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To create stuff using 3D printers

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I wanted to use 3D CAD to precisely plan out my van build and create stuff using 3D printers.

NOTE: Content here are my personal opinions, and not intended to represent any employer (past or present). “PROTIP:” here highlight information I haven’t seen elsewhere on the internet because it is hard-won, little-know but significant facts based on my personal research and experience.

CAD Formats

A large number of vendors have developed design products to meet the demands of both the horizontal and vertical industries.

Dedicated CAD packages for mechanical design, civil and industrial buildings, architecture, infrastructure, and GIS were developed.

There are 50 CAD file formats on the market.

  • STL and OBJ for 3D printing

  • formats suitable for model sharing like STEP, IGES, and DWG.



Software to choose

Product $/year Notes
Onshape free browser-based
Blender free  
SolidWorks free  
SketchUp $119  
Autodesk Fusion 360 $495 30-day trial
AutoCAD $2,340  




https://www.onshape.com/ Onshape (free for public and educational use)

Onshape is a free browser-based CAD program that has much of the functionality of installed applications like Fusion360 and SolidWorks.

But it’s also for those who are more seasoned designers. Onshape is a pay-as-you-use alternative, no license or upgrade fees, no additional or hidden costs, a more flexible financial plan, and a relaxed CapEx balance.

Onshape is the first and only full-cloud 3D CAD system that lets everyone on a design team work together using any web browser, phone, or tablet. It was built with today’s engineers, designers and manufacturers in mind, giving them secure and simultaneous access to a single master version of their CAD data without the hassle of software licenses or copying files.

https://www.makerbot.com/stories/3d-printing-education/educational-3d-design-apps/ Onshape is a full-cloud 3D CAD system that allows students on a design team to work together using a web browser, phone, or tablet. Typically a paid service, Onshape offers free professional level 3D CAD to students and teachers through its Education plan. “It’s one of the most powerful 3D modeling programs available online. Its very similar to Solidworks, which is a professional program,” Lyttle explains. Onshape uses in-program tutorials to give students a thorough understanding of all the options they have to build out models. It has a version control feature to ensure that the latest version of your work is always saved. It’s also compatible with other CAD systems, so you can import work from other programs and continue to work on it in Onshape. This program includes everything you need to begin exploring professional 3D design work.

https://www.simscale.com/blog/2015/12/introducing-simscale-connector-app-for-onshape/ Onshape and SimScale Connector App provides a complete design workflow―CAD design, meshing, simulation, and results―right in the web browser.

https://www.simscale.com/ is a cloud-based 3D simulation platform enables designers to optimize their product designs in a virtual environment instead of using a costly physical prototyping process.

Blender (free)

Blender is fully open-sourced with a massive selection of different tools and a sizable community to contribute additional plug-ins and techniques. Its impressive capabilities also means that blender has among the steepest learning curves of any 3D modelling program. Its toolset and community is unparalleled and this makes it a top pick for both hobbyists and professional users.

Autodesk Fusion 360

Fusion360 is a full featured CAD/CAM suite meaning that it can be used both for 3D design and for generating things like toolpaths for CNC machines.

The free hobbyist version has all of the capabilities of the paid professional version and is an excellent option for those using a variety of digital manufacturing techniques.


Integrated CAD, CAM, CAE, and PCB software. Fusion 360 unifies design, engineering, electronics, and manufacturing into a single software platform.



  1. https://www.sketchup.com/ SketchUp: 3D Modeling for Everyone

    SketchUp was originally developed by Google. In 2012, Google sold the product to Trimble.

  2. It’s free to view 3D models

  3. Other plans:

    To edit models on the web, SketchUP Shop for $119/year.

    To edit models locally with a downloaded app on your laptop, SketchUp Pro is $299/year.

  4. https://3dwarehouse.sketchup.com/collection/b4cf1a0e-3eb2-4f4c-bf09-23923ce8f158/Van-Layouts?sortBy=modifyTime%20DESC&searchTab=model&hl=en 3D Van models in SketchUp format.

  5. View this model to see Greg Vergoe’s Mercedes Sprinter LWB panel van conversion into a Off Grid Camper Van with rear garage for 2 racing bikes. A permanent king size double bed is over the garage.

    VIDEO: How to draw your Camper Van in SketchUp Make, from scratch.

    VIDEO shows use of SketchUp from scratch shows making components.

    His parts list on Dropbox totals 15,158 UK pounds (including tools), all in metric from european suppliers.

    Greg shared videos of his entire build on his YouTube channel.

    It ran from the first video on 3 Sep 2017 to tour on 14 Jun 2019. What Would I Do Differently? on 14 Jul 2019 talks about the quiet Max Fan (from AirExcel) which have a motor with remote. Unbox and install.

