3D printing is able to produce objects not possible with conventional manufacturing but before being able to 3D print the part, it first needs to be designed. Discussing the pros and cons of 3D design software can fill a whole library, but today I would like to talk about a professional software package available featuring Rhino and Grasshopper. This is actually 2 pieces of software but because they work so well together, sometimes they are considered as one.
What is interesting about Rhino and Grasshopper? Well, sometimes you see objects on the web or at 3D fairs and you think how did they ever create and print that? Many of these objects with this “wow” factor were most probably created in Rhino and Grasshopper. So does it make sense to rush out and learn Rhino and Grasshopper? Not so fast! Both tools are professional grade software, meaning a full licence can cost around 1200 Euros. The learning curve on the software is steep, meaning that after 60-90 hours of training you will be able to produce some designs but being able to produce by yourself complex designs will take more time.
Rhino starts with 4 screens or views. At the start it can be dis-orienting to have so many views when you move the cursor so double-clicking on one view will limit the screen to one view which can be helpful when starting. Rhino relies on icons but also commands that you can type in. To draw basic shapes and get started takes a few minutes but anything more than this will take some time to learn.
What makes the software suite more powerful is the use of grasshopper. Grasshopper has commands as boxes that you connect to one another and allow direct manipulation of the objects created in Rhino. This allows you to create some special effects and helps to create that “wow” effect. Many of the commands or boxes in grasshopper take some time to understand. The best way to learn is to follow a design created in Rhino and Grasshopper in a youtube video and create it based on the video. Then try modifying some of the parameters and connectors and see what happens. Clicking on the function’s box also provides some information about its purpose.
Fortunately, a 3 month trial version is available on the web. This together with the basic tutorials that come with the software together with online learning via youtube mean that you can start to produce some basic designs from youtube videos within a couple of hours.
In summary, if you want to produce some of the cool 3D prints that you have seen, giving Rhino and Grasshopper a try makes sense. Also, if you are looking at a job as a 3D designer, these tools will look good on your CV. Otherwise, if you want to stick to more basic objects other free 3D design software is available which is much simpler to use.