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Color, pattern, and surface textures are the first things we react to when evaluating a product. For consumers to connect to 3D print products, 3D print textures need to be carefully considered and created as a part of the design process. This has been a challenging part of the 3D design process. Fresh from the Project Captis episode, Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard look back on the previous episode on technical tips for creating 3D print textures and surface materials and provide an update on how far the design process has come. They talk about the tools and improvements that are coming out to help apply textures to 3D models easier. In praise of the old school techniques, they then discuss why getting familiar with the different 3D manufacturing processes can inform you to create better 3D products that people will love.
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Technical Tips for Creating 3D Print Textures and Surface Materials
We’re going to be talking about an old Tom Hazzard episode. Sometimes we do episodes that are technical and Tom takes over, and this was one of them in our series. It was technical tips for creating 3D print textures. It was a request from an audience. I thought it’s a great one to follow our Project Captis introduction where we got to learn more about what was going on there with Josh St. John. It’s amazing how much easier it might be to create some of those things. I keep thinking about that as we were doing that episode.
This is one of my favorite episodes with WTFFF in the past. Sorry about that because Tracy wasn’t on it, but here’s the thing. I geek out on these tech things and when it comes to how to use your CAD files to achieve what you want to. One of the things about 3D printing that’s always been the case, and I think it still is, about every different 3D printer you could possibly use or buy to print your objects. There is a telltale sign in the surface quality of the part that speaks to how it was made, whether it’s powder bed fusion of some kind.
That goes beyond 3D printing though. You can tell when something’s injection-molded, rotationally molded. I feel like all of our manufacturing techniques for the most part have a distinctive signature as to how they’re made. It probably might take an engineer to analyze and pick up was this made this way or that way, sometimes. We may not be able to as a consumer identify it, but we have a quality understanding of this is what rotationally molded toys are like or garbage cans or whatever it is. We have a sense of that. There is a sense of that with 3D printing as well. That’s something that we have worked on throughout our careers and probably Tom’s more sensitive to it because I’ve been pushing him on surface sectors. It’s important to me. I love the idea of when we can transcend the manufacturing process of any kind, no matter what that is, whether it’s 3D printing or injection molding. I want to transcend that and I don’t want it to be obvious.
A surface texture is a wonderful way to create a beautiful object that is not a big billboard saying, “I was made this way.” It can transform an object to the point where, especially even in 3D printing, you may question, “How was that made?” That’s a good place to be because that says you’re looking more at the beauty of the object or what it’s meant to do then you are how it was made. My favorite is when they go, “What is that material? Is it plastic? Is it metal?” I love it when they can’t tell what the material is. That excites me even more. We’ve done a good job of transcending the process and the material options of what we had to make it from too.
What we’ve been learning through this special series with HP is that there are new tools. We’ve talked about some already, and we’re going to talk about some more in some upcoming episodes. There are new software tools. Things have advanced when it comes to textures and application of textures as it should have. The industry community continues to make improvements there and it’s been done so that now there may be a lot more easier ways to apply textures to a model you’ve created and not have to do it so much the hard way. I talk a bit about some of the more technical, conventional, old school ways to create surface textures in your models before 3D printing.
The Project Captis does sound like it’s going to make it a whole lot easier for you to capture it and figure out what that texture is and then re-engineer that all over your part or put that out and apply it. That’s fantastic that those things are there. We thought that this episode was a good one to pull in for you because sometimes knowing exactly how to do something at its old school hard way gives you more insights into how to apply it and utilize it to best achieve the ultimate goal. That is to create an object that people want, that people love, that they want to use or understand how to use if we’re trying to make something functional.In every different manufacturing process, there is a telltale sign in the surface quality of the #3Dproduct that speaks to how it was made. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
Some people reading may say, “These guys are old school. They use the new tools and don’t worry about how you have to do it the hard way.” Probably, there are arguments to be made that there’s value for each of those schools of thought. I believe that if you’re going to develop a quality product that has integrity, that meets all the goals of the manufacturer, the user, the market, it considers everything. You’ve got to be intimately familiar with all of the different manufacturing processes, their limitations, their pros or cons, all these things in order to do a good job at that. To me, I think similarly, even if you’re going to use an advanced tool to apply textures, it’s important to have a good understanding of what it takes to create them by hand or the hard way through CAD yourself. In order to then not only appreciate what new software does but they able to be able to use it in the most effective way and not have it cause problems in the way of what you’re trying to do.
