cost of printing @ Shapeways

I had a really great question from a viewer on my YouTube channel yesterday on the flower eternity band tutorial—how much would it cost to have the ring printed and cast? There are several factors that can affect the overall cost, like the thickness of the band and the type of metal. I wear a similar band to this one, and mine is 1.5mm in thickness and it has never bent out of shape.

I’d only sent models out to Shapeways very early in my ZBrush exploration, and even then I’d only had waxes made. So I had no idea what the answer to this question was…so I created a new ring and got it ready for Shapeways. Mind you, there are other great services out there, but Shapeways has a large variety of materials available.

I decided to add a bezel setting to mine with a hole that’s smaller than the stone. I’ll use setting burs and a hammer handset on my Foredom to bezel set the stones. Creating a bezel with a smaller hole gives me flexibility on my stone size. Here are a couple photos of the model in ZBrush:

After creating the ring and resizing it to the desired thickness and ring size, I used Decimation Master to lower the overall file size and simplify the mesh. My ring is around a women’s size 8 US.

Make sure that the model you want to export is all in one Subtool—in my model, I had both the bezels and the flower band which needed to be permanently merged. I used Merge Down and re-Dynamesh to an appropriate resolution, which for full-sized rings in the method I use is a resolution of around 56-80. Then I went to the Plugins menu, and located Decimation Master. I always make a mental note of the ActivePoints above the canvas. Mine started out around 780,000 points.

This process has two steps…because you’re only exporting one Subtool, you only need to use Pre-process Current. That step will take a little bit of time, depending on the size of your model and number of ActivePoints. Once you’re done, the ActivePoint count will not change.

Special note about those ActivePoints: I tend to work with models that are a million points or lower…some artists have high-end hardware and love to work in the 12-20 million point range, but since I primarily work on a MacBook, and I hate waiting for my computer to process things, I learned how to work in lower resolutions.

The second step is to Decimate Current, and this is when you will see a change in the ActivePoints. Once the operation was complete on my model, the ActivePoint count dropped down to 158,000, which is a smaller, more efficient file. It’s easily uploaded to Shapeways by using the Export command in the Tool palette.

It looks like Shapeways has recently changed their landing page, so you can quickly upload a model and select a metal preference. You can also choose the type of finishing—rough, polished, or finely polished. There is an upcharge for those extras, though.

So the answer to the question if I were printing this design would be about $24-35 to print in sterling silver. Although I love wearing this ring so much I’d happily shell out $283 for a gold version!

Also, there is another tool available. See below where it says TOOLS next to the title “Flower Eternity Bezel Setting?” If you click on that you’re directed to a 3D Tools page that will evaluate your model, and give information about the materials and printing.

Check out the images below, or you can click here to see the model for yourself!

ZBrush illustrations and beading tutorials...

Today a thought passed through my mind…since the majority of visitors to my site are looking for Huichol beading tutorials, is there an easier way to create them?

Last night I was playing around with a new feature in ZBrush 2019, the software I use for jewelry design (mostly cast pieces), and realized that I could apply the new “NPR (non-photorealistic) Filters” to the 3D renderings that make them look hand-drawn! What if I created my beading tutorials in ZBrush, then rendered the images, or even put little movies on my site that allowed people to see beading diagrams more clearly?

Voila! I did a quick model this morning, and sure enough, it works.


The cool thing is it can also produce a black and white drawing that could be printed so folks could color their own designs, either in a tap-to-color coloring book program on the iPad such as Recolor, or with traditional markers or colored pencils.

Anyway, this should make documentation a LOT easier. Stay tuned!

nelson treehouse charm experiment in zbrush

Oh, these are the kinds of things that I do when I’ve been watching too much HGTV and Animal Planet!

I’ve long been a fan of the show Treehouse Masters and a really fascinating guy named Pete Nelson who—with a crew of extremely talented carpenters—build the most amazing treehouses. Not treehouses like the kind you had as a kid, but true works of art that just happen to be up in the air.

So tonight while watching I started thinking about my dream job building treehouses with Pete Nelson. Since they’re in Washington State, I’m guessing that dream will probably never happen.

