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3D Design

3D Design software has revolutionized traditional ceramic manufacturing, now it is accessible to hobbyists and potters.

Key phrases linking here: fusion 360, 3d design, shapr - Learn more


The biggest hurdle to adopting 3D printing is choosing and learning to use 3D design software. The processing power, multi-function mouse, connectivity and screen of a desktop computer are almost essential for this. And a desktop computer is generally needed to handle the 3D slicer software anyway. And 3D design software has decades of maturity on the desktop. Until now, Fusion 360 has been our choice, it seems ideal for individual designers and leaves me astonished every time I use it. OnShape seems to be the second option - the fact that it works in a browser means it has a lot of potential to share a drawing for others to view and edit (they claim that multiple people can collaborate on the same drawing at the same time).

Some of what I just said is being challenged, 3D is moving to the iPad. As of 2022 Shapr is taking an industry-leading modelling engine, ParaSolid (the power behind SolidWorks), to the iPad. It also runs on desktop and enables working on the same design on both platforms. However, it is pricey given its capability. In 2023 Plasticity, also built on ParaSolid, is becoming more popular, it is targeted specifically at sculpting, modelling and 3D printing. Blender is taking animation and CGI by storm as a do-it-all tool, it is unimaginably powerful yet free (the add-on ecosystem it spawns has created a profitable industry). It is a surface modeller, it is not parametric, and it is difficult to learn. Rhino is also popular in ceramic circles.

Choosing which 3D package to adopt is generally governed by what those assisting you are using (the complexity of learning this is not something to do alone). As already noted, learning a 3D design software package can be the most overwhelming part of getting into 3D printing. It is vital to have a teacher (hire a consultant on Upwork if needed to guide you through the creation of several things). I recommend using to find a consultant.

Related Information

Fusion 360, my choice for 3D modelling in ceramics

AutoDesk Fusion 360 home page

Intimidation by the complexity of this type of software is the biggest obstacle you will face to learning 3D design (for 3D-printing). Fusion 360 is the new mission of AutoDesk, the leader in CAD software for 30 years, bringing much of the power of their industrial strength Inventor product into the hands of everyone! Fusion 360 has a lot of advantages. It is a standard. There is a simple learning curve via their, videos on Youtube, easy online help and many freelancers to hire (at It is free to qualifying users (teachers, students or people who earn less that $100k/yr), the fact that software of this kind of power and utility is actually available to anyone who wants to try it is amazing. Fusion 360 (and other 3D design products) cannot run 3D printers (3D slicers do that). Fusion 360 is very demanding on the processor and graphics hardware of your computer, typical laptops are not powerful enough.

Fusion 360 on YouTube

Popular gurus get millions of views on their videos. Lars Christensen, Kevin Kennedy and Tyler Beck are popular contributors. Each of them has plenty of videos to teach you everything you need to know to get started designing for your ceramic production. If you get stuck, there are hundreds of places on line to go to find help. It is helpful if you know how to do a screen recording (e.g. using Screencast-o-Matic) to be able to demonstrate your problem. Getting specific answers to specific problems is a surefire way to progress in your knowledge. The first item to learn is sketching, if you can master that much of what you did will be modifying sketches (e.g. extruding, revolving, sweeping and lofting them).

How to draw a mold-mold for slip casting using Fusion 360

3D print a beer bottle mold

Drawing your objects in CAD software is the most difficult step in leveraging 3D printing for slip-casting mold making and production. In this 11 minute step-by-step video we will draw a mold-mold, using Fusion 360, that can be 3D printed. Plaster can be poured into it without even a need for mold soap. It is the best fitting and most dimensionally accurate mold we have ever made. This is well within the reach of almost any potter.

A parametrically-drawn cookie-cutter for slab built mugs

A 3D printed cookie cutter showing parametric measurements, four of these are glued together

You may already know that I am very excited about the potential of 3D printing for creating aids to making pottery. I glue four of these together to create a cookie cutter for producing slab-built mugs. For different sizes of mugs I need cutters with different geometries. This is quarter-cutter and it has been drawn "parametrically" using Fusion 360. That means that certain aspects of its geometry (two lengths and one angle) can be adjusted by simply changing the parameters (in the Parameters dialog). The drawing then adjusts automatically. It is magic! Other aspects are fixed (e.g. the right-angle, the pucker-preventing hole cutouts, the height, and thickness). Parametric design is revolutionary, it fits my try-it-adjust-it-try-it-again way of working. And, I can label these printed quarters according to the size, in this case 45-25-108.

Bringing an old mechanical drawing of a crock lid back to life

3D crock lid

This is an 85-year-old drawing downloaded from Medalta Potteries manufactured crocks, on a large scale, from the 1920s on. In this example, I imported the drawing as a canvas in Fusion 360, positioning it so the center of the knob was at the origin point. I traced the lid outline to create a sketch and then revolved that to create the 3D lid. This is part of a project to enable a potter to make lids to fit the old crocks.

Shimpo Jigger attachment drawing

Jigger arm assembly

Made from 1/2" x 3" flat steel, this frame is heavy and very strong and solid. The two larger 3.5" long bolts are custom-made from 5/8in-11 threaded rod, they have a 45-degree cone tip and locking nuts. The small vertical stopper-bolt is made from 3/8" rod. It is 2" long with 1" dia washer welded on top and a locking nut. The small bolt setting determines the bottom point of arm travel. The pivot sockets on the jigger arm are 1" long and made from 1" steel rod, each has the 45-degree recess machined into it. The arm can be moved left or right and its tension set by adjusting the two larger bolts. The weighted collar on the back of the arm employs two pieces of 1" thick flat steel, it is heavy (important for convenience-of-operation). The triangular notch enables the arm to be lifted higher. The weight colar needs some sort of set screw to hold it in place. A number of corners need to be rounded or rubber-padded for safety reasons. If you would like this 3D file in Fusion 360 and STEP formats, it is available in the Files manager in your account.