Sometimes we learn that the process we had to use to apply 3D print textures in the past were not the best ways. Now, we can achieve even more textures, more techniques, and more things that we couldn’t do before, which allows us to actually go beyond in the design and creative process. We find that all the time in manufacturing. When we’re manufacturing something, we’re limited to the mold. It allows only these levels of textures and these types of textures. We also have to be cognizant of that on our end when we’re designing that we don’t simulate something that we can’t create. Thinking about those two things, that’s one of the reasons why we look at and deeply understand how I want to create something, how it needs to be created. That will also help me understand whether it’s limited and it’s an opportunity for printing it, in this case, 3D printing it, or making it and manufacturing it ultimately. Is that possible? Does it do what it’s supposed to do? Is it going to be textural enough, hot enough, create crumb catchers like we used to call them? If you create them too deep, they create come crumb catchers where you catch dirt and crumbs. We want to avoid those things. Learning that from an old school enough from a texture application point of view is helpful.
Not only that, you also want to remember that because you can do something in 3D printing doesn’t mean you should do it or doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy to manufacture in another way in another process. If you’re designing a part that’s going to be digitally manufactured forever, great. Use whatever’s available to you in that process and don’t worry about it. Eventually, this is a part that’s going to be injection molded, it’s going to be thermal formed or it’s going to be a machine out of metal instead of 3D printed in metal, you’ve got to know what those limitations are and realize that you could create this beautiful texture.
If it’s going to create an undercut or a problem in the mold, you’re not going to be able to remove it from it. You’ve got still real-world considerations for manufacturing. The consumer doesn’t end up carrying how something was manufactured. At the end of the day, all they care about is do they like the object? Is it attractive to them? Do they want it? Does it do what they expect it to do after they buy it? Ultimately, they don’t care if it’s injection-molded, rotational molded or 3D printed. It makes no difference. You’ve got to make sure that you don’t cause a problem by your lack of understanding of how some things might happen or how a texture might be applied.
This is why it’s Tom’s episode. We’re going to talk about those technical tips. Why don’t we go ahead and go to the episode where he answered the question on how to create 3D print textures.
Technical Tips for Creating 3D Print Textures and Surface Materials — originally aired on March 28, 2017
The subject is surface textures. This is written by Casey Snyder. Casey, I appreciate you writing in. Casey writes and throwing out there an idea for a show topic that many people might benefit from. The idea of adding subtle or maybe shallow surface textures to 3D models for 3D printing. Casey is looking for methods that would preserve an object’s basic geometry. Casey primarily uses SOLIDWORKS and would love to be able to knurl, fish scale, dimple, etc. over curved on irregular surfaces. Casey realizes it might be a tall order in SOLIDWORKS and has attempted surface textures in Mudbox and Blender, but feels it’s too uncontrolled. It always tends to alter the part in ways that were unintended. The idea here is to break up the layer lines, the visible vertical layer lines on a part, but ideally still maintain the core geometry. It’s actually a really good question and issue that Casey is having. I have had the same issue many times myself and I’m sure many of our audience have.
I’m going to tell you what I’ve done from my perspective. I’ve had the exact same issue. This is a tough one. Let’s talk about knurling first of all, because knurled surfaces are pretty unique in the world of geometry. Knurling is a way to create a diamond patterned grip surface usually done on metal, although I’ve seen it molded on plastic. It’s a process that has existed as long as metal lathes have existed. There’s an actual tool called a knurling tool. It’s quite fascinating because if you turn a piece of metal and let’s say you want a handle at the end. The easiest example I can think of is if you’ve ever used a vise grip pliers-type of tool, the Vise Grip brand. There are others that are not their brand. That’s the easiest example I can think of a knurled surface. If you don’t have one, next time you’re in Home Depot or Lowe’s or any hardware store, you can find one.
