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Where to begin?

How do I start 3D drawing.

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Cornish bodger06/02/2019 08:04:40
10 forum posts
12 photos
I'm interested in starting 3D design and would like to know what's the best place to start learning to be able to use CNC mills/lathes perhaps to eventually make it a career. I have a young family and full time work so can't afford to go college so if I can learn as much at home or spare time at work advice on learning material and programs to use would be great.
Brian H06/02/2019 08:16:41
2312 forum posts
112 photos

Well, there is the Alibre series in ME Workshop with the offer of the use of the program for a limited time or there is Fusion 360 which is free to model engineering amatures and there are some excellent tutorials by Lars Christiansen.


Martin King 206/02/2019 08:17:08
1014 forum posts
455 photos

Hi CB,

I also am learning 3D design and am finding it a rewarding experience if at times quite frustrating.

I recommend FUSION 3D which is free to private users and there is a wealth of online learning videos and instructional material. Initial concepts are easy to grasp.

The few (admittedly very simple) items that I have done in it have all turned out well when sent to a CNC or 3D print company.

Just my inexpert opinon!

Cheers, Martin

Andy Carruthers06/02/2019 08:40:52
317 forum posts
23 photos

YouTube - Free tutorials on a wealth of subjects

Udemy - Paid for self-paced courses, some are very inexpensive

Don't discount Tinkercad for ease of use, there is a Metric Gear tool to be found in the "Shape Generator" section which is very useful indeed - I just printed a 40T Mod 1 20PA gear (all these are configurable) to match against my WM180 backset gear

Martin King 206/02/2019 08:45:05
1014 forum posts
455 photos

+1 for the Lars Christiansen videos on FUSION 360, excellent!


David Jupp06/02/2019 09:07:58
838 forum posts
17 photos

Best place to start is to find a package which you can work with - but remember it may not be what you end up using if you get a job in the field. The principles are widely shared across many of the available packages, but the detail of how they are implemented will vary. Once you build some basic skills, look at others' work to pick up the tips and tricks of efficient design.

Be aware of some broad distinctions ;-

Solid Modelling vs. Surface Modelling , relates to basic approach of how objects are defined (there are some packages which offer both approaches, but some are tied to solids only for example).

History based vs. non-historical ;- History based is more common.

You started by mentioning 3D Design but them jumped to using CNC machines, a related but distinct field. For CNC machining you need a basic understanding of G-code, then learn about or use CAM software. I've found CNCcookbook a good starting place.

Cornish bodger06/02/2019 09:22:29
10 forum posts
12 photos
Thanks all for the really quick responses I'll get looking into these programmes and learning sources. Back to David Jupp is this your profession and do you just deal with a certain type of design?
Neil Wyatt06/02/2019 10:11:28
19075 forum posts
736 photos
80 articles

Hi CB,

May I suggest you take a look at this page? It has details of the free six-month Alibre Atom3D licence and the accompanying tutorial series in MEW:

There is also a support thread here:

Learning CAD with Alibre Atom 3D


Gary Wooding06/02/2019 10:13:45
993 forum posts
254 photos

I also recommend learning Fusion 360. Not just because it's totally free for students, hobbyists, etc, but because it's a fully fledged industrial strength product that includes CAM and simulation facilities. The biggest problem with F360 is that there is no user manual and the on-line documentation is rather poor. Having said that, there is a wealth of excellent tutorials on the web.

The first tutorials I looked at were from the early days of a series called Fusion Fridays by NYC CNC ***LINK***. The later ones started concentrating on CNC, so I then stopped. I also recommend the LIVELARS series ***LINK*** as many others will suggest.

I then found an excellent source from Autodesk Community Philippines entitled Fusion 360 Monthly Challenge. Each challenge takes the form of a relatively simple bite-sized model that requires the use of one or more interesting and useful techniques. The video series are the solutions, which are presented in a very full and easy to understand manner, with each action described and justified. Although it appears that you should register and take the monthly challenge, that is not necessary. Just watch whichever ones are of interest. ***LINK***

One point I must stress is that all CAD programs are large, complicated pieces of software that cannot be mastered in a week or two. There is no such thing as a CAD system in which you can become proficient in weeks; you must expect to spend several (many?) months to do that. If you don't accept this from the start you are likely to get despondent and give up. Persevere and you will reap great benefits.

Finally, I found that the very best way of learning a CAD package is to use it to construct your own project, and use the on-line material to help you when you get stuck. If you decide to use Fusion, then you should register (it's free) on the Autodesk forums, where you are sure to find an expect to solve your problem..


