Autodesk expands the 123D family

New products 123D Catch and 123D Make fill out Autodesk’s growing line of products for the consumer Maker market.

Autodesk’s popular 123D line, which includes 123D and 123D Sculpt just got two new components, 123D Catch and 123D Make. The new products are still a little wet, coming as they do out of Autodesk Labs and not yet fully formed, but the new products demonstrate Autodesk’s vision for the future. The new products were introduced with a presentation at Autodesk’s San Francisco HQ where Autodesk CEO Carl Bass talked about some of the trends he sees changing the future including the ability to capture real world data via sensors, photos, and scans and use that to manage buildings or construction or create new objects.

Carl Bass at Autodesk's 1 Market Gallery
Carl Bass at the Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco describes the huge changes that are happening in design and manufacture thanks to capture, scan, and 3D print techniques. (Source: JPR).

Bass also talked the ways in which manufacturing processes might change in the future. For instance, today companies often design products locally and then have them manufactured somewhere else—at a large contract manufacturer.  The alternative to that model is the small local factory, the local machinist, or other forms of localized build and manufacture. For some time now, it has seemed as if that world were giving away to cheap, overseas mass production.Well, not so fast. The creeping Maker movement has flipped a switch in people and has opened up new avenues for creative expression.  Carl Bass quoted a study from Young and Rubicon, which says 64% of people in the U.S. have an idea for something they’d like to make. The Young and Rubicon study puts the DIY market at $700 billion.

Bass introduced Jim Newton from the Tech Shop. This start-up is using the model of gym memberships to offer manufacturing services locally. People can pay a monthly membership and they can use machine tools to build their designs. Staff is on hand to help people realize their ideas. The available tools include milling machines and lathes, welding stations, laser cutters, sheet metal equipment, drill presses and bandsaws, industrial sewing machines, CNC routers, you name it. Newton says that the people who come into the Tech Shop have an idea about something they want to make. They usually don’t have CAD models all ready to send to cutters and 3D printers.

And that’s where Autodesk’s new tools come in. In addition to 123D Sculpt, the new stuff gives people a way to create a 3D model by working with 3D primitives and then pushing, pulling, gouging, and squishing a shape they want. The original 123D is a more traditional CAD tool designed to be easy for any beginner. The product is on its 7th Beta and the newest version adds laser cutting tools. The new 123D Catch product is based on photogrammetry and point cloud technology. It lets users take a bunch of pictures of something, from all angles, and then create a 3D model. In theory, the user, armed with a newly created 3D model can take their creation to the TechShop and make it themselves. Or, they can take advantage of the new 123D Make and order a cardboard laser cutout delivered in layers and ready to assemble. The 123D Make model is packed up into  a kit and sent with pinhole guides to make it easy to line up the pieces and glue them together. Autodesk has also included a site for sharing 3D models and it’s already seeded with basic 3D shapes and some objects to help people get started.

New Zealander David ten Have of Ponoko was also on hand to present another option for doing it yourself. Ten Have describes his company Ponoko as a personal foundry. People can upload a model and order a 3D print to be spit out, packed up, and sent within a few days. The site is also a clearning house for people who want to sell or share models. People can visit the site and access a model, customize it and output their own vision.

Cardboard Buddha
123D Make can divide a model into layers that can be laser cut from cardboard and glued together to create a low cost 3D model. Models are sent ready to assemble with pinhole guides.

As an indication of how excited Autodesk is about this, these new tools are being shot out of Autodesk Labs as soon as they’re deemed usable. 123D Catch, formerly known as Photofly is a Windows product with its roots in France. Autodesk has also just acquired former development partner Alice, from the Netherlands, which has point cloud and photogrammetry tools. The company intends to further refine the capabilities of these tools to manage and translate capture data. The expertise here is translating data from overlapping images gained by taking lots of photographs (Autodesk recommends at least 20 from all angles) and turning it into a 3D mesh that can be used to create a 3D object or further developed in 3D modeling tools including AutoCAD, 3ds Max, Blender, etc.  123D Make is Mac based, which reflects the orientation of the team that’s been working on that technology. It can translate a file from Catch and slice it up into layers for a laser cutter, a low cost way of realizing a 3D vision.

Turning everything upside down

Right now this technology is spread out across Windows, and Macs, and iPads and Android machines, but Autodesk sees the booming interest in these kinds of technology as evidence of the next industrial revolution and Autodesk wants to speed up the process. This industrial revolution turns everything upside down.

For example, Nike lets people design their own tennis shoe online and have them shipped immediately. Next, says Autodesk, that factory making the shoe won’t necessarily be in China, it could be in the next block, and give it a few more years and the home 3D printer will make it at home.

During the question and answer session, David ten Have was asked when he thought we’d see printed circuit boards produced by this kind of technology. Ten Have said, “soon, it’s very close, I’d say 18-24 months.” Watch out China, and watch out Taiwan. It looks like manufacturing is coming home.

Autodesk 123D Make is a technology preview available for free download at The Autodesk 123D Catch application can be downloaded from

Go play with this stuff and show us what you come up with.