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How To Print & Build Your Own Free, Beautifully Detailed 3D Models

Christian Cawley 02-08-2012

build 3d modelsHaving been enthused by the continuously dropping prices of 3D printers, I was recently checking out the latest models and making a decision on which one to choose when I had a moment of what can only be described as a nostalgic epiphany.


There I was, wishing I could build toy boats and planes and cars with a new 3D printer when I suddenly realised that it was already possible to do all of this and more with my existing printer!

As a child I whiled away hours building models of jet fighters, tanks and bridges from card provided by modelling packs and magazine part-works, yet ignored the fact that I had the tools ready by my side for creating similar models today.

What You Will Need

Not everyone will be equipped with the tools to build card models. First and foremost, you will need a printer that is capable of printing to card stock. How will you find this information? The best way is to check the manual – for instance, HP will provide this information in the Technical Information section, and the same is largely true of other manufacturers.

If your printer will not print to card, you can try printing to paper and then gluing this to the card, although the results are rarely as good. If you’re really daring, you can try building your project completely from paper, although typical printer paper is almost completely unsuitable.)

Your printer should, of course, have a full supply of black and coloured ink.


In addition, you will need a PDF application such as Adobe Reader as the majority of downloadable model template files are in PDF format.

For building your models, you will require scissors and a craft knife or box cutter, suitable glue for binding card, pins and paper clips to help the glue bind, and a firm, sturdy surface. You might also have a crafting board on which to do all of your cutting, useful for avoiding damage to your surface. A metal ruler is also recommended for cutting and scoring straight lines.

Download & Print Your Models

The first thing to do is find a website that provides models that can be downloaded and printed. Many can be found free – which is where you should start off, of course – but more elaborate and impressive models can be purchased, if you want to.

Check the list at the end of the guide for a good selection of suggested resources for card modelling.


build 3d models

Once you have downloaded your PDF, save it. This might sound obvious, but in this day of browser PDF plugins it is easy to lose track of what you opened and where (at least not without digging through your Windows profile files). If you make a mistake with the model you might need to print the template again, so this makes perfect sense.

It is also a good idea to preview the file in your print software before outputting to get an idea of what it looks like and how many pieces of card are required. When you’re happy, click the print button!

The Nitty-Gritty of Card Modelling

If you’re new to card modelling then you really need to start with something basic. This shuttle train is a good example of a low-skill, “introduction” piece that you should be considering.


build 3d models online free

This can be neck-breaking work, but the results can be amazing.

You will find a recognisable shorthand across all card modelling projects. As a rule of thumb, solid lines should be cut, whereas broken or dashed lines should be scored (the result of a lighter blade action, performed to enable the section of card to be folded). Occasionally some written guidelines will be provided, and in the best kits full instructions will also be provided.

build 3d models online free


The best approach, of course, is to be methodical. Begin by cutting out each of the pieces in turn, taking care to score where required and make the necessary indentations and cut lines and boxes internally with your craft knife. In most cases, curves and circles are best attempted with scissors.

build 3d models online free

Following this, position everything as you will need it. A quick read of the instructions will help you to do this, as well as familiarising yourself with the general pattern of the construction. Pieces and equipment should be spread across your work surface within easy reach. You can then begin crafting the item, typically starting with the bones of the model – the structure!

build 3d model online

From this point on, the instructions will typically take you through the steps of adding the “skin” or outer surface, prepping any additional sections to the model or simply putting together some of the smaller pieces that enhance the model’s detail.

build 3d model online

Different models can be built in slightly different ways, depending on your own preference and the requirements of the project. For instance, you might opt to start with the fiddly detail components; conversely, it might be easier for you to build the model in two parts before gluing it together. This will depend on the model itself, of course.

Where Can You Find 3D Models To Download & Build?

build 3d models

Building your own 3D card models is satisfying and enjoyable. The only real downside is the possibility that you might run out of card or ink!

You will find some good free card model templates at the following locations:

This is a fun and engaging pastime, one that is relatively cheap and ideal for keeping bored hands and minds busy during long vacations and summer breaks.

Let us know if you have built any card models, or if you have any additional resource links to share!

Mount Vernon Image Credit: Paper33d

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  1. Don Richardson
    August 4, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Looks like just the thing for a hobby! I used to run N gauge and HO model trains, but no longer have the space!

  2. Philip Yusenda
    August 3, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Actually, if you google "papercraft" you will find a lot more free model, ranging from the very easy "cubecraft" to the model of USS Enterprise NCC-1701D !
    Happy crafting!

    • Christian Cawley
      August 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      Nice tip Philip, thanks for adding!

  3. Shakirah Faleh Lai
    August 3, 2012 at 6:20 am

    A good alternative fur those who can't afford a 3D printer, plus you don't need to spend your money on mantainence if you buy one.

  4. Lambvolution
    August 3, 2012 at 1:51 am


  5. Justin Fortin
    August 2, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Aww, I was expecting stuff about 3d printers. Oh well, this is still really cool...

  6. gattolino
    August 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    :D so pretty! tnx