Fusion 360: Sketches, Bodies, and Navigating the Workspace

The title of this post makes it sound like it could be an HR training session aboard the Titanic, but no one’s asking anyone to draw them like one of their French girls, so don’t worry.

If you’ve read any of my other posts (and if you haven’t, you should), maybe you’ve downloaded Fusion 360, you’ve bought a mouse, and you’ve opened the program for the first time.

If you’re anything like me, that might be where you stop, and realize you have no clue what comes next. Even if you’re a Photoshop or Illustrator pro, a lot of the menu items are going to be unfamiliar in a 3D modeling program. Even the workspace itself is new territory- you go from a single blank page, to, basically, an infinite number of blank pages, all intersecting each other and extending into space infinitely. Fun.

It’s a lot. So think of this as your first driving lesson. You’re going to get in the car, put the keys in the ignition, look at the dashboard, and turn on the radio and turn all the signals on and off. And then you’re going to drive around the parking lot and hope for the best.

The Workspace:

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 5.39.04 PMWhen you open an account, you’re going to be prompted to start a New Project. Projects are basically just folders where you’re going to keep all your designs. My Project is called Beulah, and I’m going to save my new design as Sketches, Bodies, and the Workspace.


Now expand your window so it’s as close to full screen as possible- another case of “do as I say,” because I frequently will collapse my window into a tiny little corner so I can simultaneously 3d model AND watch Married at First Sight in my browser- true story. Not great for productivity, but that’s how I roll.

Just take a look around for a minute. Here’s what your workspace will look like.

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We’re in the Model mode- for the moment, we’re going to stick around here, but you’ll notice if you take a look at that dropdown menu, you’ll see other modes: Patch, Render, etc. Store that away in your brain closet for a time down the line, but don’t worry about it now.

Right in the center of the page, you’ll see your origin. Those colorful lines are your axis- x, y, and z. The orange squares represent your planes- hopefully, you paid attention in math class, but if you didn’t, a plane is a flat, 2d surface that extends infinitely far. By creating shapes on these planes and manipulating their relationships with each other, we’ll be able to make our 3D models. Every new design defaults to having 3 planes- the x, y, and z- but you can add as many as you need or like for your design.

Next, we’re zooming to the other side of the page- to the little cube-y dude in the upper right. This is where you’ll be able to see where you are in the workspace- it’s called the ViewCube.  When you click on the different faces of the cube, and the workspace will reorient. Click around that corner for a minute to start understanding how it works. Now, navigate back to front. Click and hold the scroll wheel or center button of your mouse, and move the cursor (which should be a little orbit symbol with a plus sign in it) around. You should be zooming around the space, able to move above, around, and under the grid. Get used to this, because you’ll be doing this A LOT.

Now let’s take a look at the menus on the top bar.  You’ll see that they are in categories like Create, Modify, Assemble, etc. If you click on any of the categories, you’ll find a drop down menu with lots of other options. Take a minute to look around and familiarize yourself with what’s in each menu. If you find yourself frequently using any of these tools, you can pull them up to the top bar for easier access by doing this:

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Next, make sure your browser is visible- it should be hanging out on the left side of your screen. If it’s not, go up View>Show Browser. The Browser is basically the command center of your piece. It’s where all the separate sketches, components, and shapes that will comprise your model will be listed.

Test Drive: Diamond-y Ring

We’re now going to make a sketch. Actually, a few sketches. No kiddie pool here- we’re going right into the deep end. The point of this exercise is to play with a bunch of different tools and commands and just familiarize yourself with the interface of the program- DON’T GET DISCOURAGED IF THIS SEEMS HARD OR IF THINGS DON’T GO WELL AT FIRST. It IS hard, and that’s the point. The endgame of this tutorial is not a great-looking ring- it’s that you feel a little more comfortable with some of the tools and commands in Fusion 360.

A sketch in 3D modeling is pretty much exactly what it sounds like- it will be a series of lines and points that exists on a given plane. We’re going to make 3 sketches, one on each of the current planes.

To start a new sketch, do this:

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In order to make a sketch, you have to select the plane it will exist on. When you select “create sketch,” you’ll notice that you can highlight any of the 3 planes. Choose the one you want.