A vise grip is an adjustable pliers, it has an adjustable grip of a pliers made of stainless steel of some kind. They have this screw in one of the handles that you can adjust in or out to change that adjustable grip range of the pliers. At the very bottom of that, what you actually turn has a bit of a diamond patterned grip on it. That is a knurled surface and it’s formed with a tool called a knurler. The idea is that big screw is a screw machine part. It’s produced on a lathe. They’ll cut the threads in it and then have this little pronounced handle at the bottom. That starts out as a flat radius surface. This knurler tool, which has two different wheels on it, they’re really a cutting tool and a forming tool in one. If you push it in as the part is rotating slowly on the lathe, you push the knurler into it and it simultaneously cuts and digs into that surface and reforms that steel into a diamond shaped pattern which makes it grip really easily. Obviously, the intension was to make a surface that’s easy to grip.
When it comes to creating something like that in a 3D printed part, that’s a little different because obviously we’re not forming material as it’s rotating in the same way. You would have to actually create it in geometry. Here is where you have to be much more precise in creating your geometry than you would using a knurling tool. It’s an interesting example and it’s part of why I wanted to talk about this today. There are many things that have been created in standard manufacturing since the first industrial revolution. Manufacturing methods, decoration methods, manipulation of material methods that are built around how things are traditionally made, in this case a lathe turned part.
The knurler is fascinating because no matter diameter or part you want to knurl, no matter how large or small that diameter is, the knurler tool will work every time. It’s not something you program in to a process to make sure it all matches up. It just does it. It’s hard to explain why that is. It’s a fascinating aspect of physics and geometry and manufacturing. When we need to make something like that and 3D print it, you have to predetermine that pattern and the 3D printer has to actually go and make the geometry. It’s an entirely different process. It’s much more difficult to get that repeating pattern to repeat perfectly around the circumference of the part. Let’s say, in this case, you’re going to do a round cylindrical type of part with that kind of texture. You have to predetermine that and make sure that diamond pattern will absolutely match up and have consistent gaps and distances with no overlapping when you get around that entire 360 degrees of the part.
It’s not always easy. You’ve got to know what your circumference is, design your three-dimensional diamond pattern to actually meet up perfectly around that distance and then create some geometry that you’re going to probably use a tool like an array or revolve tool or there are a number of different tools you can use to achieve this in CAD. You’re going to either cut into or add to a three-dimensional surface in that pattern you want. It’s an entirely different process and it’s not easy. It’s not like you can just go, “I’ve made this cylindrical surface, go add a knurled surface.” Maybe some of the programs out there, some of the maybe higher end CAD programs, especially ones where you can specify threads and say, “I want an M6 thread on this part,” and it’s going to know what to do to make that thread or any one of the standard thread sizes you can do. I don’t know if any of them do knurled surfaces the same way. They may because it’s such a common thing. Let’s say for a moment that they don’t have that automated, it’s a hard thing to go and model in geometry.
What I would do in that case, when making a knurled surface, I would make my cylinder what I want. I would probably use either a Helix or a spiral geometry tool to create a curved path that is in a spiral formation. Spiral is probably the right one. You can define the number of turns that spiral does around the object and then over a given height distance, and then I would take a V-shaped or a triangular shaped, two-dimensional shaped and then extrude it. Extruding may not be the right term for following a path. Different programs call it different things. I use Rhinoceros primarily, so that would be sweeping a rail with a certain shape. It would create this V-surface in an object that is a continual, spiraled extrusion of a triangular shape or a V-shape. You’d have the point going in toward the center of the cylindrical object that you want to cut away from. You may have to adjust where your shape is relative to the path you’re sweeping it on or extruding it along. But you can get it so that you’re going to cut in to the cylinder you’re doing. You can do that with a spiral in one direction and then a spiral in the other direction to crisscross it and create your diamond shaped pattern.
