We ultimately want the Shapeways upload filters to be perfect. We'd like us to be able to repair any file automatically. And even though each day brings us one step closer to that goal, we are not there yet. Specifically to help you guys out with your wall thickness issues we went on the hunt for a software tool that you could download right now. We hoped that the right tool would make life a lot easier for you guys. After months of looking and two weeks of testing by five of us, we've found one. It is called Netfabb Studio Basic and it rocks.
Previously we helped you guys by showing you Meshlab, a free and open source tool that is great for polycount reduction, mesh resurfacing, normals recalculation, viewing issues with models for 3D printing and converting. We also have shown you Accutrans, a free for 30 days, tool that is great for converting from lots of different file types and scaling. In addition to these tools there is a great closed source commercial package out there called Magics by Materialise, a 3D printing service bureau. This tool even goes as far as to automatically repair your STL files in some cases. It is a great tool, the only problem with it is that it costs $7000. Materialize even has a service called STLFix where you can repair your STLs. There is a free version of Magics called mini-Magics. But this is only an STL viewer and doesn't let you repair anything. There is also 3D scanner software such as Polyworks and GeoMagic that are meant specifically for repairing meshes made from scans. These are also good but as Magics, they are also expensive.
There really was no commercial alternative to Magics, until now. Netfabb Studio views STLs, repairs STL files automatically, scales them, inverts normals, measures STLs and lots more. This tool blew me away. The second best thing about it is that Netfabb currently costs $399. The best thing about Netfabb? There is a free version of it that you can download. This does a lot of the things the commercial version.
With the free version of Netfabb Studio Basic you can:
automatically close holes
automatically invert face normals (inverted or flipped triangles)
automatically repair non-manifold errors
easily measure the wall thickness of STL files
easily measure dimension and volume of your model
easily scale STL files
manually remove, invert and add faces triangles and shells
One huge word of caution before you collapse from joy. Even though Netfabb is a great free tool it can not solve all your problems. A lot of files can simply not be automatically repaired. The free version also does not remove intersecting triangles. The software can not repair with 'degraded triangles.' You can select and remove some shells but the free version does not have a way to automatically reduce many shells to one. So this will not make all your STL problems magically go away. We've been testing it for two weeks and we're impressed but realize that no software tool can fix everything automatically. It is a huge step forward though.
Read on to see how to use and what you can do with the Netfabb Studio Basic STL viewer and repair tool.