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Vectorworks and 3D Printing

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As Jim implies, STL is the current standard for monochrome 3d printing. VW already produces good quality STL files that work well. I think you'll find that OBJ supports all sort of extra information that just gets thrown away for most 3d printing applications (ie. cameras, textures etc.) and may not be the best file export to add given that many pieces of software that traditionally use OBJ have been moving away from it in favour of more modern file formats.

It might be worth investigating whether VW should implement VRML2 or X3D to support colour 3d printing. This is currently what Shapeways uses for its full colour printing ( http://www.shapeways.com/tutorials/exporting_to_vrml_and_x3d_for_color_printing ).


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I think some attention should be paid to this development - http://3dprintingindustry.com/2014/10/22/autodesk-svp-jeff-kowalski-3d-printing-kind-sucks-right-now/

If they deliver what they're promising - trouble free printing and open source software with a good user interface - it will change the current low end 3d printing market completely.

(Yes, I know they're the competition on some fronts, but there's no point in everyone reinventing the wheel. As it says in the article, the focus needs to be on the end result, not how we got there.)


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  • Vectorworks, Inc Employee


The current state of FDM/FFF consumer 3D printers and home-brew projects is similar to the Apple I. Its a lot of wood and wires, only catches fire SOMETIMES and the end result, while impossible only 10 years prior, is still sub-par from where it could be relatively soon.

The best finished-surface results I have seen come from laser and resin models, but while these are currently far more expensive on average, they really seem to hold the key to the single button press quality end users will eventually want.

Even "High Resolution" prints made from layering extruded plastic are still clearly ridged and contoured, which is an interesting look but still not as smooth as the injection molded plastic and metal surfaces we are used to seeing in production products that we consider to be the industry standard of manufacturing today.

There was a huge amount of progress made from the first Makerbot Cupcake to today, but there is a huge amount of room for innovation and completely new technologies.

My current proposal is focusing mainly on aspects of 3D printing that will remain concerns for the foreseeable future, even if FFF/FDM printing vanishes overnight with a new FormLabs release or another complete new tech.

1) Getting proper scaling in the end result

2) Working within a build area

3) Proper/efficient/easy export of solid geometry

4) Removing the concerns of 3D printing from a users workflow, making sure they can design as freely as possible regardless of current hardware limitations.

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I have some success 3d printing with STL files; but I've struck a problem trying to reduce an object from a working scale of 500:1 to a print scale - VW just throws polygons out the minute I scale it down. My workflow as follows - build an object out of solid additions; along the way i convert a copy to nurbs to make sure i still have all my surfaces intact - when I strike a problem i separate out the additions and develop them separately. has worked fine but now I'm scaling whole buildings down i have a real mess on my hands. Generic solids and meshes - all give me the same problem . Any suggestions for a work around?

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  • Vectorworks, Inc Employee

I normally scale after exporting from Vectorworks, usually in the slicing program for the specific printer I'm working with, either Slic3r or Cura. They both allow direct scaling with no loss in geometry.

The trick is making sure you don't scale down so much that the finer parts become smaller than the printer is capable of making.

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  • 11 months later...
I am meeting with a number of my coworkers to discus improvements specific to 3D printing and Vectorworks.

I am unable to give many details, but here is a sample of what I am proposing we include natively:

1) Support for scaled export to STL, so that a user could print their model at the design layer scale and have that be the real scale of the resulting 3D print. Currently STLs all export at 1:1 and scaling has to be handled manually afterwards.

2) 3D "Page" area. This would allow the user to show a 3D page area, similar to the clip cube that shows the bounds of their own 3D printer's build plate, customizable by the user, maybe with a few of the more common printers sized included as defaults (Makerbot, Ultimater, etc)

3) Below-minimum size detection. Currently a 3D printers resolution is limited by a number of factors, the main of which is its nozzle size. For instance my printer's nozzle in .4mm, so it can not create "lines" or geometry smaller than that. (If a model is scaled down to fit in a printers build area, a regular problem comes about with handrails, fences and PIO details where the printer cant make the objects small enough, so you either get nothing or a pile of spaghetti where the printer tries to do its best.)

4) Overhang detection. Many aspects of an architectural model are not conducive to 3D printing, such as porches or decks that hang off the side with no support, (if the site model isn't printed with the rest of the building) hanging fixtures inside the model or standard roof overhangs. This would not be encouraging the users to change their model (this is considered an unacceptable solution) but to inform the user that they may need to enable Support in their slicing settings.

5) Manifold STL exports. Currently STLs from Vectorworks often need to be repaired by a mesh modeling utility like MeshLab or NetFABB before they can be printed cleanly, ideally this feature would be included in our STL export process.

This is just a sample of my list, but are there any other features that would be deemed useful? Feedback from users who are either interested or experienced in this would be appreciated.

How much of this made it to v2016 Jim? (I am considering purchasing a 3D printer to be mainly used with VWs models.)

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