click on the rectangle and drag your mouse to a height you want.
  7. Play with this command for a bit. draw rectangles on that block you just did, and repeat the pull command (“P”)
A little background about my son. He likes Legos, building blocks, puzzles. He likes putting things together. He’s kind of grown tired of his Legos too so we need to switch him onto some new constructive and educational toy. He has an app called Toca Builders on the Ipad. This app is pretty fun, you control a bunch of goofy robots, each having their own capabilities, and you can build your mini city. My point is that my son is interested in assembling things, either in his imagination or tactile.

So back to Sketchup. Before I showed it to him, I spent a few minutes to draw something that resembled a building. Something easy and blocky and put in some things to manipulate easily so he can play with it.

I then asked him to check out what I did. I did not show him any commands other than the “pull” command which lets you stretch things out from a surface. I had a box drawn on a wall, and using the pull command we pushed it back so it became a recess on the wall and became a window. We messed around a bit. We pulled a similar box from the wall and created a volume that seemed like a bridge. It did not have to be a bridge, he was using his imagination. All I did was give him a scale of what structure I drew.

With the orbit command-or by holding down the mouse wheel, I spun the model about so he can see the other sides of the building. It helped him understand that this was an environment he can manipulate.

Seeing that you can do something cool gets kids really interested. The imagination jumps immediately to what the possibilities are. Obviously I need to keep them balanced and make sure they are not frustrated when he learns he cannot make that super cool metropolis model this morning.

So I put a mouse on (gave him some basic instructions on left click, scrolling and pushing down the wheel) and showed him some hot keys. Also showed him the tools so he can relate the icons to the functions. I then guided him to do some basic things:

  1. Press “R”
  2. Draw a rectangle
  3. Keep drawing on the surface plane (the ground, it is colored gray on the screen)
  4. I pointed out how the cursor shows you 3 lines that correspond to the 3D environment on the software. These are red, green and blue. Blue means you are giving an object dimension/height
  5. Press “P” and hover on the rectangle-it will highlight, meaning it is ready to be manipulated
  6. Drag the highlighted rectangle upwards to give it height
  7. Ta-da!

From there we just kept repeating the process. We did a bunch more boxes and buildings. We can tweak them later, right now it is more of a muscle memory on the mouse and making the tools/hot keys familiar. There was no pressure to get it right, the goal was just to experiment. Obviously do this when you have time to slow down and not be hurried to get results. This is a creative process and will need experimentation.

Here is a quick video about some basic tools

 

The next step from here for us, is to put together a small thingie-anything will work, limited only by his imagination. One for him and one for myself.   We will then take the sketchup model and print it using a 3D printer.   I am thinking that would be awesome-seeing something you made digitally, and then convert that to a gizmo you can touch and use. That would be super cool, a great project for me and my kiddo and it wont really cost us much. If anything the printing might cost me $20 🙂

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