Tinkercad is an easy 3d modeling tool that enables you to design and model your ideas and turn them into reality using 3D printing, laser cutting, and even augmented reality. One of the most immediate and accessible ways to reproduce your design is to recreate it using stackable bricks.
This lesson will introduce you to Tinkercad's Bricks Workspace, take you through the process of starting and refining a design, and give you some pointers for turning that design into a buildable brick sculpture. The new tool makes creating stackable brick models easy and by following the basic tips and tricks you can learn to build brick models that are truly amazing.
Let's get started!
Collect the Stuff You Need
To start you will need a few of things-
- A Tinkercad account- If you don't have one, sign up at Tinkercad.com. If you are under 13, you will need a parent to help sign you up and create an account.
- A digital device with internet access- You will use this to design your model, view your work in the Bricks Workspace while building your model and as an interactive build guide to assemble your model.
- A flat build plate to build your bricks onto
- Lots and lots of basic bricks of the types listed below- You may need to sort your current collection of bricks to find as many as possible. These models can require a lot of bricks!
Create a New Design
We want to start modeling in the 3d editor in Tinkercad.
You can get there by clicking the 'Create a new design' button from within your user Dashboard area.
Start Your Design- Keep It Simple
When starting out, its best to make your design simple to start by pulling only a few shapes from the 'Basic Shapes' panel
This will help you get a feel for how the Bricks Workspace translates the various Shapes into layers of bricks.
Don't worry about trying to finish it now, we'll be coming back to your design after a couple more steps.
Now, for the fun part! Let's see how your design translates into bricks.
View Your Design in the Bricks Workspace
Now for the fun part of the the design process. Seeing how your vision translates into the world of bricks!
Enter the Bricks Workspace by clicking the brick-shaped icon in the upper right-hand corner of your the 3d workspace.
Using the Bricks Workspace
The Bricks Workspace in Tinkercad takes your model, reads the basic design, breaks it block-shaped pieces and rebuilds it using individual bricks, layer-by-layer.
On the top right, you can see buttons for the the scale/detail settings. Think of these as Small (1X), Medium (2X), and Large (3X). 1X means that the viewer shows the model at the size that you built it. 2X is double the original size. 3X is 3 times larger.
The nicer your model looks, the more bricks you need to build it, so choose your Detail settings wisely.
- 'Ground Plate' toggle to see or hide the gray 'Ground Plate'
- The 'Layers' button turns on the 'Layer viewer' controls and allow you to scroll through each individual layer from bottom-to-top.
Using the Layer View to Review the Brick Layout
The Layer view is designed to be a rough guide for helping your to plan and build a brick version of your model using bricks you have around the house.
The Layer indicator between the arrows tells you which layer you are on currently and how many layers in total for the build.
The 'Layers' viewer is useful for seeing how many of each brick is required for each layer. You will use this tool as a rough guide for building your model once its finished.
On the top left you can see the Viewer navigation controls-
- View cube- Use this to rotate around you model or click on of the faces to get a perfect side or top view.
- Zoom In/Out Buttons
These can help you rotate around the view space so you can see the location of the various bricks. They are especially useful if you are working on a device with a touch screen.
While you are here-
- Take a few minutes to view your design at each of the scale settings.
- Rotate around the design and notice how each different shapes is translated into bricksClick through the layers on each scale setting and notice how the bricks overlap each other from one layer to the next.
Return to the 3D Editor to Finish Your Design
To get back to the 3D Editor, click the '3D Editor' button located near the 'Bricks Workspace' button.
This button looks like the Tinkercad logo with a pattern of 9 stacked squares.
Review Your Design- What Did You Learn? Experiment Some More!
The Brick Workspace has a very specific way of handing the shapes and turning them into stacks of bricks.
The more you play with it and see how it translates, the more you will learn about how it 'thinks'. For the best result, you want to trick the workspace into giving you the best brick build possible.
Now that you have seen how it handles your current design
- Play with some of the other shapes
- Rotate shapes to strange angles
- Turn a shape upside-down or on its side so they are balancing on one corner
- Stretch a sphere and rotate it
While you are designing, its a good idea to go back and forth as much as you want until your model is exactly how you want it.
Adjusting Your Design for Better 'Brickability' - Tip 1: Location, Location, Location
So you've got a design you like and really want to make sure it translates well into buildable brick layers.
Sometimes entire walls or even small details will translate in very unexpected ways as our viewer transfers your design onto an imaginary, 3 dimensional grid to calculate the design.
