Podcast: Teach Yourself CAD with Aaron Breuer, Founder of SelfCAD

 |  Sammy Ekaran

Thank you Tom from WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast for interviewing Aaron. Below is a transcript of the interview. The podcast audio can be heard here.

Tom & Tracy Hazzard         

WTFFF?! 463: Teach Your SelfCAD with Aaron Breuer         

Teach Yourself CAD with Aaron Breuer, Founder of SelfCAD.

We’ve been having a lot of CAD software and slicing software reviews in recent months. We’re going to continue to do that because there’s so many of them out there. Today’s episode is a little different. We actually have an interview with a new startup company who’s created a new CAD software called SelfCAD. This is a product that’s been in beta for a little while. By the time this is published, it is fully released. We’re going to talk with the CEO and creator, Aaron Breuer, who had decided to create SelfCAD, about why he did that. Honestly, I was a little surprised to see someone who’s entrepreneurial going after what seems to be a really crowded market of CAD software. When you listen to him you can really understand why he did it.


I think he’s a person from a very entrepreneurial way, which I think is really interesting. I think his own personal journey of self-taught CAD really has led to a unique perspective on it, where a lot of CAD developers come so out of an indoctrinated CAD world. They’re a little too much drinking the Kool-Aid. When you understand that and when you think about the emerging market of people needing to learn CAD, it actually makes sense. It’s a great little niche. Let’s listen to the interview and then we’ll talk about it some more on the other side.


Aaron, thanks so much for joining us today on WTFFF. It’s great to have you here.

My pleasure.

Aaron, can you give us a little background on yourself first and then why you decided to create SelfCAD?

I’m basically a self-taught entrepreneur. I’ve been in many industries before. I’m a licensed life and health insurance, licensed mortgage banker, real estate, many different things. A few years ago, I decided I want to go into tech business and build something on my own. I had an idea of something to develop, which in order to do that required online 3D software. I started working on that. As we started developing it, I consulted with some professors in some universities and some others. They suggested that I would be much better off just developing full-fledged CAD software for 3D printing, as this is what’s newly coming up and so on. We refocused and that’s basically where the idea came from, I started developing that.




How long has SelfCAD existed than online?

SelfCAD existed over the last half-year. We kept on uploading some beta tests. The official beta released was about six weeks ago. Basically now, it’s getting done and we’re getting ready. Now, we get to release the final release.


Is this a free software, or what’s your business model in that regard?


SalfCAD is for everyone else who wants to design casually and print.

It will be subscription-based. Basically, it can be Software as a Service. We will offer free trials, in the beginning probably 60 days. It will be relatively at low-end pricing because we go after the mass market. The idea that we had is not going after professionals who use CAD software on day-to-day business in their profession, but rather for everyone else who wants to design casually and print. Keeping that in mind, we much rather price it on the low end of the market.


What are some challenges to teaching yourself CAD? You’ve already, obviously, done that. Now, you’re promoting software that helps people teach themselves CAD. What are some of those challenges?


I’ll take a step back and explain a little bit the way we see CAD software in general and the way the market and how it changes with 3D printing. Basically, the way we see CAD software, it’s maybe a little bit overly generalized, but it’s mainly three categories. There’s the very high-end category, which is a small segment of the market, which is for engineers, architects. They are concerned a lot about mathematically correct designs and a lot of physics simulations and those types of things.


What would be an example there, Aaron?


Fusion 360 (www.autodesk.com), those types of designs. Those types of software, it’s two things. First of all, it takes time to learn and it takes a lot of personal education to know it and so on, and a lot of dedication obviously. But that market is saturated, and as I said, this is more for professionals. The second market, which is probably the biggest piece of the pie is for rigging, animation, and rendering. Those are the same thing, which is for professionals who do it for a living, but it’s more like for day-to-day things. If you look at a TV or video, any production, which is being done professionally, uses 3D software. They are concerned about a lot of, obviously, renderings and make things look basically, an effect, different types of effects, and rigging animations, so you can see flying birds. All of these are done with 3D software. The same thing, this is a complex software, it takes a long time to learn. But for professionals who do it for a living, that’s basically what they’re looking for.


You’re talking about like ZBrush and those types of programs?


Not necessarily ZBrush. ZBrush is more for artists. It’s not really focused on rendering or animation. It’s mainly for just sculpting. There are others, if you think about Maya, Blender, which is a free version, all of these, you can do rigging and animation. Some other software specializes in.

special effects, rendering, and those types of things.


Like a 3D Studio Max would be another example of something like that, that does the animation and rendering.


