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.

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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.