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3-D Design for Idiots: An Interview With Tinkercad Founder Kai Backman

Think 3-D design requires specialized software and an MFA? Think again.Tinkercad, the brainchild of former Google engineer Kai Backman, is making it something anyone can do. Unlike other web-based drawing programs like Sketchup, Tinkercad requires no download. You simply open your WebGL-supported browser, sign up, and create something. We caught up with Backman, who's based in Helsinki, to find out more.

How did you come up with the idea for Tinkercad?

"Our vision is to make 3-D design in general, and the design of physical items in particular, accessible to hundreds of millions of people," says Backman.

Tinkercad was born from a very personal frustration. In 2009, I started researching the new emerging 3-D printing technology and eventually bought my first printer by the end of the year. The device was assembled with great fanfare and my children eagerly looked forward to printed toys while my wife expected jewelry or at least some useful household items. Much to their disappointment it turned out that actually designing anything for printing was extremely hard with the software available. I would spend the evening learning one CAD system after another, only to get very little traction and forgetting most of what I learned before the next session.

In mid-2010 it had become clear the problem was more and more acute for a lot of people, so I quit my job at Google, Mikko my co-founder quit his job, and we started the company. We are still on the same road, our vision is to make 3-D design in general, and the design of physical items in particular, accessible to hundreds of millions of people.

Has a community developed around the site?
We let users choose how they want to publish their things and a lot of them use a Creative Commons license. This means the site has a rapidly growing repository of interesting 3-D designs and an equally rapidly growing base of users. Tell us about the process of creating a product with Tinkercad.

Designing in Tinkercad is based on two core concepts:

1. You can add shapes to your design either as solids or holes.
2. You can combine a number of shapes together, forming a new shape.

Using these two simple concepts you can build your own almost arbitrarily complex tools to create very interesting designs. Once your design is ready you can either print it out using a printing service Tinkercad is integrated with or alternatively download the STL file for printing on a home printer.

Can the Tinkercad tools be used for any other purpose?
[Yes, you can work up] designs for laser cutting, architectural models, illustrations, concept art, 2D drawings and more.

How does Tinkercad differ from Sketchup?
Both Tinkercad and Sketchup are 3-D design tools. The main difference is that Sketchup is a desktop sketching tool that isn't suited for designing physical objects while Tinkercad is a web app that is actually a real Computer Aided Design program suitable for real design.

What is your favorite design to come out of the Tinkercad community?
Brewster Station. It's a historic train station on the Harlem Line in New York, modeled by "Emily". It combines visual appeal with an interesting historic background:

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