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So now that my plane is selected, I can go ahead and draw a circle using the circle tool. I draw it roughly the size I want, then I type in my exact measurement- 17mm, in this case. Dimensioning your sketches is important- it allows you to go back in and very easily make changes if you realise something you’ve done isn’t quite the size you intended.

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So now that I have a circle I’m happy with, I can either hit escape, or hit “stop sketch.” They do the same thing.

You’ll notice on the left side that a Sketches category has popped up in your browser!

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Now I’m going to draw a polygon on the second plane using the line tool- we’re going to make it look like a diamond.

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Now, I want to make a little halo for my diamond. I just follow the same procedure as I did for the first circle, but i make it smaller, and I do it on the 3rd on final plane.

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I now have THREE sketches on 3 planes. 

You’ll also now see little symbols pop up on the bottom. That’s your Design History- I pointed it out in the top image of the workspace. This is an incredibly useful tool- it allows you to go back and make changes in elements at any point in the design process, and will then carry those changes through the rest of the steps you’ve already completed.

Sketches have to exist on planes, because points have 0 dimensions. But now we’re going to make bodies from our sketches, and everything is going to change forever.

The simplest way to make a body from a sketch is to extrude its profile. You’re basically selecting a shape, then pushing or pulling it in one or two directions to create a volume.

Go to Create>Extrude, and select your diamond. Blue arrows will pop up, and you can either push or pull them to the height you want, or you can write in a dimension (I usually do the latter for the sake of accuracy). For the diamond, we are extruding symmetrically, so extruding .4 mm on one side will result in a .8mm thick shape.

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We’re going to do something different for the two circles. Instead of extruding, we’re going to turn the profiles of the circles into pipes. Go to Create>Pipe, and select the big circle sketch. You’ll see the pipe pop up around the circle, but we want to customize it for our specifications. We’ll change the section size to 1.6, and we change the section profile from a circular pipe to a square one. We do the same for the smaller pipe, except that one we set to a section size of .7mm.

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Now, I’m realizing I made my diamond too small (isn’t that always the case?). No problem- I can just scale it. Go to Modify>Scale, and select the diamond. You’re going to want to change the “point” to the midpoint of the diamond, so that when it scales, it scales evenly across the access. Now, just scale it to the size you want.

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My halo is too small now, because I made it to match the size of the smaller diamond. To fix that, we want to measure the newly scaled diamond with the help of the Measure/Inspect tool, and (this is where Design History comes in handy), go down to your sketch of the small circle and change the dimension to reflect the new diamond width. Easy. The rest of the design will automatically update.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.24.33 PM

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And now we have our 3 bodies! They’re the browser now, too, in their own folder above the sketches folder.

Note: from some angles, the bodies may look like they’re overlapping- but from other angles, it’s clear that they’re not. Thinking objects are right next to each other when, in fact, they are, like, a million miles apart, is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when you’re first getting started with 3D printing. Get in the habit of inspecting your work from every angle.

Now, even though the sketches were limited to the surface of the planes, the bodies themselves aren’t. We can move them anywhere in space- and let’s try that out now with the halo (Modify>Move):

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.26.24 PM

Play with the moving controls- you can push or pull them around on the plane, or you can rotate them.. all sorts of stuff. You get it. Or, at least, you will, if you try it out.

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But ultimately, if you’re following along, you’ll want to position the diamond so it’s JUST overlapping the ring (when I scaled the diamond, it intersected the ring perfectly, but that won’t always be the case), and then move the halo so it’s positioned right around the widest part of the diamond.

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Once everything is nicely positioned, we’re going to copy the diamond (do this with right click from the browser), paste it, and use the controls that pop up to rotate it so it’s roughly at 1.5 and 7.5 (like a clock).

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Paste again, and rotate that one so it’s placed evenly between the first two. You should have six pretty even pizza slices once they’re positioned correctly.

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It should look like this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 9.33.21 PM

Or this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.31.31 PM

Yeah…. so that was a lot. But if you stuck with me to the end, congrats! You made a 3D model. Next time, I’ll give a quick rundown on a couple little finishing things and how to convert this into a file ready for 3D printing.

And of course, if you give this tutorial a shot, let me know how it goes- leave a comment, or fill out the contact form!



Designer, magpie, maximalist.

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