3D Printing is an amazingly cool concept and is getting some fantastic attention. It’s amazing to think that we have the capability to take a 3D digital design and then to print it in the real world by using the z-axis (height or up).
There are many different 3D printing techniques as well as many different types of printers. The one that we are going to talk about here is additive manufacturing / FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) to Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).
Additive manufacture/FDM/FFF in it’s basic form is taking the 3D model then slicing it up horizontally to create lots of layers. Each layer/slice is printed on a platform of some kind, and each subsequent layer is printed on top of the previous one. The model is printed using a material of some type, and there are many types of materials. Common ones for home printers are a type of plastic (ABS / PLA etc). At the higher end there can be a wide range, from Sugar, Brass, Ceramic, Chocolate, Meat, Metal etc (incidentally there is a lot of investment on material innovation happening in the world today). The more complex materials are typically used by 3D printing service providers or in industry (i.e. health / manufacturing / architecture etc), from parts to concept designs.
There are also different types of printers ranging from a few thousand pounds to ten’s of thousands of pounds, depending on what you are looking to print and the material that is too be used. At it’s most basic level, the desktop/home/consumer printers are in the thousands and are actually quite affordable now (Makerbot 2x or the 3D systems Cube are quite popular, but there are many others). However, you are limited in choice of materials, mostly plastic. It’s not until you get onto the expensive printers when the really cool materials really come out to play. However, getting started and moving from the supplied 3D models can be tricky, mostly because there are a lot of things to think about and that can go wrong.
The printers themselves are geared to read a special format that contains all of the printer information required for the print (.STL files) and there are basic software applications, but can be difficult to use, especially for the creative and the person that just wants to print!
So that all sounds simple right! Well not so much, it’s actually quite a technical challenge to make a successful print. Each layer when printed needs to be positioned in exactly the right place in relation to the previous layer (the previous layer also needs to have dried before the new layer is applied). Sometimes the print can contain over hanging elements, and these will need something to print on (especially when plastic or additive manufacture is used), there usually needs to be something to print the element on (or to support the element during the print process). This bit sounds a bit strange, I know. To explain this, if you imagine printing a model of a person with their arms held out in front of them, for the arms to print in the right place (i.e. in the air), they should have something below them to support the new layer. This support is called scaffolding, and printing without it might cause the arms to sag and/or fall to the ground, resulting in a failed print.
If the scaffolding problem is not enough to worry about, there are other areas that can affect a print and need to be analysed before success is reached. Sometimes when a model is created the geometry/physical attributes are not always correct (depending on who created it and how it was created). For example, the triangles or normals that make up the object may not be pointing in the right direction to make the print (this can occur when one area of the model has been mirrored and is butt up against the opposite plane, this can occur for symmetrical models). Also, areas of the print may contain holes due to the normals or the geometry. This is no-one’s fault, as typically a 3D designer shouldn’t have to consider all of this when they are at the design stage of a model, but unfortunately it occurs often. All of these issues will also need to be fixed, and this can be quite time consuming for a 3D object designer that will be sent for print, and this can result in multiple failed prints until it’s fixed for the printer / material and object combination.
The other area that needs to be looked at (especially when the models are hollow), is the wall thickness of the model. In this case, the walls of the object will need to be printed at a minimum thickness for the printer / material / object combination to make a successful print, this will need to be fixed in most cases as well.
Some models, due to the way they were built won’t be able to be printed for one reason or another and will take too much time to fix, that it’s not actually worth it.
You can imaging that with all of this going on, it gets complicated pretty quickly and the success of printing a simple model can be hindered by all of these complexities.
Up to now, there has been a huge focus on the printer technology as well as the materials that can be used (ranging from Thermoplastics to intelligent rubber, chocolate, steel etc etc). However, there hasn’t been so much focus on the software that is used to print these models, especially around usability, accuracy of print, as well as fixing the issues in an intelligent and automated way. The software that is available can be tricky to use and not as simple as it could be.
It’s a lot easier to show the above issues on an actual model. For example let us take the following 3D .STL file (we painted this object in a recent post), but this time we may want to print it.