Exactly. Then you have the other part of the market, which is basically just for manufacturing. This has been always around. Now, it comes with 3D printing, it’s a household item, which is even more. In that case, you’re not concerned about effect. When it comes to effect, it’s like Photoshop. It’s something where you can design something looked very nice. For example, you want to design, let’s say, a simple cube. I can make it look rustic or brick style or whatever, and just an instance, a simple shade or different effect, but this is not printable. If you want to print something, you need to have real geometry. Everything you design must be real. If you want to make something look rustic, you have to add a lot of details in the geometry and manipulate it in order to make it look like that. The same as with any other type of effects and so on.


SelfCAD: They need something that will not have all these additional tools because having all of that means it is much more complicated.


The problem with this industry, with this type of design, is that if you focus just on designing for an average person who wants to buy a 3D printer and want to design, they basically need two things. First of all, they need the software that specifically targets that industry and has much more than what’s available today for this. Secondly, they need something that will not have everything else, that will not include all these additional tools, which is used for animation and rendering. Because having all of that means, it makes it much more complicated to learn the software and takes much more than this. Obviously, it’s usually expensive software as well.


Aside from that, there’s also a problem when it comes to 3D printing specifically because obviously a 3D object is not printable as is, so you need to slice them. Basically, what slicing means, the printer works in 2D slices. You can think about it like a hot glue gun. If you use a hot glue gun, you put in a certain material and it heats up, it melts and then lies down. If it dries up, you can lay another layer on top, another layer on top, and so on. When you take a 3D object, you basically have to slice it that you’re able to lay down each of these layers. In addition to slicing, there are a lot of other things involved. For example, how tight you want the layers to be compressed together if you want to have some support material if you want to have a raft and many other settings.


Our listeners understand slicing and slicing software in general. What is unique is that your CAD software seems to be an all in one package, where typically someone who is this target user you’re describing that’s not the professional, more of a home or hobbyist type of user, they would usually have one program to create their model for 3D printing and go to another program in order to slice it. When I was researching your software, that was one of the more interesting things that, the user-friendly aspect of it being an all in one program I think is pretty unique.


In fact, it’s not just in one program, what we have, as I said, we focus on this market, for these specific users. But what we have done is, first of all, we have included, even when it comes to modeling, we’ve included sculpting. We don’t have what ZBrush has, we don’t have 100 brushes. We have interviewed people and most people that we interviewed are saying they use just a handful of brushes, what’s most important to them. We have the most important brushes people would use that’s available. We have sculpting, we have modeling, we have a unique 2D drawing, which people tell us that we are the best in the market, no one has that. It’s real-time Boolean operations, has a lot of unique settings, freehand drawing, which is really nice.


We have some examples someone has used that to create a key chain maze. Someone has created a Lego Batman and used a lot of these amazing drawings. Then we have a certain shape generator, we have an image generator, which is the example video for the Lego Batman. He’s created the Batman logo just with an image. He’s imported an image and it creates the geometry. We have a lot of helper functions for average people. At the same time, we made sure not to include features that will require in-depth knowledge of geometry and mathematics. We have compensated for that with a different types of tools. Basically, it’s a full-fledged system. You can model and perhaps do even more with certain features than you can do with others. At the same time, it removed complex features, so it’s available and easy to learn the software.


I get that. That sounds really good actually because I think one of the things that is overwhelming with a lot of CAD programs is just that the sort of kitchen sink approach, that they have every single command anybody has ever thought of included there and it’s hard to find what’s really going to work for you. Because we talk about this all the time, like in Photoshop or something like that, people only use 10% of the capabilities of what it can do on an average day or on an average project. Even when you’re a professional, you just don’t use all the commands all the time, it’s specialized. If you’re only using 10% and you’re only including 10%, you’re making it much less complex to learn.


SelfCAD: We figured out how we can achieve the same thing on a more simple note.

On top of that, also we have added something called the Magic Fix, which is sometimes if the object is not manifold, you need to fix it before going to slice it. We have a Magic Fix tool. Then we have, you go simply File Print and it opens the slicer. It is a one-stop-shop for everything. When I say we simplified and removed, it’s not really at the expense of removing flexibility. We have a lot of unique features. One example is our Cubic Selection. This has been used in many video tutorials you’ll see and people love it. If you go to other software, you would have to use a Knife tool and you have to know how to work with edges and things like that. With our Cubic Selection, it works like just a simple slider and a simple bounding box to manipulate. It works really, really fast, and really easy to use. Many features like this, which is more like putting a lot of effort of seeing how other software do things that require complex features. We figured out how we can achieve the same thing on a more simple note.


Tell me a little about this 2D aspect. I want to hear you describe what that means. You can actually draw shapes in the software, there are 2D, and then it transforms them into 3D?