Edited By Gary Wooding on 06/02/2019 10:20:53

SillyOldDuffer06/02/2019 10:53:00
8859 forum posts
1994 photos

Be a little wary of what old chaps recommend because the world changes! My career was spent in and around computing. When I started as a programmer it was simple: COBOL or FORTRAN. Later it got much more complicated, dBase2, C, perl, PHP, C++, 4GLs, and software generators. Academia favoured teaching languages, notably BASIC and PASCAL that were almost unknown in commerce. Later learning on BASIC was seen by employers as a positive disadvantage because the transitional form of the language is stuffed with ideas that have to be unlearned and it encourages bad habits. 10 years after that, and improved versions of BASIC and PASCAL were in demand. This made looking for work 'interesting', and I think CAD/CAM is a similar problem.

My point is that when looking to develop skills you have to keep an eye on what the job market wants and where it's likely to go in future. What Model Engineers like and prefer may not be a good guide.

I suggest you start by analysing as many job adverts as you can because they give you a good idea what employers are looking for at the moment, what they pay, and of course, where the jobs are.

For example, I did a quick check of one site (TotalJobs) - the sample is too small to be representative but:

  • More CAM jobs than CAD are advertised.
  • CAD jobs are tend to be associated with Estimating, and/or Sheet Metal work, and wider responsibilities including Supervision, and are higher paid.
  • CAM jobs mention FANUC most, also Acrumatic, ISO, Hurco, Heidenham, Mazak, Prototrak, Alpha-CAM and One-CNC. I suspect these tools are all G-Code related, and further research would be needed to prove that. FANUC is (I think) almost industry standard, but knowing what the alternatives are and something of them is likely to go down well at a job interview - it shows you take an intelligent interest. Keeping an open mind about tools suggests you might cope better with change than others.
  • Of the CAD tools mentioned, Solidworks is called for most often, but also Vero, Radan and AutoCAD. (I haven't read all the job adverts,)
  • Not all the jobs specify a particular tool, some ask only or experience in the area.
  • Worth checking what other skills or competencies the adverts ask for in addition to the tools. For example, at least two of the higher paid CAD posts involve managing Health and Safety on the work-floor as well as driving a software in an office.

Breaking into a job market can be difficult. The happy days when employers took on inexperienced youths as apprentices and took a few years to make them useful have pretty much gone. Now the best way to get a job is to have previous experience, ideally with a proven track-record. There is a way in though - when an employer can't find ideal candidates he will drop his requirements. Say you want to recruit an experienced Alibre practitioner and no-one applies. But you do have an keen chap who has done the MEW course and thoroughly practiced with the product, perhaps turning up with a portfolio showing what he's done. There's a good chance they'll take you on. And, even if they're not an Alibre shop, because the principles of 3D CAD is 'similar', they might even take the risk and retrain you in their preferred package. Likewise with CAM software - knowing about G-code is an entry to most of them.

Personally, I'm not following the Alibre offer in MEW because I'm already into the 'free' version of Fusion 360. It's from the AutoCAD stable and the business model appears to be using a free version to encourage large numbers of people to learn the product (which might change employer preferences in the event that Fusion360 trained people are easier to recruit) and also to improve the product by allowing many different people to test it and suggest improvements. Will it remain 'free' forever - dunno.

Good luck


Rik Shaw06/02/2019 12:18:08
1484 forum posts
398 photos

Dave - At 72 I am not looking for a job CAD/CAMish but if were I would have read your post with great interest. Very informative and well constructed - well done!


Russell Eberhardt13/02/2019 09:52:28
2751 forum posts
86 photos
Posted by Gary Wooding on 06/02/2019 10:13:45:

The biggest problem with F360 is that there is no user manual and the on-line documentation is rather poor.

There are a series of PDF tutorials available from Autodesk here.


Gary Wooding14/02/2019 11:00:50
993 forum posts
254 photos
Posted by Russell Eberhardt on 13/02/2019 09:52:28:
Posted by Gary Wooding on 06/02/2019 10:13:45:

The biggest problem with F360 is that there is no user manual and the on-line documentation is rather poor.

There are a series of PDF tutorials available from Autodesk here.


The series are OK-ish, being a slightly annotated series of screenshots from the video tutorials, but definitely not a real substitute for a purpose written manual. The "help" data available from the actual program is also (in my opinion) completely inadequate if you are trying to find how to find and use the various options available in any the numerous commands.

I'm certainly not knocking the actual program, which really is an astonishingly powerful and versatile piece of software.The paucity of the documentation is simply a reflection of the constantly evolving system - there are (free) updates automatically installed every few weeks.

I've used Solidworks at a friends house, and regretted I could never justify the price, but F360 is, in my opinion, every bit as good (better in some respects) - and it's free.

Russell Eberhardt15/02/2019 09:07:00
2751 forum posts
86 photos
Posted by Gary Wooding on 14/02/2019 11:00:50:I've used Solidworks at a friends house, and regretted I could never justify the price, but F360 is, in my opinion, every bit as good (better in some respects) - and it's free.

I used Solidworks while employed but now, being retired, I use Fusion 360 which is in some respects better. However for quick small parts I use Onshape as it works under Linux as well as Windoze.


