3D modeling program for electronic circuits?

Hey everybody,

We're working on a new project to introduce Blockly to younger audiences, in a partnership with the Invention Convention.

As part of this project, we're looking at newer ways to present our drawings. Think about circuit pictorials of the FLiP with LEDs, speakers, sensors on breadboards. To date, we've done some of the nicest drawings with Corel. There's also Fritzing.

But what about 3D? Have any of the 3D tools progressed in a way that's made them really easy to use? Which specific program might you suggest if we wanted to look at drawing circuits in 3D?


Ken Gracey
Parallax Inc.


  • Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi) Posts: 22,543
    edited 2019-05-30 - 20:37:06
    I recommend Rhino3D for the 3D modeling part. It has a very natural feel to it. I've had it since version 3, and have continued updating through version 6, although I still use version 5 mostly, since I don't have to log in every time I use it. It comes with a renderer that's pretty rudimentary and probably not good enough for what you want to accomplish. (Rhino was used for the BOE-Bot encoder-slot wheel design and the renderings made from that.)

    For the best rendering, you can export Rhino models to Moray, which uses POV-Ray as its backend renderer. Both Moray and POV-Ray are free. They're a little dated, but produce excellent 3D renderings.

    Moray has a great material editor, which you can use to define colors, textures, reflectivity, etc. I used Moray for some of the images and icons in the Scribbler GUI.

  • Phil, could you imagine modeling a breadboard with components in Rhino? I used it way back when - like 10 years ago for the Penguin Robot. Worked pretty well but every now and then the model parts would fully detonate and scatter across the screen. I'm sure those problems are gone now :)

    Ken Gracey
  • I use FreeCAD for all of my parametric 3D. Was introduced to it as the 3D modeled behind KiCAD’s 3D viewer. Very fun to work with, but takes a while to learn. As a plus, FreeCAD carries a Python console built-in.
  • Oh yeah, it'd be crazy to design every component in Rhino. But there are a lot of 3D component models already out there for download. Just import them into Rhino and arrange them the way you want.

    I still use Corel for documentation drawings and try to make them look as 3D-ish as I can with shading.

  • Clock LoopClock Loop Posts: 1,604
    edited 2019-05-31 - 00:17:01
    The electronics workbench package from NI, contains a program called utiliboard, which lets you design parts in 3d and render the board result.
    I have used it and its one of my favorite schematic/pcb design programs, but the suite is expensive, my copy came from tech school.
    I haven't found any other program that can turn a schematic into a 3d render with such ease.

  • Ken,

    If you are looking for software to help with the of creating prototype breadboard circuits for both students and engineers, check out Virtualbreadboard(VBB).

    I have used earlier versions in the past and they have significantly improved and expanded it. While not strictly 3D, it does visually give you a bread-boarding experience that can virtually run your circuit creations.

    Unfortunately the latest incarnation of VBB currently only runs on
    OS: Xbox One or Windows 10 version 17134.0 or higher
    Architecture ARM, x64, x86

    You have to go through the Microsoft Store in order to download and install it, which can have you go through a few hoops if you don't already have a Microsoft Store account.

    They have created/integrated a lot of Arduino based examples, but perhaps you could help them see the light and see Propellers and Parallax products in their future...

    Check with your engineering people, they may already be aware of VBB, if they are not, they should at least give it a try.
  • What age and what size group?
  • MicksterMickster Posts: 1,578
    edited 2019-06-02 - 08:28:04
    I see the Fritzing icon on there, does it use Fritzing or is it just a link?
    I would test it but not convenient right now.
  • The age is 8-14.

  • ercoerco Posts: 19,601
    edited 2019-06-02 - 23:59:40
    Marginally related: Just for 3D design of plastic parts, my business partner taught himself Shapr 3D in a matter of weeks. It's a surface modeler, very different from Solidworks. He uses an iPad Pro and stylus to design superb parts in a matter of minutes. He got a 3D printer and has absolutely transformed our design & prototyping business.

  • Ken Gracey wrote: »
    The age is 8-14.


    8 is on the young side, but I was going to suggest augmented reality or VR, if it's a small group. Blender and Unity are easy to learn and XR/AR/VR presentations are a hit.

    You could use blender without any of the VR stuff. If you're only making images you'd be up and running in no time.
  • Check Onshape too.
    It’s a modeler closer to Solidworks and friends.
    There is a free non for profit version with public model limitation, and edu options.
    It works also on tablets using the dedicated app.
    There is also a configuration system that would offer some families options.
    Both with Rhino and Onshape I can partecipate in the modeling effort.
    On the collaborative side most solutions offer stp and stl import, so in theory anyone could model some parts in a different package and it would still be possible to assemble all models in a different tool.
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