Yes. Basically, every software has a drawing. Mainly, it’s plain drawing. It’s basically a 2D drawing. We have that as well, although not as advanced as other software have that. When it comes to 2D drawing, it’s also available on most software, but why we are unique is you can draw with a lot of available sidings. It also includes Boolean operations as you draw. You have options to set different starting points, ending. You can use it in a way of free drawing. You could use it to follow the grid and click-based. Obviously, you can set it to detect polygons automatically for the polygons or not for the polygons. There are a lot of helpful settings, which is working in a 2D program, but then you finalize it and it becomes 3D. It’s very similar to what other software has but the flexibility that it gives you is really easy, it’s really convenient and it’s really unique what this enables you to do. A lot of combinations for a lot of different technology to put together that works while you’re drawing it and it’s real-time, really fast.


One of the complaints though that we’ve had over time with a lot of the software packages is that they are in their own language. Have you done anything to change that, to use the language that is much more layman, for lack of a better way to describe it?

Yes. In fact, this was one of our biggest struggles. We designed initially everything there. For example, when it comes to Boolean operations, we used to call them Stitch and Scoop. We had like the scoop on something. The stitch is like you make a union and you scoop out. We had like almost everything is unique naming. We still have some of them but we got a lot of criticisms from the industry, people who use it that there are certain things that are just standard, you shouldn’t change them. It’s in between. We had a lot of surveys and we didn’t take anyone single advice, but based on surveys, we got a consensus and see what should be changed. There are certain things we had to go with industry standards. Definitely, we were advised to use the hotkeys, shortcuts to try to be similar to the industry. But it’s not consistent, it’s not like one has the same. Some software may be different, but we try to be as close as possible. The language, things that we were able to simplify, we did, but not everything we were able to do that. Yes, we try to do that as much as possible.

We especially find a misfit between the language of 3D printing and the language of CAD. They don’t match up there. When you’re doing an operation or something like that and your effect of what it ends up like as it’s sliced or other things happen to it in the preparations of 3D printing process tends to not match up to what people think they should be called.

Can you give me an example?


I think whether it’s specifically for the printing or slicing aspect or the modeling aspect, I just think there are a lot of typical CAD terms that don’t make sense to someone new coming into CAD. I guess I might disagree a little bit with some of the people that gave you the advice to move away from more descriptive commands that make sense. Let’s take a fillet for example. I think a typical new person coming into CAD doesn’t know what a fillet is, but they understand the idea that they want a rounded edge. To have something that’s a little more intuitive of a name makes sense for this market you described that you’re going after. I can understand where seasoned CAD people would say, “It’s frustrating. I just want to know where the fillet is and I didn’t know I was looking for this thing called Soft Edge or Rounded Edge,” or whatever it ended up being. I liked your example of the scoops and stitching because I think that’s very descriptive.


We did leave those. For example, we have something called Bevel Edges and that basically will give you the flexibility and fillet and so on. But we combined the tool in a single tool with additional settings and sliders. We’re a little bit unique on that. Rather than making multiple different settings, we tried to combine and make simple sliders. In that case, yes, we call it Bevel Edges, which I think is more descriptive than fillet for sure.


In terms of preparing something to print, I think even the very idea of slicing is a very technical term. Really, you’re just preparing something to print. I think that’s what your average person would say, “Hey, I want to print it. I want to send it to the printer. I want to prepare it for print.” They don’t care about slicing. It doesn’t matter how you prepare it to be, I don’t want to know about pixels or slicing or any of those things, whether it’s going through my regular printer or my 3D printer. I just want it to be ready to print.


That’s interesting because, within our software, we have File Print. It’s basically just concerned about printing and preparing for printing. But we still use the term slicing when it comes to all of our educational material and videos and so on.


We think the industry needs to get rid of that term altogether. It’s not just you, but we think that 3D printing, adding that in the mix of things is just hurting its ability to appeal to the mass market.


That makes a lot of sense. I have seen some people use the example, comparing themselves to a printer driver, something like that. It’s not technically correct.

From what I’m understanding with your software, it’s really more of a consumer play or an entry-level play than it is a professional one. I respect that. I think that there is a need for that. Those kinds of people, I don’t know that it matters to call it slicing. I think it can just confuse them. Certainly, in terms of the industry, it is slicing, we know that. Sure, that’s the name it was given eight years ago.


Actually, let’s talk about that because there are systems out there that, I’m going to call them step-up systems. You start at 123D and then you move up to the next version of AutoCAD. You’re moving through. They’re stepping you up through their system of learning, but you really are staying right in this learning realm for people who really don’t care to go the whole distance. What’s going to happen if they decided they get total passionate about it and they want to move up? Are you going to be building the next, upper level for them?


