GoogleTreeFabLabs are busy this time of year. You will see of a lot of strange faces sitting at the FabLab tables, struggling with Adobe Illlustrator or AutoCAD. Yes, these are architecture or design students, struggling to get their school projects finished for the end of the first semester. They do not come to a FabLab because they are passionate about making, but just because it is cheaper than paying a company to laser cut their panels. Fine by me, but the thing that really bothers me is that they are not willing to learn how to use the software and the machines of the FabLab properly. On top of that, they think that because they have a deadline that was yesterday, all of the machine time should be dedicated only to their project. Damn you, if I would have seen you even just once during the year trying to learn how to operate the machines, I would even help you to finish your project. But now, I’ll just write a blog post and look angry.

Ok, enough rambling for today. Let’s design some Christmas gifts!

FYI: The Christmas tree image is based on the google Christmas tree. I made a vector drawing out of it in Inkscape. Here is the link to the svg file.




Before I start posting about what I created, I thought it would be nice to make a short overview of software tools that I use for creating stuff.

inkscapeMy favorite 2D software tool is Inkscape. It is a vector drawing program and completely free (unlike Adobe Illustrator). To me it is the go-to program for everything that I need to lasercut. It automatically contours bitmap images, can do boolean operations on shapes, imports a lot of formats and exports to almost any file format.

sketchupFor most of my 3D design, I use Google Sketchup. I really love the simplicity of the 3D drawing, which is completely different from any other CAD program I’ve used. I can sketch things like houses or furniture very quickly to get an idea of how an interior will look like. But also basic parts can be created for 3D printing with a proper STL export plugin.

OpenSCAD-logoSome 3D models are better to create as parametric designs. OpenSCAD is a program for creating 2D and 3D shapes in a kind of programming language. For a software developer like me, it makes sense to use this tool. But I can imagine that this program has a very steep learning curve for the ‘normal’ people.

cura-logoTo 3D print your designs, you will need to slice your 3D objects (STL file) into layers and calculate the machine code for the 3D printer (gcode). Cura is such a free slicer, which is created by the same guys of the Ultimaker. I love this software for its simplicity and it gives me very good 3D prints.


I use several programming languages, but my go-to language for making stuff will always be Python. This language is open source and comes pre-installed on OSX. The language has a peculiar syntax that will scare any Java or C++ programmer at first. But once you embrace the simplicity of this language and its millions of free external libraries, you see how powerful Python really is. Python works for a simple 10-line script up to an application with a full GUI with 3D interaction possibilities.

I believe that these 5 programs should be installed on the computer of every real maker. If you don’t agree, let me know in the comments ;-).