Involute Curve15/02/2019 10:17:46
337 forum posts
107 photos

A good starting position would be to identify the field you are most passionate about, Design or CNC machining, and concentrate on learning software that lends itself to that area of interest, initially I think Design would be the least expensive route, and Fusion 360 is as easy enough to learn, although I personally don't like cloud based solutions.

At work we use Siemens NX and Solidworks, we also use Delcam's Cam software.

You could move onto CNC programming and Cam later on, and if you can handle the boredom become a CNC operator. smiley

Also decide which industry

Injection moulded products design, this could be anything from a clothes pegs to a wheely bin

Consumer product design.

Automotive components.

Motorcycle components.

Cycling components.

Light Aircraft parts.

Offshore industry.

I list the above because I personally work in them all, but I started out in CNC making motorcycle parts at home.


HOWARDT15/02/2019 12:49:34
932 forum posts
39 photos

3D CAD and CNC skills do not necessarily go together in the manufacturing world. You are either a CAD designer with all the theoretical skills and hopefully some machine shop skills or you are a CNC programmer/operator with the capability to read a drawing, which is 2 dimensional, or interpret a 3D model.

If you just want to work in your own workshop and design you own parts then the world is you oyster, so long as you have deep pockets. Moving from a free 3D CAD package to a professional licensed one runs to thousands a year in licence subscription. Then you need a CAM package that will create code for the selected machine.

Then again if you are a model maker, as most are here, with an interest in modelling and machining then you learn with a free 3D CAD package and later learn the machining side when you have a CNC machine. It would be a mistake to try to learn the two things together, programme errors on cnc cutting machines can prove costly in both tools and spindles.

For me I use Fusion 360, only because I am a life long Autodesk user, and use manual machines to produce parts. Would I like to have a small CNC machine to program, yes, but only for the parts which are more than two off. At the moment producing ten locomotive wheels from 110mm bar makes me wish I had CNC.

Ivan Winters09/06/2019 19:18:58
11 forum posts
1 photos

I have looked at three CAD programs so far:

I started with FreeCad. I couldn't even get into the opening screen to try a 2D sketch (these are the base from which all 3D assemblies are created). Looked at a tutorial but it didn't explain how to start getting the basics done before using the fancy tools the tutorial was going on about. The manual was a few pages of a wikimanual style sheet which was telling me about all the powerful features but nothing about the basics.I also tried to log onto their forum. Was told that I had to fill in an online form and would be sent a forum registration code. Tried three times - no code received. BTW if you can get FreeCad to work it includes a CAM module to create G-code for your CNC machines.

Then looked at Alibre. This is a long standing industry favourite. You can go on to forum threads talking about all sorts of high level programs and their is always someone coming on with a comment on the lines of 'I have been using Alibre 20 years. and it meets all my needs'. It is available on a 6 month trial from MEW or Bob Warfield's cnccookbook blog. In addition to the info in MEW their are tutorials and a very well laid out exercise manual directly linked to the opening screen. There is a very friendly helpful users forum for Alibre - the login key was sent to me with the program licence key. A very professional package. I found myself using the program within an hour.

Alibre Atom3d is officially £199 when the trial period ends but I understand persons using the 6 month offer have already had a special offer price of £165 emailed to them by a UK distributor..(Low prices for good quality CAD programs).

Then there is Fusion 360. It is free, has a massive base of tuturials etc. One odd thing is that your drawings are saved on the 'cloud'. When I tried to open the opening screen I couldn't ! I started on a tutorial and within minutes it was working very easily. There are some excellent keyboard shortcuts to save time doing regular activities. Like FreeCad it can also generate G-code for your machines.


paul rayner09/06/2019 20:55:55
182 forum posts
46 photos

Hello Ivan

Iv'e been following this and another post with some interest as I'm considering having a "dabble" myself.

with regards to Fusion 360 I know it's free for hobby users but for how long? Admittedly I have not contacted them but I just get the sneaky feeling it's just for 12 months?

Also you say that drawings are saved in the cloud. which I didn't know, does this mean you cannot save it elsewhere eg usb stick?

Is it possible to load it onto a computer not connected to the internet?

Iv'e been watching Paul McWhorter on the tube and i'm leaning towards Fusion 360 it seems doable to mesurprise

Hope you don't mind me asking



Perko710/06/2019 08:08:43
427 forum posts
33 photos

I already have AutoCad 2016 which I use for 2D drafting but it also has a 3D component which I have seen others use quite competently at my previous employment (alas I had moved away from CAD work by that time). Does anyone in this forum use AutoCad 3D? I've tried a couple of simple things but did not get very far.

Brian H10/06/2019 08:20:09
2312 forum posts
112 photos

(Quote )Also you say that drawings are saved in the cloud. which I didn't know, does this mean you cannot save it elsewhere eg usb stick?

Fusion 360 designs are saved to the cloud but can also be saved on your PC (and presumably on a stick)


Edited By Brian H on 10/06/2019 08:21:41

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