    Math and tiltable solar panels on the roof to power all electrical appliances.

    • A wet room with shower and flushing toilet with cartridge.
    • A kitchen with sink/ double burner gas hob combo
    • electric fridge.
    • Bench seating which will pull out and form another double bed so the van could sleep 4 people.
    • VIDEO: Sealed compartment with external fill of LPG autogas for stove, water heat. With remote on/off switch. and leak drop-out on floor.

  6. Professors in the Department of Civil Engineering at the National Taiwan University developed several courses on Coursera:

Professor Shang-Hsien Patrick Hshieh: BIM = Building Information Modeling using Autodesk Revit

BIM app including clash detection, quantity takeoff, and 4D simulation.

Other tutorials:


http://my.solidworks.com/ SolidWorks is the most popular option among professional engineers though can come with a hefty price tag depending on the configuration. With the most full-featured design toolset, an expansive texture library, and a wide variety of different plug-ins, this is the go to for many individuals and companies working on professional 3D modelling.

SolidWorks Premium the ‘industry standard for 3D product development’, it’s easy to see why the software has made our list. SolidWorks offers mechanical CAD, design validation, product data management, design communication, and CAD productivity tools in one single package.

SOLIDWORKS is the dominant 3D CAD platform in the market. The platform’s publisher, Dassault Systèmes, estimates that there are 3,246,750 SOLIDWORKS users on the planet, which would partially explain the active online community.

Join the EAA for $40 a year, and get a free subscription to Solidworks Education edition included: https://www.eaa.org/en/eaa/eaa-chapters/chaptergram-articles/2016-09-new-eaa-member-benefit-free-solidworks

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRmLnVaHsSAH0HkXfeoxG6w SolidWorksTutorials With Aryan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wlEKAwpUX4 Ultimate SolidWorks Tutorial 2021 for Beginners (In depth explanation) Part 2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtgmGkEPXs8 2017 Ultimate SolidWorks Tutorial for Absolute Beginners- Step-By-Step

TurboCAD is $100


with TurboCAD Pro Platinum you can create 3D models using parametric or direct modeling features. You can also use some advanced surfacing features to add curves and deform your 3D model to your specifications.


CorelCAD 2019 Design and Drafting Software for PC/Mac $699

3DSMax (paid)

3DSMax is developed by Autodesk and a top pick for those working in both the product design and animation industries. Its toolset competes with that of Blender and is developed by the full time and experienced team at Autodesk. With professional texture libraries and rendering tools like Vray, 3DSMax is a top pick for industry professionals working on polished products and visualizations.


https://www.tinkercad.com/ is a 3D tool created for young students.

“Tinkercad is a free, easy-to-use web app that equips the next generation of designers and engineers with the foundational skills for innovation: 3D design, electronics, and coding!”

It is from Autodesk, the maker of AutoCAD for professionals.

“The tutorials take students through the fundamentals of 3D modeling, giving them the skills they’ll need to create complex shapes for projects. It’s a great tool to introduce 3D design and 3D printing.”


AutoCAD for students and faculty is free, with a watermark on plots generated.

AutoCAD LT (Light) is for 2D drafting.$1,099.95 from Adobe costs $195 per month ($2,340) https://www.amazon.com/AutoCAD-Architecture-Retail-Media-5-Seats/dp/B07M5QK13P/ Autocad Architecture $899 5 seats

AutoCAD Inventor ?

Mastering AutoCAD 2018 and AutoCAD LT 2018 1st Edition

https://www.linkedin.com/learning/search?keywords=autocad LinkedIn Learning has courses.


https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoc2ZM2cYas4DijNdaEJXUA 30X40 Design Workshop Published on Apr 12, 2018

Auto buying

https://gnomadhome.com/build-your-van/ calls itself “Ultimate Guide to Converting a Van into a DIY Camper for Life on the Road”



https://www.cargurus.com/ Atlanta

Ford Transit is more boxy (square) makes for easier conversion process. https://gnomadhome.com/build-your-van/

https://gnomadhome.com/dodge-promaster-for-van-life/ is the most square option,

Before insulating and putting in the ceiling, the high roof Transit is about 6’7”. After my build, it’s still 6’4”.

The width of a Ford Transit is about 67” wide. Anyone who is a little shorter (I’m 5’10”) can sleep width-wise instead of length-wise.

Any mechanic in the country can work on Ford Transit. If I break down or need maintenance/repairs, I can take it to the nearest mechanic. And parts are cheaper.




Lisa Jacobs (https://www.instagram.com/vacayvans/, https://vacayvans.com/)