3D print this rail to pour plaster jigger molds for mugs

Jigger master for mugs

Turn this upside down and center it over a precision plaster or 3D printed form of the outside shape of a mug. This creates a mold that drops down in our Shimpo cuphead. This opens slightly along one side for easy release from the plaster after set. It is held together by paper clamps during use. The upper flange can be glued down to a smooth surface with a clay slurry. If you would like this 3D file in Fusion 360 format, it is available in the Files manager in your account.

Video: Create a cookie cutter/stamper in 3D software, print it and use it

3D printed cookie cutter and stamper

This cookie cutter can both cut and stamp the piece (notice the 3D render in the centre, the logo is 2mm lower than that cutter around the outside). We make them by rolling a slab to 3.2mm (1/8in) thick, applying stretch wrap over it and then pressing the cutter/stamper into it (using a wood block). Then just peel away the plastic and the outer waste clay and a perfect crest is left. This method enables using clay of almost any stiffness. We find that softer clay works best, just peel it up from the board, apply slip to the back, position it on the side of the leather hard ware and press it down (from the centre outwards). On the lower right is a crested mug that has just been glazed. Upper right is a crest that has been glazed and fired. About the cookie cutter: We create them with 0.8mm wall thickness (twice the width of the 0.4mm extruder on the 3D printer). We export the vector image (made in Illustrator) into Fusion 360 and then add elements to stabilize and hold the profile in place. This cutter is 8mm tall and the stamp lines are 5mm tall. The crest is 52mm (2 in) wide. This whole process may sound a little intimidating to you - but we are working on a step-by-step video.

Magic tile shape grows organically, never creating a pattern

This is the most complex shape known that can fit together organically. It was just discovered by mathematicians in 2023. It is easy to cookie-cut these out of clay (notice the cutter I made at the top). Placing the tiles is tricky because it is only logical to seek a pattern, but that does not work. Starting with a center tile and moving outward in a spiral around it seems to be the best way. Mathematicians are seeking to prove that placement can grow infinitely without ever repeating a pattern. Making the cookie cutter in Fusion 360 was easier than expected because the shape is built from the pie-slices that result from cutting a regular hexagon into six pieces midway across the straight sides. Because of the complexity of the shape I have found that it is best to print multiple cutters (I can do eight at a time), and stamp the shapes without using stretch wrap (letting them dry overnight in the cutters). The randomness seems confirmed in that when I piece together a few dozen tiles it is very difficult to do a count (because they are not in rows). In addition, to piece together 28 tiles requires turning eleven of them over - if there was a pattern I would expect to turn over exactly half of them. One issue: To create a setting with straight sides it appears I will need a dozen shapes.

Initial mockup for 1940s Medalta Potteries ball pitcher

Medalta ball pitcher 3D drawing

No molds have survived so we are going to start from scratch, making the smallest of the sizes first. We will use Fusion 360 and 3D prints in PLA to create a block mold to make a rubber case mold. Drawing this correctly should reward me with some new 3D drawing skills. The geometry of the lip will be challenging. Likely the piece will need to be cast with a flat top (filling and draining done through the pour hole). I will likely have to create a 3D-printed PLA template as a cutting guide to get the contour of the lip right.

3D design, printing and use of a slip clay test bar mold

SHAB mold for casting clays

This is for making test bars of slip casting clays bodies for use in the SHAB test (to measure drying shrinkage, firing shrinkage and fired porosity). I designed it in Fusion 360 and 3D printed the light-duty rails and case mold. I poured plaster into that to make the two plaster working mold halves (top right). The funnels provide a reservoir so the bars be cast solid. This mold can produce a set of three bars in less than an hour.

Inbound Photo Links

The Prusa Slicer generates G-Code for 3D-printing

Pyrometric cone mold
Make your own pyrometric cones? Why not!


Glossary 3D Slicer
3D printing is very important in ceramics, hobby and industry. A slicer is software that slices up a 3D model and runs the printer to lay down each layer.
Glossary 3D-Printing
Standard 3D printing technology (not printing with clay itself) is very useful to potters and ceramic industry in making objects that assist and enable production.
Glossary 3D Printer
Standard 3D printers (not clay 3D printers) are incredibly useful in ceramic production and design, bringing difficult processes within reach of potters and hobbyists.
Right triangle calculator
Projects Beer Bottle Master Mold via 3D Printing
A project that took several years of failures and blind allies and is finally coming together - so much simpler than expected!
Projects Cookie Cutting clay with 3D printed cutters
We are finding more and more applications for this simple process of cookie-cutting shapes in ceramics. You won't believe whats possible and how easy it is to get started.
Projects A cereal bowl jigger mold made using 3D printing
A new way to 3D-print your way to making jigger molds and templates. The molds are encased in a 3D printed shell that makes them fit perfectly into the cuphead. And the template is precise and very effectivwe.
Projects Medalta Ball Pitcher Slip Casting Mold via 3D Printing
A project to make a reproduction of a Medalta Potteries piece that was done during the 1940s. This is the smallest of the three sizes they made.
Projects Coffee Mug Slip Casting Mold via 3D Printing
A potter can now use AI, 3D CAD, 3D printing and custom clay bodies to slip-cast beautiful quality stoneware pottery mugs. It is efficient and practical.
By Tony Hansen
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