5 Ways to build in 3D without a 3D printer

5 Ways Faatured

While 3D printers are great, they are pricey and hard to come by.  Here are 5 ways kids can explore creating in 3D space without any high tech equipment.

1. Use 123D Make to create a model from cardboard.

3D angry bird built with 123DMake next to a toy angry bird

3D angry bird built with 123DMake next to a toy angry bird

Following the instructions from my first 3D project and make a 3D computer model come to life.   This project uses the free 123D Make program to transform 3D computer models into plans to recreate the object using cardboard cutouts or other materials.

2. Crayon Molds

Pouring melted wax into a silly putty mold

Pouring melted wax into a silly putty mold

Using silly putty and melted crayons you can make wax replicas of every day objects.  Follow the instructions for 3D silly putty replicas and clone just about anything!

3. Build marshmallow structures

Toothpick marshmallow structure

Toothpick marshmallow structure

Marshmallows and tooth pics can be great building tools.  Head on over to The Idea Room and check out some great marshmallow engineering!

4. Good old fashion Play Doh!

Play Doh Angry Birds

Play Doh Angry Birds

Don’t forget the basics!  Sky’s the limit when you have a few buckets of kid’s favorite molding clay.  Check out the Play Doh Stop Motion Movie Project to see what my kids made with this magic clay.

5. Use 123D Make to make a folded paper model

Folded Paper plans build from 123DMake and cut with a Silhouette

Folded Paper plans build from 123DMake and cut with a Silhouette Cutter

Using the same program as in #1 (123D Make) we can load models found in their huge library of 3D objects and turn it into paper plans.  These plans can be folded into a 3 dimensional paper object like origami.  More on this technique in a future post!

5 Ways to Make in 3D - Pinterest Image

Read more

3D printing without the 3D printer

compare-birds copy


There’s so much buzz around 3d printing and with good reason. 3d printing opens up a new world of possibilities the way that standard home printers did for desktop publishing. Just as we marveled long ago at creating our own newsletters, labels and posters, now we marvel at the possibilities of printing our own gadgets, toys, tools and more. As if magic, 3D objects can teleport themselves from our desktops to our desk top.

Not all of us have access to one of these magic devices but that won’t stop us from creating a little teleportation magic of our own. In this project we’ll use software, an ordinary printer and some poster board to transform a 3D model into a real world model. Your child can choose a 3D model on the computer seeing a 360 degree view, print and cut out the plans, then watch it come to life as they assemble the pieces. Finally, they can paint and embellish the finished piece to really make it their own creation. They’ll have a blast putting together this project and have a treasure to keep and display at the end.

The Process

Install software Choose a model Print the plans Cut the pieces Assemble


Step 1 – Install the Software


Lets start by installing the software we will be using. 123DMake is a free program for Windows or Mac that can take a 3D computer model and print out plans for piecing together a model of that object. The plans can be printed on paper to be cut out manually, printed directly to a CirCut cutting machine or sent to a service with will laser cut the shapes a mail them to you for assembly. We’re going to print the plans on paper and cut them out of poster board since this is the most interactive choice and doesn’t require anything special. You may also choose to cut your shapes out of cardboard or other thick material so long as you are able to cut through the material.

Find something to build

Time for some 3D shopping. 123D Make has a searchable library of user submitted 3D models that can be used for free. Let your child select their favorite model and lets start printing!

Print out the plans


Once you select your model it will open up in the 123D Make application. You can look at the model from all side by clicking and dragging the model around. Now it’s time to print out the plans. Go to file->print and a window will open with some options. There are a number of different construction methods for putting together the model but here we are going to use the simpler stacked layers method.
Now for the tricky part. In order for model to be sized properly you have to tell 123D Make about the thickness for the material we are using. You can use corrugated cardboard, poster board or just about anything that has some thickness and can be cut easily. Measure the material and enter the number in the xxx field. Press print and get ready to cut!
eps warning…



cut out the shapes

Now that we have out printed plans cut out each piece. Trace each shape on your cardboard and cut the shapes out of the material. Each printed shape should have a number so be sure to write the number on the cardboard pieces.




Glue it together

Time to watch your object come to life! Stack the pieces in numbered order, gluing them together with elmer’s glue.

bird_built Here’s the almost finished bird… he’s just lacking the top feathers.

Paint and decorate

For the final touches break out the paint brushes and give your model some character.  Cardboard or poster board may not be the easiest material to paint but with a little effort and patients you’ll have a great looking final product!



There are other ways to use the 123Dmake app.  In addition to the stacked layers construction method, there’s also interlocking slices (much like those 3d tab-in-slot models you can buy at the toy store) and the complex Folded Slices approach.

folded interlocking

There’s also the option to send the plans to a company that will cut out the sheets from your material of choice.  Then you’d simply need to assemble them.  While this gives great results, it’s expensive and is sort of contrary to the DIY spirit of these projects.

I hope you have fun building your own model.  In an upcoming project I’ll go over scanning in your own real world object and sending it to 123DMake.

Please share your creation with us!  Head to the forum to discuss this project and upload pics of your own creation.

Read more