From Digital to Physical: Geometric Translations - SCOPES Digital Fabrication

Lesson Details

Age Ranges
Fab-Safety.1, Fab-Modeling.1, Fab-Fabrication.1, Fab-Design.1

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Daniel Smithwick
Daniel Smithwick
I am the Product Manager (Master Fabricator status) for the SCOPES-DF project. I collaborate to build foundational and scalable digital fabrication knowledge for the next generation. I received a PhD from MIT for my dissertation on Physical Design Cognition and previously… Read More


In this guide you will learn to develop a general workflow between 3D modeling softwares and planar assembly techniques for laser cutting using geometric translation tools. This guide will focus on TinkerCAD and Fusion Slicer as introductory tools to support this workflow. The most important take-away from this guide is to follow the workflow outlined below from start to finish numerous times and to not get caught up in designing a ‘perfect’ model on the first try.

Applications of this translation based approach include prototyping studies as well as functional outcomes for physical production in architectural, product, and engineering design.

What You'll Need


  • TinkerCAD
  • Fusion Slicer


  • Laser cutter
  • CNC (optional)


  • Cardboard
  • Acrylic
  • Wood sheets


The Instructions

PROCEDURE 1: Modeling in TinkerCAD

TinkerCAD is an introductory modeling program where 3D models can be exported for 3D printing and laser cutting.


Practice adding/removing shapes to the workplane, translating & rotating their positions, making reflections, copies, and alignments and finally, making groupings of shapes and holes to construct compound shapes.


Workplane, Basic Shapes & Holes, Shape Generators, shape parameters, Import, Export, XYZ planes

Practical Considerations

Take advantage of the freedom of movement in the 3D modeling space by switching your viewpoint often with zooming, panning, rotating using a mouse and keyboard.

One practical technique to building into your modeling practice is to make duplicates of your designs and shapes while they are in progress so as to retain a modeling history that can be easily accessed.

PROCEDURE 2: Translations in Fusion Slicer

Fusion Slicer is shape translation program where 3D models are prepared for physical fabrication with planar materials.


Practice importing numerous 3D models each having different shapes, sizes, and levels of complexity. Systematically try out various Construction Techniques to understanding how your model is being translated into planar material. Primary techniques include: stacked slices, interlocked slices, and folded panels.



Layered manufacturing, interlocking planes, assemblability, folded geometry, panelization

PROCEDURE 3: Laser Cutting with Epilog Machines

Cut out and score digitally generated shapes with high precision.


Use different sheet materials such as cardboard, acrylic, wood to test out various laser cutter settings, including laser focusing, color mapping power/speed settings.

Safety Protocols

All laser cutting operations should be supervised and monitored at all times for innappropriate power/speed settings which can lead to fires. Follow your lab’s safety protocols to insure best practice.

PROCEDURE 4: Planar Assembly

Assembly of sheet materials to form 3D shapes either through folds, layers, or interlocking planes.


Practice assembling your model with different orders of assembly, materials, adhesives, and consider how friction and notching techniques determine the outcomes.


Precision, tolerance, friction, notches, layers, XYZ planes, part numbers, assembly order, stability, model fidelity.


  • (Fab-Safety.1): I can safely conduct myself in a Fab Lab and observe operations under instructor guidance.
  • (Fab-Modeling.1): I can arrange and manipulate simple geometric elements, 2D shapes, and 3D solids using a variety of technologies.
  • (Fab-Fabrication.1): I can follow instructor guided steps that link a software to a machine to produce a simple physical artifact.
  • (Fab-Design.1): I can be responsible for various activities throughout a design process within a group under instructor guidance.

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  1. SCOPES-DF March 8, 2019
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