Selection of open source software for the maker/designer (2/3)


Blender is a 3D modelling and animation package. It is a great example of how an open source project can grow and operate, and of how it can compete with paid animation packages.

Blender started as an in-house animation and modelling tool programmed by Ton Roosendaal. In 1998 it was put on the market by Roosendaal’s new company Not a Number and was sold as a commercial package. Unfortunately, due to the financial climate and low sales, the Not a Number investors closed down all operations in early 2002.

As there was big community support for Blender, it would have been a shame if Blender had dissappeared.

So in mid 2002 Blender was released as open source, through (probably the first) crowd funding campaign, to pay off the investors, so Blender could be open source and survive.
I use Blender personally for mesh modelling, sub division modelling and to polish up 3D scans with the help of sculpt tools.

If you use the Modifiers carefully without applying, you can use Blender as a kind of a parametric modeller.

One of my designs in Blender.

The Blender history
Get blender at:
Licence: Open source GPL V2
Platform: Windows, Linux, Mac OS.
My favourite non animation tutorials are made by an industrial design, Claas Kuhnen:


Wings3D is a mesh modeller.

It is a more basic program in comparison to Blender, but this is the strong point of the software. The learning curve is less steep, so if you think Blender is an overkill, and you want to start mesh modelling, have a look at Wings3D first, before you start with Blender.

There is a nice series of tutorials on YouTube, and if you like Mobius strips, interlocking 3D geometric shapes, have a look at the tutorials of David Brinnen.

One of David’s tutorials.

Get it at:
License: Opensource.
Tutorials by David Brinnen:


FreeCAD is a parametric modeller, with various workspaces and modules.

Besides the parametric part modeller, there is also an architecture and a CAM module.

Freecad is a package with potential and has great community support. It is not perfect but it is for sure a usable package, and let’s not forget that Freecad is an open source project relaying on work done by volunteers.

There is a great selection of tutorial’s on Youtube made by
Licence: Opensource
Platform: Windows, Linux, Mac OS.


A lightweight parametric 2D and 3D modeller.

SolveSpace used to be a licensed software package, but is now open source. It was developed by Jonathan Westhues in 2008 and started as a 2D parametric program called Sketch Flat.

It has a clean and basic interface, which reminds me of Autocad on MS Dos, but don’t let this fool you. It is a typical “less is more” software, ideal for small parametric parts and assemblies.

Solvespace has a bit more of a snappy interface then Freecad, and the sketch solver is more mature then the one in Freecad. I think the simplicity of SolveSpace is the secret here: keep it simple, but let it work smoothly and intuitively.

If you are thinking of using (paid) parametric software, SolveSpace is a great introduction into constrains and assemblies.

The latest version (2.3) has a 2D DXF export bug.
Exporting in PDF works fine.
Eric Buijs made a great set of tutorials.

One of my designs in SolveSpace.

Get it at:
Licence: Opensource GPL V3
Platform: Windows, Linux (need to build), Mac OS.
Tutorials from Eric Buijs:


OpenSCAD is an interesting open source 3D modeller.

It is a script based parametric modeller. Instead of modelling on a canvas by adding and extruding geometry, OpenSCAD works by scripting.

For me it is a less intuitive way of modelling, but it is an interesting concept and great for people that are more comfortable with coding than modelling with constrains, or a mesh modeller.

OpenSCAD is used for several open source 3D printer designs. For example, there are  various OpenSCAD designs available on Thingiverse.
I used OpenSCAD for a parametric 3D modeled ring.

Get it at:
License: Open source GPLV2
Windows, Linux, Mac OS.
Parametric enclosure by Lbussy


MeshLab is open source mesh and STL viewer/analyser.
It has some editing and repair functions as well.

Get it at:

Windows, Linux, Mac OS.
Tutorials from MR p:


LinuxCNC is an open source CNC controler package.

It run on Linux only, and it comes bundled with a debian Wheezy package, with a special Kernel.

It might be possible to run LinuxCNC on other Linux flavours, but you’ll need some Linux knowledge to do this.

I installed LinuxCNC for small 3040 CNC machine, as I wanted to add a rotary axis. As the GRBL controller I used (ESTL CAM) only supported 3 axis, I had several choices:

Planet CNC controler, Ucnc Controler, Mach3 or Linux CNC.

The reason I chose Linux CNC is that I always wanted to know a bit more about Linux, plus  LinuxCNC is completely customisable, and supports loads of input and outputs.

For my small machine it might be a bit of an overkill, but if I ever want to build a 5 axis machines, I know my way in LinuxCNC already.

Get it at:


Russ’stuff on youtube:


GRBL is an open source CNC control protocol that works with Arduino controllers.

Before GRBL the controlling low cost CNC machines was through a parallel port and Mach 3 or LinuxCNC as control software.

GRBL made it possible to control CNC machines over USB.

There are several open source GRBL controlers available.

Web based chilli pepper controler :

General Github GRBL site: