Lately, I’ve been teaching some 3D printing workshops for kids. These are usually the same kids that have been raised on a steady diet of MineCraft. What better way than to get kids engaged than to combine both things? Exactly!
Minecraft is the ultimate way to learn 3d modelling through gamification. Using some free tools, you can easily export anything you create inside the game for 3D printing. As well, using some other tools, you can bring any 3D model into the game.
Importing 3D models into MineCraft
I usually get people (of all ages) started with 3D modelling using TinkerCAD.com because it’s free and is very accessible. One of the many benefits of TinkerCAD is that you can design in your browser and then either export your design to print yourself, send it to a 3D printing service or even export your model for MineCraft.
Load up or create something in Tinkercad. Then click on the Design menu and choose Download for Minecraft to save your model as a Minecraft schematic file.
You’ll then be prompted for a unit of measure in Minecraft for your model. This my require some experimentation to get right. I wanted my models to be very large in the game so I left them at the defaults.
Once you’ve exported your schematic from Tinkercad, you’ll need to use MCEdit to insert it into your world. Initially I was only presented with Windows download options but older versions are available on GitHub for Windows, Mac and Linux. Make sure you’re not currently running MineCraft or you could damage the file that contains your world data.
Once you launch MCEdit, you’ll need to select your world. You can then navigate around it to where you want place your model. Click the import button on the lower menu.
Now you can rotate the imported model around, reposition it and choose a host of other options.
I typically deselect copy air from this menu so that the model is imported by itself. Feel free to experiment with these settings.
Once you’re happy with the placement, press CTRL-S to save your world and exit MCEdit.
Load up Minecraft and you should see your model in the world!
Exporting 3D models from MineCraft
Another option is to use MineCraft as a design tool for creating models that can be exported from the game for use in 3D printing.
Mineways is a free tool that makes it possible to load up a world, zoom into your model and then export it, in full color, in a format suitable for 3D printing at home or via a commercial service.
To use Mineways, you just run the app and browse to your Minecraft save file (level.dat) and then you’re presented with an overview of your current world:
You can set the height of the export as well as a lot of other options once you’ve selected the zone for export.
Here’s the ‘chunk’ I exported from my world:
I then cropped the model file to just my head for printing:
I was surprised how well the model printed considering the overhangs from the blocks but PLA can be pretty forgiving. I did a little cleaning up with a knife blade with the few droopy strands.
The cactus model after printing:
This is some Minecraft topography I found on Thingiverse that was exported using Mineways:
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to integrate Minecraft into a fun 3D printing workshop that will get kids (and adults) excited about the possibilities.