Looking at the model there are a few areas of concern :-
- The Purple marked area contains eye lids and they are suspended in mid air, if there are not supported by something then they may fall off or bend out of shape, this could result in the next layer not printing properly.
- The Green and Yellow marked area shows that rogers arm are not supported either and again, if printed may fall off, sag or go out of shape, this can also lead to a model that won’t look right.
- Even simple things like the lips (marked in Blue) are in mid air and may not print properly
- But, even worse, this model is sat down, and if its not supported correctly will result in a model that turns into a heap of plastic spaghetti.
- It’s a hollow model and i need to analyse the wall thickness.
- So you can see there that even a simple model like this, it is bound to fail many times before you get a real print out.
Most software won’t automatically make sure that all components of the model can be printed, even with basic scaffolding in place. The only answer was to print it and let it fail, numerous times then manually fix it and create a good print. Some times the printer won’t actually be able to print complex models, i.e. if you printed a model of a car, you may not be able to print all of the complex under car parts, i.e. exhausts etc, this may need to be removed to make a successful print.
Printing can also take some time, in todays world we are used to 30 seconds to print an extremely good quality A4 2D print and get the results straight away, a 3D model may take multiple hours to print (once success is acheived). The bottom line is that 3D printing is actually quite hard and takes up lots of time to attain a successful print, and can lead to frustration for both the 3D designer as well as the printer user.
The most exciting news this year is that this version of Photoshop CC (14.2), is shipped with a 3D printing engine in unison with the current 3D tools. If you are on the Creative Cloud (which ever plan you are on), you should now have it or at least be notified that an update to Photoshop CC is available. The purpose of 3D printing in Photoshop CC is to make sure that your prints are successful and will print without having to make unsuccessful prints in order find where the issues are. Photoshop CC has some incredible and ground breaking algorithms that allow it to understand what you are trying to print, what printer you are printing it to, as well as an ability to repair it and work out the best way to print the model. Using Photoshop to analyse the model for you allows it to create the scaffolding, fix the mesh (or the geometry/normals) as well as making sure that the minimum wall thickness is met. Also, due to the additional scaffolding that is printed, we look at the most efficient way to construct the scaffolding so that minimum filament is used.
As we know, Photoshop is a ground breaking piece of software and with the addition of 3D printing has been completely re-imaginged and provides an innovate approach to making successful 3D prints. Photoshop CC will allow anyone on the Creative Cloud to successfully print a 3D model (fully repaired, with scaffolding, walls that will be of minimum thickness and an efficient use of material). Photoshop CC enables a “Just press the print key” approach to 3D printing.
Can it really be that simple ? Where is the catch ?
Let’s have a look in more detail with the 3D model below and a few other models, so you can see how it works.
Once you open a .STL file, Photoshop CC will recognise the size of the model that is being imported, this is important because you need to know the maximum size of the model, just in case you want to resize it, as it’s not a vector.
All 3D options in Photoshop CC are on the Move Tool (or the ‘V’ key). Once the model has been imported you can move it into the 3D print option. The 3D print option is available on the properties panel when the scene is selected (Marked in Yellow), or in the tool bar menu / 3D / 3D print, you will then see the print properties (Marked Red below). This panel is used to tell Photoshop CC were you will be printing the model, as well as the printer that you would like to use. The other options available are explained under the screen shot.
Printer Volume – This will show the measurement that the model is shown in (the numbers marked in Blue are shown in the chosen measurement).
Detail Level – Minimum size of features that can be printed.
Show Printer Volume Overlay – This is the cage around the model, the cage is generated and shows the maximum capacity of the print chamber in the 3D printer (this is configured by the printer type, in this case the Makerbot 2x, selected in the area marked in Red).
Printer Volume – The size of the print chamber in the measurements that have been specified above.
Scene Volume – This is the size of the physical cage around the model inside Photoshop CC, this can be modified using the numbers, or a fast way to scale the model to the cage is it click the button marked “Scale to print volume”.
Surface Details – Photoshop CC will use the Bumps, normal maps and opacity to enhance the final detail.
Support Structures – Photoshop CC will generate the supports and raft for the output preview.