But I could still make a treehouse charm! Inspired by Pete’s wonderful Fall City treehouse, I created a little charm in ZBrush. I haven’t really paid attention to the castability…this was more of an exercise.

It involved a lot of subtools, and a custom chain. The main treehouse was created out of a Cube3D primitive, trimmed using the Clipping function. The deck was extracted from another cube, drawn freehand with a lasso mask.

I’ve kept all of these subtools separate…for example, I may resize the trees to make the volume of the two trees on the left more closely match the tree on the right so it would sit correctly.

Still not sure how I would sprue this puppy for casting, but it may make its way to my printer in the next few weeks.

And who knows? Tonight’s episode featured Pete and the guys here in Texas building a treehouse near the Frio River. I’d even volunteer for free if he ever needed help here in the Lone Star State. I have tools and a tent and a ukulele!

Pete, call me!

A proof-of-concept charm based on  Pete Nelson’s Fall City treehouse

A proof-of-concept charm based on Pete Nelson’s Fall City treehouse

the rubber chicken pendant

I haven’t blogged in awhile because I’ve been remodeling my parents’ house. But while preparing a portfolio piece for a jewelry company, I made a series of sheets that show the design process of some of my more recent work.

Click to download the PDF of this file.

Click to download the PDF of this file.

So how did I make this little guy? I started with a DynaMesh Sphere from the Lightbox, then turned off Perspective. I used the Gizmo 3D in the Move mode to stretch the sphere into an egg shape.

Switch to the Draw mode. Using a mask where the neck should go (Cmd on Mac, Ctrl on PC), I reversed the mask (Cmd/Mac, Ctrl/PC and click on background) and used the Gizmo 3D “ball” in the Move mode to pull the neck out. Since your primitive is already a DynaMesh, after each major change, re-DynaMesh to refresh the mesh. If you want to see what’s happening, on the right side of the main canvas look for the PolyF button with a grid on it.

Using the same method, turn on Symmetry under the Transform menu, then you can mask off both legs at once in the Draw mode, then switch to the Move mode and use the Gizmo to pull the legs down.

Try using the Snakehook tool to pull out things like the toes on the feet…play around with the size. The shortcut for Snakehook is B-S-H on your keyboard.

Switch to the Clay Buildup tool for sculpting details…a good tip is to turn your intensity down to 5 so it doesn’t apply much material, which is easier to smooth with the shift key. The keyboard shortcut for Clay Building is B-C-B.

The arms were masked off, mask reversed, then pulled out to each side. Try using symmetry to do this, but you will need to move the Gizmo to the general vicinity of one of the arms…when you pull out to the side, it will “raise” both arms at once. To move the Gizmo, hold down Option/Mac or Alt/PC and drag the Gizmo over the masked area for one of the arms, release the key, then use your mouse to pull the horizontal arrow away from the body. Clear the mask and fine-tune with sculpting. To re-center, click on the third icon above the Gizmo to find unmasked center.

Another trick? After masking, you can hold down the Cmd/Mac or Ctrl/PC and click ON the model to soften/blur the edge of the mask. This will provide nice, rounded arms.

And finally, the t-shirt was applied to the chicken using a mask and the Mask Pen. Try switching the stroke to Lasso if you’d like. Sharpen the mask by clicking on the model while holding Cmd-Option/Mac or Ctrl-Alt/PC. Then use the Extract command from bottom of the SubTool palette.

I’ll do a tutorial on this one soon, but hopefully this will get you started!

physical size, resolution, and file size

I've been out of touch for a little bit as I took on a pretty big project that's completely unrelated to jewelry. If you read my bio, you might have seen that I have a background in construction (of all things!). I've been in the middle of a major remodel of my parents' house, getting it ready to go on the market. If you can imagine, popcorn ceiling removal, paint, a new multi-level deck, and a total re-do of four bathrooms, including moving walls. If you've ever watched that show Fixer Upper, it's kinda like that...except for unlike the show, it doesn't happen over the course of an hour.

size matters

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xyz-size-zbrush.png

Yup, size can be a big issue when working with ZBrush. While I don't have a formal answer why, I'm guessing that it's because the program was designed to make things that were abstract—things that lived in a virtual world. So for that reason, size is relative in ZBrush, and measured in plain ol' units. Here you can see the Size sub-palette under the Geometry palette on the right-side of the interface.

