I developed an interest in 3D printers back in 2011, but wasn't until a year later that I discovered shapeways.com. This site offers relatively cheap 3D printing in various materials including metals, plastics, glass, ceramics and sandstone. While their only option for color is "sandstone" (actually it's plaster and superglue, but very good quality), the prices are quite cheap the end product is pretty good (see images) and it's a service I recommend. On this page I will make some notes on how to create shapeway models, and also links to my favorite models and pages of information / pricing.
A particularly cool feature of Shapeways is they they have their own Shapeways API which can allow you to setup your own webpage to order custom models via their site.
Some Favorite Models
- Minecraft Eiffel Tower - shapeways ha a special program to import minecraft models (the game) and here's a fairly good size eiffel tower someone has printed - 12cm tall and only $25 in colored sandstone. If you search "minecraft" you'll see hundreds more of these.
- Exporting to VRML and x3d for color printing - instructions about creating color 3D models - note that you must save as VRML 2 or X3D and can only include one texture file in PNG or JPG.
- Materials - shows examples of their materials.
Exporting a Cinema 4D model to print in color on shapeways.com
To export from Cinema 4D (the popular 3D modeling /animation program) to shapeways, your best bet is to set your document scale to millimeters the export to a VRML 2 file with File > Export > VRML 2. This will work fine if you only want to print a geometry without color, but if you want to include colors and textures, shapeways has a limitation in that it only wants you to have a single PNG or JPEG texture. Materials which just use a single plain color (eg: blue), they can be left alone, but for any materials with textures (either an image file or some effect like noise, bricks, etc), you will need to merge them into a single texture file using the instructions below. I also found a quirk in shapeways whereby you may have to merge all objects with the same color material into a single object to see the color. To achieve this follow these steps:
- (1) Save and a backup of your C4D file, then save a new version as "shapeways_model.c4d" - we will be flattening and resizing a lot of things, so it's smart to make a copy.
- (2) Set your project units to millimeters - click Edit >> Project Settings then set "document scale" to 1 millimeters.
- TIP: 50 mm wide (50 mm = 5 cm = 2 inches) is a nice small height / width to aim for in your first attempt. You may find it helpful to click Edit >> Preferences >> Units and set this to millimeters too.
- (3) Cleanup your file by: (a) deleting all objects which are off or you don't want, (b) deleting all phong tags, and © turning off everything except "Color" from all your material (gives a more accurate picture of what your print out will looks like).
- TIP: It should go without saying but your scene should contain no lights, cameras, backgrounds or animations
- (4) Check that it renders with [ctrl]+[r] without any missing texture errors.
- (5) For each object you have with a color texture (an image or effect) apply these steps:
- (5.1) Select the texture in the Object window then click: Render >> Bake Object.
- (5.2) In the "Bake Object" window, wet an appropriate size (1024x1024 if you want decent detail), set format to JPEG and click the "..." for File Path to put it in the same folder with it's own unique name (eg: "texture1.png"), then click Bake. This will generate a new texture file, new material and a new object.
- (5.3) Close the Bake Object window and delete the old (now hidden) object and old material (if no longer used).
- (6) If you have multiple new objects with baked texture, select them all (in the Objects window) then click Functions >> Connect and Delete. With this new object, you will now need to bake the texture by repeating the steps above (5.1-5.3) and save the huge texture as a 1024x1024 or larger file called "combined_tx.jpg".
- (7) (optional) Delete all unused textures
- (8) (optional) For all objects which have the same color material (eg: blue) you may like to select them then click Functions >> Connect and Delete. This step may not be essential, so you may try to skip it for now, but if you notice missing colors when you upload to shapeways you can always do this step later.
- (9) Save your C4D file then click File >> Export >> VRML 2 and save your file as "shapeways.wml" in the same directory.
- (10) Make a new folder called "upload_attempt_1" and copy "shapeways.wml" "combined_tx.jpg" into this folder. If you open this new shapeways.wml it should be able to load into Cinema 4D and still show the correct combined texture - meaning that yes, you have created a nice relative "link" to this file being in the same folder. Now zip these two files into a single zip file called "upload_attempt_1.zip".
- (11) Open the shapeways upload page (if you haven't already created an account, you will have to do so), select your zip file and units as millimeters and hit upload!
- (12) Wait ten minutes, then you'll see an e-mail that your file has been uploaded. In your "my models" are you should then see the new model, and hopefully it should have color! Click the down arrow and select "colored sandstone" and it will show a price. If happy with the size and price, you can click add to cart and if you are really proud there are also options to make your model public or "for sale".
- TIP: Before ordering, you can click the model to see a big image and then the blue rotate button to make sure the model looks okay from all angles (without any missing polygons or textures).
Getting a good size:
Models are priced by volume, so doubling the scale of the model, for example from 5 cm (2 inches) to 10 cm (4 inches) long will result in an approximately 8 x price increase! A 2 inch (50mm) tall model in colored sandstone should cost ~$3-20 depending on how hollow or solid it is, but you shouldn't make any little structure <1mm or they will break too easily. You may go through a few upload attempts to get the size and colors right, and if you are unsure how to get the right size try using a "reference cube":
- Add a reference cube to your model: click Object > Cube) then set its X,Y,Z dimensions to your desired dimensions (eg: 10 x 50 x 10 mm) and move it to the side.
- Create a new NULL objects (Object >> Null) then drag all your objects except your reference cube.
- Adjust the scale of the root object uniformly in X,Y,Z until it becomes about the same size as your reference cube.
- Don't forget to delete your reference cube before you export!
Fortunately shapeways is pretty clever so should warn you if you're trying to print a lego man which is many meters in size or if you're trying to print something so small it will break apart. Once you have finally got the colors and size and order the model expect it to take up to two weeks for them to print and then mail it out to you (plus maybe an extra few days to arrive).
- ShapeWays.com - official website