It’s going to be a multistep process. It’s not something that’s going to work really well in your parametric programs like SOLIDWORKS. Casey, I hate to tell you this, but the way parametric programs and how they work, they’re not made to handle this type of operation in an easy way when you’re creating something in your mind from scratch. They definitely would want it to be some kind of a program or script that’s going to somehow define this geometry that you want to create and have something programmed in. You need it to be a tool that already exists to do this type of thing. I don’t use parametric programs very often for this exact reason because some of the forms, shapes and textures that I want to create are not that easily defined in parametric programs. I would be beating my brains out if I try to do it all the time. Creating something in more of a program like Rhinoceros or even Blender or some of these other programs that allow more freeform geometry creation would be easier to do it in. It’s still going to be a very manual process. There are few programs that can help you do it in an automated way.
Moving away from knurling, let’s talk about some of the other things. Let’s say you want a dimple texture, like you wanted to make a golf ball and have dimples on a golf ball or any other really overall textured surface. Mudbox actually is a good tool to do that. I have tried it. I actually have Mudbox and that’s what I would do. I would create my geometry in one program, bring it into another like Mudbox and apply surface texture to it. There are ways to do it so that you don’t alter the underlying geometry but it’s still not easy. I know certainly there are ways you can mess up your underlying geometry.
Here’s the other problem you’re going to have. Once you bring it into Mudbox, if you want to bring it back into SOLIDWORKS, I believe you lose all your parametric properties at that point. Exporting something from SOLIDWORKS into a Mudbox program or Rhinoceros or other program, you’ve got to be taking what is very smart geometry and making it dumb. That’s what we call it. You’re going to be making it into a dumb solid in order to do this surface texture modification to it. You need to have completely finished all of your geometry in the parametric program. The very end process is what you want to be doing the texture in. You don’t want to be having to then go back and do other things to it.
If I were you, and I were doing something like this, completely finish designing or engineering your part in SOLIDWORKS, save that file in SOLIDWORKS because you may need it again to do a different texture or if you take the texture too far and hurt it, you’re going to need to export it again. Then make that be the last step in the process, putting a texture on it and go right to STL for 3D printing. That process makes sense. It’s like a one-way street though. You are not going to be able to come back.
I have another example. Not to push Rhinoceros, it’s just what I have the most experience in. Rhinoceros is a program that there are a lot of companies that write and make plug-ins for it. I actually purchased a plug-in, pretty darned expensive one, I’m afraid to say. It was about $1,000, which was craziness unless you’re a professional. There’s a plug-in called RhinoEmboss. I bought that plug-in specifically to do this exact thing. Take geometry that I had created and then apply textures to it. You can apply any kind of texture you can imagine by using a 2D image, like a JPEG or something, of the texture. Any photograph that you like, you can load it in and almost project it over the top of an object you’ve made and you can mask-off areas you don’t want to be affected and essentially paint, if you will, or draw with a brush or whatever, in the areas that you want the texture to be applied.
You can choose if you want it to be embossed or debossed, or in another way, if you want it to be added texture away from the surface you’ve created or if you want it to cut in, basically making something convex or concave. You can choose and decide that. It allows you to create very unlimited kinds of textures. I think Mudbox does a similar thing. I think also ZBrush I’ve seen has that same kind of functionality but it’s not in the world of parametric modeling. In every case, every example that I know of that I’ve used, it’s going to be an end-use process, like I said, a one-way street. You don’t want to do that until you believe you don’t have any other modifications you need to make to your part because it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to do that after the fact.The #3Dprintindustry community continues to make improvements, so there may be easier ways to apply #3Dprinttextures to your #3Dmodel. @hp @zbyhp Click To Tweet
RhinoEmboss, lots of other great tools for manipulation, creating relief structures, that’s what we’re talking about. I come from the art and design world, even though I do engineering of things. I’m not a degreed engineer. In the art and design world, we’re talking about relief here, which is really reliefs have existed as long as art has in the form of sculpture. You’re talking about pushing and pulling material, creating different shapes and patterns and all kinds of different details. You can create relief in many different ways with certain different programs applying interpretation of 2D images to create three-dimensional geometry. You can change the degree of depth through which it goes and how hard or soft it’s created. You could change the scale of these patterns. That’s the best way that I found.