If a portion of the design doesn't fill a full grid space, an important detail can be skipped or the surface of an entire wall might move over one space in the grid. This can make your design look strange, lop-sided and different from what you expect.
Here are some things you can do to make your brick build look more like your model-
- **Very important** Use the 'Group' tool to combine all your Shapes into a single part.
- Nudge or scale the various Shapes to see how it changes. Sometimes just moving a Shape just a bit can make a big difference
- Use the 'Align' tool to align your Shapes down the center
Adjusting Your Design - Tip 2: to Conserve Bricks, Work Big!
One of the best ways to get a good looking result is just a quick hack in the 3d editor using the Group tool and scale the model on the work plane.
Tip- The best way to scale your model while retaining its basic design is to use the 3D scale command (Hold down shift + alt while scaling to scale proportionally in all directions.
By using this tip, you can keep your brick count low AND get a great translation of your model in the Bricks Workspace using only the lowest level of resolution (the '1X' Button).
Adjusting Your Design - Tip 3: Avoid Floating Bricks
When making a design for bricks, think about gravity.
If there is a part of your design that hangs in the air (we call them Floating bricks), its possible that you won't be able to attach that detail onto the build plate or the rest of your brick build.
To avoid floating bricks, some things you might consider in your design-
- If you have Shapes that are supported by thin shapes (like a tree), the thin Shapes may not be large enough to be 'seen' by the translator. Try increasing the width of the Shape until it shows up in the Bricks viewer.
- If you have details that are hanging down from your model (like a character's arms), try to modify your design to attach the details to the side of your model (or in the case of a character's arm, make it point upward instead of hanging downward)
Adjusting Your Design - Tip 4: Avoid Large Spans and Overhangs
Let's think again about gravity.
Spans- To make long, flat, horizontal areas (called spans), bridges need supports to defy the downward pull of gravity. The distance between those support is very important to the strength of the bridge and whether it is buildable from existing materials. Building with bricks has that same requirement.
- To support large spans, architects and engineers often use long flat pieces, like struts, to span between supports. Currently, our longest brick is 6 studs long (1x6 or 2x6). If we want the bricks to attach firmly on both sides of span, the most that any span could be is 10 studs wide (using 6 stud bricks that meet in the middle of the span).
- Another way that engineers make strong bridges is to use arches. Arches are the best way to make brick-based bridges be cause they are self-supporting.
Overhangs- If you have a bridge with two supports and remove one leaving the road hanging in the air, that creates an overhang. Like holding your arm straight-out from your side, running parallel the ground. It requires a lot of strength to hold your arm straight-out, unsupported, and its the same for anything that you build with bricks.
- As mentioned above, the longest brick we offer is 6 studs long. This means that the farther overhang we can create is on that sticks outward 5 studs from the wall over your design (4 studs is better for a secure fit).
- You can also support an overhang by using a 'half-arch' as support beneath your overhang, like using upside-down 'steps' to brace the overhang from underneath.
Adjusting Your Design - Tip 5: Small Details Sometimes Get Lost
During my design process, I originally tried to make small irises for my Dragonling eyes to make him seem cute but still aggressive. After tweaking my design around a lot, I chose to make the irises larger so they would show up in my 1X scale build.
Long, thin, details- Since our translator views your design as a 3 dimensional grid of cubes, its easy for small details to get lost if they don't take up much space inside on of the grid cubes. Thin walls, skinny details like wires or antennas can get completely lost in the translation.
The best thing to do in these situations is increase the size of the details, so that the parts get large enough for the translator to read them in the grid of cubes.
Think big!- When designing your model, its best to use larger areas of fewer colors to help keep the model strong and look better. When you stack up a bunch of small areas of color together, the translator can only read so many differences in such a small space and will likely only give you one or two colors.
Too many small areas of color- Details are important for making a brick model read as the original design. seeing small areas of color like eyes can make or break a great character model. As mentioned above, if details are important you might need to make them larger.
Adjusting Your Design - Tip 6: When All Else Fails, Be Creative!
There will be times when making adjustments to your 3d model just won't fix some of small the problem areas of your design. As you sit down and start building, it will be easy to see where the design can be modified and improved by changing the type, color location and direction of the bricks.
For the Dragonling build, I got to a point where the layout of the bricks in the viewer didn't match the way I wanted them to look and the wings were falling off whenever I moved the model.
So, I decided to modify the brick layout to make my wing attachment stronger and used different bricks to get the yellow webbing to looks better. I also decided to reverse this layout on the other wing so they would match.
Let's move to building your model!
You Have Your Design, Now Let's Built It!
You've got your design exactly the way you want it. Check!