For Photoshop CC to be able to print the model, it will automate the following tasks for you, i.e :-
- Wall Thickness – The model is hollow, the walls will need to be adjusted to make sure the minimum wall thickness is achieved, in accordance to the selected printer specification.
- Repair the model – The Model may not be, what’s know as “Water tight”, which means it may have holes in it, or normals that are the wrong way around (there are other elements here as well), that will cause the print to not properly.
- Create scaffolding – The elements that we explained earlier that are ‘floating’ need to be supported during the print.
Bearing in mind that manual version of this process can be tedious, complicated, very technical and may take a while to complete, Photoshop CC is able to do all of this super fast and then make this model completely printable, without you having to do any of the hard work! Sound to good to be true ?
Let’s press the print key (you will see this in the video in real time at the end of this post).
The 3D print option is available under the Menu Item / 3D / 3D Print (Marked in Red below), Photoshop CC will automatically perform all of it’s tasks and provide a Printer dialog for you (this may take a few minutes, depending on how complicated the model is).
The 3D printer dialog should be similar to the following
You can move the results around the check the model for flaws and the support structures (marked in Yellow)
The model, scaffolding and raft are shown in the main section of the dialog (marked Pink)
The summary of the print is shown on the right hand side (marked Green), including how long it might take to print.
(You can also turn off the printing of the support structures and raft above the area marked in green, this may result in a failed print if you print it).
The additional optional elements for the view are located the bottom of the screen (show in Red)
If I zoom in and look a bit closed you will see that the eye lids, lips and are are supported using the scaffolding that has been automatically created by Photoshop CC.
The lower arm is now supported with scaffolding, so are the legs and his bottom.
You will also see that on closer inspection the supports are printed to the minimum resolution of the printer. This is an important area, like in the good old air fix days you would need to chop off the supports with clippers or scissors, the same here. Unless of course you have a multi headed printer and a soluble material could be used to print the scaffolding, you could then wash the scaffolding off.
You can see that Photoshop CC has an extremely innovative approach to successfull 3D printing and can really do amazing things. This release of Photoshop CC should make 3D printing really enjoyable for all. Don’t forget that all Creative Cloud, Photography Bundle subscribers have access to this ground breaking version of 3D printing, all you need now is a printer to print your designs on! If you would like to try 3D Printing for Photoshop CC, then you can sign up for a 30 day trial of the Creative Cloud.
We are extremely excited about this release of Photoshop CC and are looking forward to seeing what you create with it…
Please play the following video to see Photoshop CC and 3D printing in action.
Incidentally, Photoshop CC announcement was caught by the BBC as well, click here for the page.
There are a couple of other menu items to cover.
Under the Menu Item 3D / 3D Printer Utilities there is utility panel.
We have also partnered with a company called SketchFab that supports the upload and download of 3D models. This option is available in the 3D menu, and is called ‘Share 3D layer on SketchFab’. When you click the share button, you will create an account (if you don’t already have one), then login with your details and upload your content. My model now has a funky background. There are also lots of options under the Edit option to explore.
There are also other options for printing as well, it may be that you don’t want to invest in a printer of your own. Adobe have partnered with Shapeways.com. Shapeways.com is a printing service that you can use to print your model, in a range of different materials. Photoshop CC contains the Shapeways service (marked Red).
When the Shapeways service has been chosen, the material can be selected. You can see from the list that there are some cool materials that Shapeways will be able to print your model in, from Glazed Caeramics to Polished Brass. When you have chosen the material, Photoshop CC will re-evaluate the display of the model and give you a preview (including the colour if required) of the final model, it will also re-evaluate the wall thickness, supports (if any are required or not), Photoshop CC can also supply an estimate price (derived from Shapeways) based on the model that you are looking to print.
In an earlier post we talked about painting 3D models using Photoshop CC and the GPU accelerated texture painting. Shapeways support a full colour sandstone material, this means that I can take the painted roger from last time and print it exactly how I painted it. Once chosen Photoshop displays a visual of how the final print will look.
The print preview is shown below. This material does not need any support structures building so they are not displayed.
N.B the 3D engine in Photoshop CC will need a minimum of 512MB go VRAM on the Graphics card, the graphics card must also be dedicated.