Here’s the thing. It takes some work to learn how to do it. If you want to create 3D printed parts that are built layer by layer and completely disguise those layers, this is the best way to do it and applying it to your vertical faces or surfaces that exist on your part, especially if you’re making a nice object. Let’s say you’re making a lampshade. If I was making a golf ball for instance, I would create the pattern of dimples, I would use standard commands in CAD program. I wouldn’t be using a texture interpreted from a 2D image and project it on to it. Dimples are probably a little easier because you can do a polar array around something that’s round or even spherical of a pattern that is a half drop repeat. I think golf ball dimple shape is a bit of a half drop repeat that is repeated radially around the sphere of a golf ball. I think it’s an actual definable, repeatable pattern that you can do.
If you’re going to do anything that has that definition, create the three-dimensional shapes that you either want to add or subtract from another object and use a command like an array, either rectangular or a polar, creating that repeated pattern, then use a Boolean operation to add it or subtract it from what you’re doing. That’s the only other way. Using SOLIDWORKS, that’s going to be probably the most practical way to try to do it, especially if you want to maintain all of your constraints and your smart geometry.
I would be interested to know, once you did that in a SOLIDWORKS or even Inventor or all these other programs that use parametrics, once you create that dimpled pattern, if you ended up making the part larger, I wonder if it might actually stretch the dimples. I don’t think it’s going to create more for you. These are the complexities and challenges with parametric modeling versus other kinds of modeling. This also points out the main reason why there are many different CAD programs out there. There’s not one absolute right or wrong way to make an object. The more engineering type of programs are wonderful for creating geometry simply and being able to make changes in that geometry without having to rebuild the whole part. You’re running up against where they become limited and it’s more on the artistic pattern decoration side of things that they tend to fall a little short or just are not able to achieve some of the same things as the more artistic programs. Then you have the more artistic programs.
ZBrush as an example is way on the far end of artistic. You can create all kinds of wonderful organic textures and shapes. You can’t be very specific in that program other than generally how big or small something is. You’re not going to have a great degree of precision. If you need to make a change to something, you may have to largely remake a large part, if not the entire part. There are pros and cons to every software. That’s why I don’t think there’s a good or a bad software out there. In terms of CAD creation, there are different kinds and different programs have different better capabilities or not so great capabilities in certain areas. It depends on what you’re trying to make. We always say in WTFFF, it’s all about the ‘what,’ what the FFF do you want to make? Knowing that ahead of time will help you out.
It doesn’t help you a lot if you spend a whole lot of time learning SOLIDWORKS, you don’t know these other programs so well and then you need to do more, I guess, less geometrically rigid creations because you’re going to have to learn another program or at least learn enough of it to use it. You can do that. I use Photoshop, probably about 5% of all the tools in Photoshop I use. I use them for what I need to and I’ve learned how to do it and that’s it. I don’t try to do everything within Photoshop when I’m working with images. I’ve got a couple of different CAD programs and I use some more than others. It depends on what I’m making.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the absolute silver bullet here as the absolute answer for you, Casey. I’m sorry about that. I wish I did. It’s a great question, it’s a great discussion. There are probably some new tools out there I don’t even know about. We’re always looking at new software. We’re always trying them out, reviewing them from time to time. I don’t know everything that’s out there, but if there’s something better out there, I bet one of our audience knows and I’d love to hear about it. Please share with us. If you’ve got what you think is the best way to do it, or even if it’s not the best way, it’s just a way to do it, reach out to us anywhere on social media, @3DStartPoint. Thanks so much for reading. I hope this episode was helpful. We’ll talk to you next time. This has been Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
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