Microsofts 3D Builder vs. Tinkercad: Which is best for you?

While both programs do similar things, one is not like the other.

While there are many different websites where you can download 3d models for your 3d printer — places like Thingiverse and Cults 3D offer some of the best around — sometimes you really need to make the object yourself.

While Tinkercad, an online 3D model builder from Autodesk has been around for several years now, Microsoft recently released 3D Builder in their Windows 10 Fall Creators Update to be a direct competitor and to perhaps give you other choices in the market. Which one is better? Which one is easier? We break it down for you here.

How easy is it to learn?

Like most software that comes pre-packaged with Microsoft Windows, there is very little in the way of tutorials or explanation of how to get it to work. There could be a powerful tool in there somewhere but it will take a lot of deep dives into the world of YouTube to find it out.

I've spent a lot of time working through 3D Builder without going to YouTube and while I can use it in the most basic ways to make complex systems, it is still hard going. Each action in the program has a pop up to help you understand what it does, but it is so basic it doesn't help.

Tinkercad, however, has been designed from the ground up to allow adults and even children to create complex shapes as soon as possible. To that end, the website has a vast tutorial system for every aspect of the site. From simple plans on how to make shapes and holes, to complex systems where you can build an entire space station.

Like 3D Builder, the user interface itself offers very little in the way of help when you rollover tools, something I would like to see improved, but if you use the lessons laid out for you then Tinkercad becomes a potent tool for the 3D design beginner.

Design and Features

Being a browser-based program, Tinkercad has some limitations to what it can do compared to a fully downloaded program. While there is a lot that can be done with primitives — primitives are simple shapes, squares and spheres and the like — there is a limit to the complexity of the shape you can create without being able to sculpt or edit specific parts. To combat this Tinkercad created generators that allows you to search for, and use, custom coded shapes that others have made.

I love the design of Tinkercad. It was the first program I used to make models and the primary colors stand out to me and make learning a little more fun. The designing workspace is well laid out with important tools in easy reach, things, like making holes and moving workplanes, become so important you need them right at the top all the time.

While Tinkercad is great for designing basic 3D models it sometimes lacks in editing models that you already have. In 3D printing, there are often times when you need to take an existing model and cut it, if your print bed is too small for the model, or reduce the complexity of the file, so it prints faster, or with fewer errors. This is where 3D builder really shines.

While the actual design part of 3D builder leaves a lot to be desired the tools to edit models you have already made are in-depth and hugely helpful. A little while ago Microsoft bought the Netfabb service that has helped them create a powerful set of repair tools for 3D models. I now use 3D builder on all my models to check for errors and to repair or ready them for the physical act of 3D printing.

The design of 3D Builder is somewhat lacking. It's extremely simple layout may appeal to some but for me, it just feels drab, like an office with no windows, or paintings, or a door. Just you in your beige cubicle forever. It's not really conducive to making good art. Microsoft is often hit and miss when it comes to aesthetic design and 3D builder is definitely a miss.

More: Contour Design's Unimouse is a perfect fit for 3D designers

Which should I use then?

When looking at these two programs I tried to line them up with what they are supposed to be used for but it wasn't as easy as it sounds. 3D Builder sounds like it's designed to build 3D things but the more I used it the more I found it wasn't very good at it. The design tools are very underpowered and I found I ended up only using it for editing existing models, most of which I made on Tinkercad!

There is also a lot more inside Tinkercad — You can create Arduino circuits using it as well as Minecraft models that you can export into the game — but they are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that Tinkercad is a far more well rounded and powerful tool than 3D Builder though as Windows 10 does come with the 3D builder built in it is worth getting to know even if it is just for it's editing tools.

James built his first PC when he was 13 and has never looked back. He can be found on Windows Central, usually in the corner where all the 3D printers are, or huddled around the Xbox playing the latest games.

9 Comments
  • I believe your to build in paint 3d and edit for print in 3d builder. 3d builder also has a phone 3d scanner feature like the one ms showed off on the hp. Infact I scanned a stop sign with my hp yesterday to try out the new build of 3d builder which btw is a real Uwp. Or full Uwp. so to sum up paint 3d to create and export
    Builder to edit and scan and print. Sort of counter intuitive. And also should be a single powerful app.
  • I will definitely check the 3d scanner app idea put thanks. That should be fun.
  • I will definitely be checking that out thanks.
  • There appears to be Tinkercad in the Microsoft Store. So the limitations of a browser-based application may not apply.
  • I will have to check that out. It looks official but I want to make sure before recommending it.
  • So I checked it out and it is just the website inside an app from Autodesk. It operates the exact same way.
  • Great timing! I just started learning last week for a project I'm working on. Strangely, I feel the opposite when it comes to interfaces...I find 3D Builder professional and comfortable to use, whereas Tinkercad is a bit garish and in your face. That said, I'm still trying to wrap my brain around a couple concepts, so I'm going to go back and forth a bit. Right now, the biggest problem with Builder is that measuring is a weird, voodoo science so far. Tinkercad certainly makes that easier. I'm going to keep working, and may, in time, mirror your preferences. Thanks for the article!
  • Just get Fusion 360. The main YouTube 3D printing channels have also used 3D Builder to edit/fix models they downloaded. I like the 3D Viewer app a lot more. Files aren't always well labeled, and the viewer app is a lot easier/faster to use than importing an object into a slicer.
  • I love Fusion 360 but sometimes it's just too complicated. I teach kids Tinkercad first then move to 360.