SelfCAD: The basic platform is really simple and then when you need something, you install an app.


That’s a very good question. Actually, using specifically 123D Design as an example, it requires a little bit more knowledge than what it requires with us. All of these features require multiple points clicking. It’s quite amazing what you can do with simply rotating a rounded edge for example, but it requires you to select a match, selecting an edge and multiple points selecting, which is quite complex. We had some features like that, which is Snapping. I think they have it also and most software has that, from a technical perspective, it’s quite easy to do. But it didn’t really fit into our design because it requires multiple points to select. We try to keep everything very simple.

To answer your question, if you think about a startup, as you said, you have to upgrade and go to something else. We think that if your intention is to design for 3D printing, or by the way we will soon have a slicer, if we find a better name, for CNC machines as well. If you think about staying to design just for manufacturing, there’s no reason for you to upgrade. However, if you’re planning to upgrade and use more flexibility and certain features that are more complex but it’s easy to use, we will accommodate that with plugins. The concept is that if I would buy my iPhone or any other smartphone with all of the gadgets that I have already installed, I would probably throw it out. It would be too complex to learn.

The idea that we have is that the basic platform is really simple and then when you need something, you install an app, which has two benefits. Number one, you don’t have to learn everything at once. More importantly, these apps are unique features that someone likes this, someone likes that. No one likes everything. If you try to have everything, then you have a kitchen sink approach. Basically, if you need something, you search for it and then you download it exactly and learn it as you download it. We have basically the same approach. To accommodate for more advanced things, it will be accommodated with plugins.


I’m always in favor of software that uses apps or plugins to expand and more customize the software for the users’ needs. It matches better to what we talk about here all the time, which is your what. Because not everybody’s approaching, what are they 3D printing, it’s the same type of thing. We may have heavy needs for heavy bevel and embossing of text and other things like that, but we may not have heavy needs for other types of techniques or other types of methods of developing a design itself.


I really like what you said about CNC, accommodating that, because another very popular device, which is going to be only getting less expensive in the coming years, is a laser cutter. They’re still a little expensive, around $5000 realistically. I don’t think the Glowforge has ever really fully been realized from what everybody hoped it would be. But still, there are others out there that are similar. That I see as a similar type of machine that people might use. For instance, would your software work to create geometry to be cut out on a laser cutter?


At the moment, we have the basics. We have a beta version. It may still take some time to totally deploy it, but we have a beta version on a three-axis CNC machine, to slice for the three-axis. We hope eventually to have an automatic slicer, which may be wishful thinking, but on paper, it seems to work, to support a five-axis machine as well. For a three-axis machine, it should be deployed hopefully in the next few months. Laser cutter, which requires just the three-axis machine if I’m not mistaken, then that should support that.

I think actually it only requires two axes. In talking about two-dimensional movement, X and Y only, with a laser cutting a flat piece of material probably is something your software could handle. Let’s go on to one more thing. Tell me about compatibility with different desktop 3D printers. That I find is one of the biggest issues with many of the standalone slicing software out there. I know you can certainly configure most of them for any Cartesian sized machine with any number of nozzles or whatever you may have.


What about for some of the closed machines, like a MakerBot fifth generator or a Replicator +? Is your software able to create models and print directly to those types of 3D printers?


We are basically comparable with the Cura engine. We are in midst of updating also with the new Cura version, which is slicing profiles based on machine-specific, material-specific, and object-specific settings. We will be comparable with that. You will be able to interchange, anything you create for Cura engine you can upload for us. It should be comparable.

What about closed systems? He’s saying anything Cura can work with. I don’t actually know if Cura will work with some of the closed systems or not. I’m not up to date on the latest iterations of that but we can look into that for sure.


You have many video tutorials and things on YouTube, is that correct?

Yes. We actually have three different playlists for now and we have some other links on our channel. Basically, the main categories are we have something that simply teaches our interface. Someone who’s new and learns interface. Obviously, it shows some design, but it takes from the perspective of the understanding interface. Then we have another playlist, which mainly focuses on designing objects, how specific tools work, and focus on that perspective. The tutorials have been designed for laymen.

We have another playlist, the third playlist, which has just five videos, which is explaining 3D space to someone who never used any software and might get confused with that. Explaining also 3D printing in general. Other than that, the community started doing some videos that we link. Hopefully, we’ll see a lot much more in that, which is more not really learning how to use it, it’s more advanced. See how cool objects could be created using a combination of these tools, which is technically a little bit longer videos but it serves that purpose.


