I do the three-dimensional printing because I enjoy the creative process of the design. Learning how to use the printer is the same as using any tool. The printer is not creative. It’s a tool. The artist’s paint brush does not create art. It simply carries the paint to the canvas.

The 3D printer is the same. It is a tool that melts plastic and applies it to the build table. It has no control of the Item design it is making if the design is within the capabilities of the tool.

A carpenter does not use a saw to drive a nail.

For me, the creative juices start to flow even before I sit down at the computer. I use a sketch pad to hand draw my ideas and to indicate (label) certain dimensions I consider using. I don’t go into a lot of detail with my sketches. Some creative folks like a lot of detail in their sketch. Not me. There is no rule. Whatever works and makes sense for each creation.

I was trained in mechanical layout drawing with my dad. Laying out HVAC duct systems when I was a young teenager. He would explain where the pipes would go, and I sketched the 3D shop drawings for use in our sheet metal shop production.

I also received formal drafting training (called mechanical drawing) in my freshman year of college. The drawings were mostly machine parts, not architectural. This was well before CAD was invented.

I never saw much CAD until I started working for major (large) corporations after age 40. That’s 37 years ago as I write this.

I loved the start of the personal computer age. I was a very early pioneer there. It took a few years, maybe ten or so. I started to see a really good use for the personal computer in doing the design drawings electronically, rather than pencil and then inking. Printers for computers were really the turning point and 2.5 axis drawing boards driven by the computer.

I started using a personal CAD system when I built my hobby machine tool shop, Most of my machines were manual, operated by hand wheels. But I soon wanted a CNC (computer numeric controlled) milling machine.  I built my first one from scratch.

To create the code for the CNC (called gcode) the very early pioneers would write the instruction by hand. The code was very basic and didn’t include a lot of fancy shaping.

The next iteration was called CAM computer assisted machining. Computers generated the gcode directly from the CAD drawings with the CAM software. Often called CAD/CAM as they work together. Then the gcode output from the CAM became the input for the CNC control.

3D printing works in much the same way. The computer and CAD are used to create the 3D image that will be printed. Instead of CAM a “slicer” software reads the 3D image and slices into layers and travel paths for the 3D printer.

All this hardware and multiple systems are truly ultra interesting to me. I built many of the components from scratch as I am highly interested in all things electronic and mechanical. I greatly enjoyed developing my own hardware and control systems.

Now I have settled into the creative/artistic stage of designing and producing the stuff that becomes the reason for using all the technology and hardware.

Getting product ideas out of my imagination and into the computer CAD drawings is what I now enjoy the most. The printed item output is what I call the reward for all the design effort.

My computers and printers are all just the tools that are automated production labor. Load the print file and let the machine run for hours. I am working on another CAD drawing.

I have used and enjoyed quite a few CAD software programs. So many I don’t want to name them all. Doing that is more like boasting or bragging. Thay are just water over the dam at this point.

I have used the big-name AutoCAD made by Autodesk. Starting with 2D AutoCAD back in my HVAC career days. Today I still use AutoCAD F360, a 3D CAD. Nice, but becoming more costly than I wish for use in a hobby. They have a “Personal Use” edition and I have moved to that. It’s no cost but its continued availability is a worry.

I have another commercial CAD called Rhinoceros (yes, really) published by Robert Macneel, Asc.  that I have used since version 3 or 4. I have just upgraded to version 8. Upgrades appear every couple of years. Normally just called Rhino. It is the CAD I used for all my machine shop projects, as it could be paired with a nice RhinoCAM plug-in CAM program to generate gcode..

With 3D printing catching my interest, I put Rhino aside for a few years and was using Fusion 360 for all my designs. F360 saves the files in a cloud server and they do not reside in the local system unless I manually save them. I recently downloaded over 2000 CAD files to my personal storage out of the cloud.

F360 is also a subscription and depends on an internet connection. Stop paying the toll and everything is lost.

I have decided to get re-involved with Rhino. It is a perpetual license meaning buy once and use forever. If it does what one wants, no requirement to upgrade to the next version. BUT… you can upgrade from any old version to the newest if you want. The cost is less than a new license.

It is a professional grade 3D CAD and somewhat complex. Since my enjoyment is in using CAD and creating, I am willing to re-learn what I have forgotten and also learn what is new and/or has been improved.  So I bought the upgrade at the lowest price.

All files are stored locally with Rhino and not in the remote internet cloud servers. No one can read or steal my work. You can be sure cloud servers are not totally private. They are great if your need is to share your work.

I have designed and printed several new Rhino projects already. It is a bit slower and harder than the F360 CAD that helped me create over 2000 files. I think I will get faster and more adept as I continue to use Rhino. It does kind of grow on you and it is already getting easier. Like the “old days”.

Recommended for 3D printing but may not be everyone’s first choice. The others available should be considered by beginners. I suggest one needs to have a great passion for CAD with as many controls and variables that exist in Rhino. It’s a great tool for those who can dance with the Rhinoceros! Ha!