You've sorted and separated your bricks by type and color. Check!
You've got a space set up where you can spread out your bricks, reach and view your laptop, desktop computer or tablet, and space for your build plate in the middle. Check!
Let's build some bricks!
Building Your Design - Tip 1: Choose Your Scale (and Detail) Setting
Everyone loves to view their design on the largest detail setting (3X), BUT, these models require the most bricks and take the longest to time to build.
For your first build, it might best to keep it simple and build a model on the lowest setting (1X) to learn the process and, then, work your way up to the medium (2X) and large (3X) settings for future builds.
Working in the smallest setting (1X) will also let you know if you have enough of the right type and color of bricks to finish your build. When building the Dragonling, I chose the 1X scale.
*Tip*- its possible that you may not have a enough of the correct color in the various sizes of bricks. When this happens, we generally just use whatever color is available to finish our model.
Building Your Design - Tip 2: Build on a Build Plate
You've got your finished design, you've refined the design and you've got it translated pretty well into bricks.
Finally, we can start building!
Hopefully, at this point you have sorted your bricks to make it easier to start building. If not, you can find a list of our supported brick types back in Step 1.
- Find a build plate (or two) to give you a strong, stable foundation for your build.
- Count the studs on your model to see if your design will fit onto a single build plate. We're using a Medium square build plate (32 studs long x 32 studs wide)
- Count studs to see how long and wide your model is in the size you have chosen. Ours is 29 X 27.
Next, decide where to place your first brick.
Building Your Design - Tip 3: Don't Worry Too Much About the Colors
Its very likely that you won't have enough bricks in all the right colors to finish a model to be exactly the way you want it. We have had many of our early prototype models that we made from randomly-colored bricks.
Most of the fun is in building the shape of what you have built, not necessarily in the exact colors.
If you really want to get the right colors, ti might be a good idea to custom order some bricks from your favorite brick brand so you know for sure you have what you need. This may even be something that goes on your birthday wishlist.
(Note- In the near future, we'll be coming out with a feature to give you an estimate for how many bricks you will need for your build.)
Building Your Design - Tip 4: Build From Left to Right
In the Bricks Workspace, you can see the Tinkercad logo (as bricks) is located at the front, left-hand corner of the build plate.
Its a good idea to use a brick or two to mark that corner so you can know where the front is at all times. For fun, we have used some 1x1's to try to match the Tinkercad logo.
Now, look at Layer 1 in the Layer viewer and start from the left start adding bricks as shown until you reach the right hand side.
The good thing about the viewer is that you can zoom in and rotate your view to see exactly which bricks fit where. *Be aware*, this can also cause you to lose your place in the build, which is why you should always zoom back out to find the marker bricks in the corner so you can be sure you are viewing from the correct angle.
Building Your Design - Tip 5: Use Overlaps to Make Your Brick Build More Solid
Just like in a brick building, the overlapping layers of bricks are what makes your structure strong. If you have thin areas, or a design with very few layers, its even MORE important that the bricks overlap, layer-upon-layer.
Pro Tip- is your design symmetrical (both sides mirror reflections of the other)? If, so this is an opportunity make your build looks better.
Because of the way we overlap the bricks, the brick layout pattern may not look the same on either side of a symmetrical design, so as you are building, you can look to see which side looks better to you. This is especially important on colorful models. Choose the side you like most and build the reverse of the pattern on the other side. BUT..., its very important to remember to overlap your bricks so it stays together well.
Building Your Design - Tip 6: Save Bricks by Filling the Inside With Leftover Colors
Since these builds can require a large amount of bricks, its not likely that you will have endless amounts of the colors you need.
On the Dragonling build, I tried to limit my use of red as much as possible to make my supply of bricks go farther. I built an exterior shell of red and filled with other colors. As you can see, the Brick Viewer layout also allowed for empty hollow parts in the center of the figure. In hindsight, I may have been able to save bricks by making the hollow area larger.
Building Your Design - Tip 7: Be Creative, Break the Rules, Have Fun!
As we've said before the human brain is way better at creative problem solving than most software.
If you don't like the way the bricks fit together in the Layer viewer, feel free to rearrange them in any way that gives you a better result.
The goal is to make the best build possible and only YOU know what the final result is supposed to look like.
This post was adapted from an original guide on Instructables from the Tinkercad Support Team.
In the meantime, please see our recent posts titled Hello Tinkercad Friends! Let’s #TinkerTogether and Parents Guide to Starting Kids in Tinkercad. They provide more information on some of Tinkercad’s useful features for parents, teachers, and students.