That’s great. That’s very important, to have some support system for users especially as you’re an emerging and new software on the scene. It’s great to see what you’re doing.

Thank you for spending some time with us today. We really appreciate it. I’m sure our audience will find it very interesting and want to check it out.

Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.


Teach Your SelfCAD – Final Thoughts

That was interesting. I think that this is really a fundamental problem in the 3D print market tipping into the mass market. There are a lot of people who come to us all the time, a lot of you listeners out there who just want to do this, but what’s holding you back is the CAD because it takes so much time. If there’s a solution for that, we’re all for bringing it to you. If we can find it, that’s our whole goal here, is to cut the learning curve as much as we can. There are a lot of companies trying to go after the entry-level CAD market. But these companies are usually trying to step you up or the expectation is you’ll outgrow that software at some point in time. What if you never outgrow it because you just don’t need it?

SelfCAD: He did this all on his own in a startup sense. That’s extremely difficult and challenging. Kudos to him.


I think that’s really where Aaron is going for. He’s really deciding that he’s making a CAD software that is more of a consumer level, I would call it a consumer-level or a hobbyist level CAD program, than a professional one. The only other attempts at that have really been something like SketchUp, that was free. But it’s still highly techy and the same industry language of indoctrinated terms and things. I respect what he’s doing. This is not an easy thing to do. Think about it, he did it with a lot of freelancers working with him on this. It’s not like he developed this entire company or had the resources like Autodesk or something where you can split off a group and say, “Here, develop this.” He did this all on his own in a startup sense. That’s extremely difficult and challenging. Kudos to him for getting it this far already. It’s just amazing how quickly that’s come together for him.

Really, the video channel on YouTube, the videos, the tutorials, and examples there are very professionally done. They’ve done a good job of using that medium to not only show people before they start using it, what it looks like, how it works, what the benefits are. It really is helping you teach yourself. Although, I think that the learning curve to get in the software is not a steep climb. I think that’s really necessary right now. I think the basic ones out there, like 123D Design or something like that, they feel, from an adult’s perspective, like they’re kid’s software. Especially the Tinkercad (www.Tinkercad.com or even recently I did the review on MorphiApp.


Lannea has been trying it. She’s almost eight and she likes it. I’m impressed with it, but it’s definitely more of a kid’s or a very beginning app that probably anybody will outgrow. Tinkercad, really the same. But it also feels a little demoralizing as an adult going into it. You’re like, “Oh my God, I’m starting out at the kid level. My five year old could be doing this.” It doesn’t get you too excited. My mom uses Photoshop Elements, which is like Photoshop Lite. She feels really comfortable in there, she’s a photographer, she wants to manipulate some of her art pieces. It’s totally comfortable in there because it’s easy to use and all of that. If she wanted to go up to Photoshop, she could, she just knows she doesn’t need it so she stays in that place. That works really well for her. I think that that’s what it needs. It didn’t make her feel like she was a baby learning it. It didn’t feel like it was so basic.


I think that that’s required here. Teenagers to adults, we want to learn this, we want to be able to 3D print, we want to make the things we want to make. But we don’t want to be babies in the process, it just feels wrong. We don’t want something to seem condescending to us as adults. At the same time, we really want something that we could just jump in and start using and it isn’t going to be a major research project for months and months before you can make anything with it.


I need to be perfectly clear here with our audience that this is not a software review. I have not reviewed and used this software yet. This was an opportunity to interview someone who’s created the software. This is as much of a story about what they’ve done and why as it is what the software is. I’m not going to vouch for it yet. Later when it comes out, I’ll do an actual review and then give you my actual opinion on it. Right now, we’re just going based on what we have learned by talking with the founder here. We also want to let you know that Aaron Breuer, the CEO, has offered a discount code to WTFFF listeners who want to try it out, who want to use it now that it is being fully released. This will give you 30% off the monthly price of the basic package which will be $6.99 a month, forever.

Discount code: WTFFF-30


One of the things that my article goes into is really, really understanding the profile of the person you are going after and holding tight to that. Because actually, that’s the critical path. The critical path to being successful is really dialing that in and getting that right. If you get that right, then their feedback is the one you should weigh heavier. That’s really where you want to really go into and then do that. There’s also a couple of other tips on some things that we’ve learned over the years of beta testing things like you haven’t done enough force testing. Brute force testing is absolutely necessary in products and software so you don’t get frustrated with too many crashes or too many things that don’t work. There’s a lot of unexpected things that happen as well.


Any of you that have a comment on that or if you’ve experienced or you’re trying out SelfCAD, please leave a comment or reach out to us and share your experiences anywhere in social media @3DStartPoint.



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