CAD stands for Computer Aided Design. There are many different types of CAD programs, all with different uses, whether it be for 3-D Modeling, electrical schematics, or even architecture. Depending on it’s use case, the CAD program is programmed to simulate real world physics, and spacial limitations.
Recently, I was looking for an electromechanical CAD. I wanted software that allowed designing both a circuit schematic and PCB, as well as modeling the enclosure around it. I wanted a complete solution that could simulate an entire end product, including movable parts.
All this is to say I didn’t find what I was looking for. However, in my search, I did find something very interesting: Tinkercad. Tinkercad is a free application from Autodesk, the company behind some very famous CAD programs such as AutoCAD. Tinkercad is a CAD program geared towards beginners. It features three main applications modeling, circuit design, and code block.
Tinkercad is completely web based. Therefore, it doesn’t require any installation, and can be run on most modern laptops and desktop computers with an active internet connection.
After completing the Tinkercad sign up, as a new user, you’re first walked through a series of tutorials. These can be stopped and resumed at any time, as well as repeated later.
If you still need inspiration, check out the gallery. Here, other users have submitted some truly creative works. These user-submitted creations are ready to be 3-D printed right away.
The modeling application allows users to create a 3-D design in virtual space. Shapes can be created and grouped to build amazing creations. Tinkercad features many pre-made basic shapes and text characters to assist with building. These can be manipulated by stretching, growing, or shrinking shapes. Custom shapes can be made with the scribble tool. Users can even use one shape as a stencil to cut a out a piece of another shape. After the design is finished, it can be exported in multiple formats, to be 3-D printed. The finished model can also be used as a part in another model. So if you create a cute little penguin and save it as a part, it’s easy to start a new model, and make an army of penguins.
Personally, I believe the circuit design application is where Tinycad really shines. It allows users to easily prototype electric and electronic circuits. The circuit application includes many common components such as resistors, LEDs, and switches. It even features an Arduino development board, and digital display. The Arduino can be programmed using the same sketch files used to program a physical Arduino. Finished circuits can be exported to EAGLE format for use with other circuit or PCB design programs. I’ll definitely be using this to test my circuits in the future. Only after I verify everything will work, will I order physical components from AliExpress.
The Codeblocks module is an interesting new feature. It is similar to the modeling application, but allows the users to create models programmably. Instead of dragging and dropping shapes and manipulating them manually, Pre-made code segments are connected together, and variables changed, in order to instruction the construction of shapes. Potentially this could help in making designs faster or more accurate placement, but your mileage may vary.
As stated earlier, Tinkercad is web based, and has no download. This may not be an issue to most, but if you don’t currently have an active internet connection, your files cannot be opened for editing.
Because Tinkercad is aimed at beginners, it’s meant to be simple, user-friendly, and intuitive. As such, it lacks many features that other fully-featured professional CAD programs have.
The workplane is limited to a 200mm x 200mm space. Shapes have a minimum size of 0.01mm x 0.01mm x 0.01mm. Rotational angles are limited at 0.01 degrees. This should be sufficient for most users, but the lack of precision is something to note. 3-D modeling doesn’t feature motion simulation outside of codeblocks.
My only thing to say against the circuits portion is that the Arduino libraries are limited to the pre-established set of most used libraries. You can’t add some random library you found on GitHub.
The codeblocks section is still new. Maybe there are further plans or it, but I don’t quite understand it’s purpose.
Tinkercad is a free beginner CAD program, from the people behind AutoCAD. For simple designs, it is a fantastic tool. Those that have CAD experience, may need a more fully featured product. However, for those that have little or no experience with 3D modeling or circuit design, I highly recommend trying Tinycad.