The pendant on the stage (only the pendant, not the chain), is a minuscule amount smaller than 25.4 units. Well, if you count this as 25.4 millimeters, this equals one inch across. You can also see the Z Size is 1.61 units, so approximately 1.61 mm thick, which is a nice thickness for a pendant. And likewise, the height is 16.7 mm.

When I first started working with ZBrush, I saw a tutorial that suggested calibrating something called the Transpose Line tool. I struggled with this, and every time I thought I had the size correct, something would change and everything would be off. I couldn't reliably gauge bezel cups or stone settings...or even thicknesses. This also became an issue with the amount that a design or text was raised off or inset into the surface. So finding a way to make this work was really important.

Someone also asked me on YouTube if I used a plugin called "ScaleMaster." The answer is no. I have also tried RingMaster, another plugin, which is nice, but I also had some problems with that. However, I DO use RingMaster to insert gemstones because the models contain minimal polygons, meaning they don't slow ZBrush down.

getting started with a correctly sized model

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So here's the process I use:

  1. From the right-hand side of the stage, click on the yellow "S" that represents the SimpleBrush tool.

  2. Choose the Cylinder3D from the list.

  3. Click and drag a cylinder on the stage. It doesn't matter how large you make it...it comes into ZBrush at an XYZSize of "2" units.

  4. Immediately press the "T" key to switch to the Edit mode.

  5. Press the Make PolyMesh3D button toward the top under the Tool palette.

  6. Look under the Geometry palette on the right-hand side of the window for the Size sub-palette.

  7. Enter "10" in the XYZSize box and hit return to accept the new size.

  8. The primitive is probably taking up the whole window, so click somewhere on the stage to deselect the number in the XYZSize.

  9. Now press the "F" key to fill the stage with the current object.

And there you have an object on the stage.  It's pretty faceted, and not smooth, but we'll deal with that next.

smoothing the primitive

I have a special technique that I've developed to get a smooth object as soon as possible in the workflow. In the beginning, I thought simply performing a DynaMesh operation would smooth it, and I went back and forth between DynaMesh and Polish Features, but with results that weren't efficient or acceptable. So here's how I smooth things out.

  1. Look for a button labeled Divide from the Geometry palette.

  2. Make sure that the Smt button is turned on (this will smooth your primitive).

  3. Click the Divide button twice.

  4. Look above the Divide button for another button labeled Del Lower. This will delete the two lower-resolution subdivisions that you just created.

That should give you a nice, smooth primitive. 

So what happened? Each time that you use the Divide command, ZBrush takes each rectangular polygon and divides it into four polygons. Then when you divide again, it divides each one of those resulting polygons into four more polygons. If you have the Smt button activated, it takes the opportunity to smooth out your model.

You can see the underlying geometry of your model by using the Draw PolyFrame (Shift - F) button to the right of the stage, toward the bottom of the vertical row of buttons.

Subdivisions are wonderful if you're roughing out a shape, then switching back and forth between lower resolution subdivisions and higher resolution subdivisions. Adding material with a brush like the ClayBuildup brush works faster when working with a low resolution. But finer details are better applied with the higher resolution. I'll address this in a tutorial later.

Take a look at the example below...look at the pixillation of the cylinder and the number of ActivePoints. Each time that the cylinder is divided, it QUADRUPLES the number of ActivePoints. This has implications with regard to file size...our strategy is to get a smooth resolution while still keeping the file size down. 

So keep this in mind, and I'll write a little more later...then we'll talk about how working in actual size relates to your DynaMesh resolution. and how you can work more efficiently and on lower-end hardware.

Heck, I can even run ZBrush on my 2012 MacBook Pro! And you know what that means? I can sit in a café in the Caribbean and design jewelry. SWEET!