SAN RAFAEL -- Autodesk Inc, the leader in licensed computer-aided design software, has launched a free 3-D design application.

Available to iPad, Mac and PC users and accessible by any mobile device with a web browser is 123D Design (123dapp.com), an easy-to-use modeling and sharing tool that Autodesk hopes will tweak the creative impulses of potential future designers and manufacturers. Its the first 3-D modeling app in the 123D Design line.

“We just know there are millions of people out there who can be creative and they need an easy entry point to the apps. We just want to get these tools in their hands to see what awesome things they will come up with and inspire others in the process,” said Christian Pramuk, product manager for the new software family.

After a year of beta testing, 123D design launched on Nov. 12 and already has generated a 300,000-member online community and thousands of user-created models shared on the cloud.

The free 123D family includes 123D Design, a basic computer-aided design tool to get users accustomed to creating and moving objects online.

123D Catch allows them to capture photos, translating them into digital format. By taking multiple photos of yourself, for example, you can use Catch to create your own personal action figure.

[caption id="attachment_65619" align="alignleft" width="280"] Image made with Autodesk 123D Design tools.[/caption]

“More fun than a Renaissance studio, cleaner than a box of mud” is how Autodesk describes 123D Sculpt, a hands-on molding tool for shaping and painting that especially lends itself to touch screens.

Finally, 123D Make – the latest addition to the family and the most intriguing – allows users to fabricate an object themselves, slicing an online model in a number of ways, printing plans, cutting out the shapes using cardboard, paper, or even metal and assembling them into a finished 3D object.

   Additional apps and services will carry a price. For example, 123D Sculpt users can choose among 20 different starter shapes, four for $.99.

Advanced Autodesk tools such as an object file exporter can be purchased for $9.99.

For serious fabrication of prototypes Autodesk has partnered with 3-D printing companies and laser cutters to professionally produce the objects.

[caption id="attachment_65620" align="alignright" width="264"] Image made with Autodesk 123D Design tools.[/caption]

“While 3D printing is currently in the spotlight and gaining popularity we also have our sights set on other fabrication techniques,” said Mr. Pramuk. “Slicing a design in 123D Make, for example, can translate a form or idea into buildable structure that can be laser cut from flat material and assembled.”

Autodesk is counting on the sharing aspect to fuel growth of the apps, he said.

“We’ll be making updates to the software based on community feedback. We’re actively listening and engaging with our users and we’ve already received some great feedback and feature suggestions,” Mr. Pramuk said.

According to Samir Hanna, Autodesk vice president of Consumer Products, 123D Design is breaking new ground.

“For the first time ever, users can create sophisticated, precise 3-D models of real objects, have fun doing it and then fabricate the things they want and need, just the way they want them, “ he said.

“People said this couldn’t be done on iPad, and we’re happy to prove them wrong.”

The Autodesk 123D Design App is available from the App Store on iPad or at www.itunes.com/appstore. The Mac version of 123D Design is available from the Mac App Store.