3D Modeling in 3D Studio Max for Shapeways

Following is a basic tutorial to 3D model and output STL files for 3D printing using Autodesk’s 3ds Max (or 3D Studio Max or 3D Studio Viz which was discontinued in 2008). 3ds Max is a is a 3D modeling, animation and rendering package developed by Autodesk Media and Entertainment. It has modeling capabilities, a plugin architecture and is able to be used on the Microsoft Windows platform. It is used by video game developers, TV commercial studios and architectural visualization studios, industrial designers as well as movie effects and movie pre-visualization.  There are currently two versions available, being 3ds Max and 3ds Max Design which share core technology and features, but offer differentiated experiences and specialized toolsets. 3ds Max is designed for 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and compositing software is designed for games developers, visual effects artists, and graphic designers working on games, film, and television content, while 3ds Max Design is formulated for architects, designers, civil engineers, and 3D visualization. Both are available to download as a 30 Day Trial  or Free Download of a 13 month license if you are a current student (perfect if entering the Full Color Student Contest)!

Ok, so read on for the tutorial..

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In this tutorial we are going to model a simple keyring type tag using splines, extrudes, basic solids and compound objects in the form of both additive and subtractive booleans. If you have used this type of software before it should be fairly straight forward, if you have never used any 3D modeling software before it should give you an idea of what is possible in a few steps. This tutorial was produced using 3ds Max 2009 (while the new version downloads, yesssss). As with most software there are multiple ways to achieve the same functions, although I would usually use icons in the right hand side toolbar to do much of the modeling, in this tutorial I will use the pull down menus from the top toolbar where possible for greater transparency.

Step 1. Fire up 3ds Max and in the top toolbar click Create>Shapes>Text.  (just to make it confusing if you were to use the toolbar on the right hand side it would have been Create Icon>Shapes Icon>Splines>Text).

Step 2. In the dialog box to the right in Parameters you can choose the font, size and text to enter.  I kept the font in Arial and in this instance set the size to 14.0 and entered the shapeways in the text dialog box.

Step 3. We need to turn the 2D spline(s) into a 3D object with an Extrude command by choosing Modifiers>Mesh Editing>Extrude.

Step 4. The next step is to adjust the parameters of the Extrude with the tool bar to the right hand side of the screen where we set the Amount to 3.0 and I arbitrarily set Segments to 3 (for more control) all other parameters as they are especially Cap Start and Cap End to ensure you have a watertight objects.

Step 4. Is to create a box for us to link all the letters together by choosing Create>Standard Primitive>Box which we can then modify with the right hand side toolbar (once again) to size the box to fit behind the letters by setting the parameters to Length 12.0, Width 66.0, Height 3.0 basically giving us a box 12x66x3mm once we 3D print it out.  Now the box may not be in exactly in the correct position so you will need to reposition it by right clicking on the box and choosing Transform>Move so that you can then position the box to sit behind the text, but make sure they overlap a little for the next step in joining them together.

Step 4. To join the components together select Create>Compound>Boolean whilst having either one of the two objects selected. In the toolbar to the right you will then have options as to what kind of Boolean you would like to perform. In this instance you will need to Pick Operand B and Operation Union then select the second object to join together. 

Step 5. To illustrate a subtractive Boolean we will first Create>Standard Primitive>Cylinder with a Radius of 1.8 and a Height of 5 to then Move into place at the end of the joined object as pictured. Then select Create>Compound>Boolean whilst having the Cylinder selected, you will then need to Pick Operand B and Operation Subtraction (B-A) then
select the joined Box and Text at which point a hole will be cut into the block.

Step 6. You are now ready to File>Export the 3D model as a .STL (stereolitho) file then Upload Your Design to Shapeways being sure to check Scale as Millimeters (as mentioned before STL files have no unit so this is the only way to let Shapeways know that your object is 120 Millimeters not 120 Meters long so it can effect pricing).

Ok, so now there is a basic example of what can be done with 3ds Max, I know many of our community members have produced much more complex models using 3ds Max and I welcome any feedback, corrections or further tips you would like to give.  As I mentioned at the top there is always multiple ways to achieve the same outcomes with 3D modeling programs such as 3ds Max and it is just a matter of finding the best way for you.

Next tutorial will be 3ds Max for Full Color Printing, wish me luck..


  1. Mitchell Jetten

    Just FYI,
    a boolean is not needed Joris ;)

    Just make the text,, put a box below it,, and make sure the text is just 1/10 of a mm inside the box (so the lowest edge must be 1/10 of mm in the upper edge of the box)

    This way you don’t have to mess with a boolean tool,,, boolean is know as a pain in the ass,, it likes destroying a mesh ;)

    Anyway,, whithout a boolean,, the stl file will work aswell ;)

    1. Mitchell Jetten

      but i do wanna say: great your doing this ;) i think it helps a lot of people ;)

    2. duann scott

      Thanks Mitchell,

      Is the Boolean not needed because the STL knits anything that 0.1mm apart? Or is it Shapeways mesh medic that does that?

      I did want to mention the subtractive Boolean as a way of hollowing out models, is this how you would hollow a model out, or is there another way you would recomend?



  2. Shapeways Blog

    In the previous post we looked at some basic steps for 3D modeling in 3ds Max for Shapeways, in this tutorial we will have a very basic look at how to output full color VRML files for full color 3D printing with Shapeways using 3ds Max.  In this tutoria

  3. Mitchell Jetten


    well it doesn’t really weld it…

    the thing that boolean does is making it 1 object,, so also 1volume.
    without it counts as 2objects and 2volumes,, so if you the first block for about 3/4 inside the other block,, you get still the same volume as without overlapsing the other block (soo you pay for more then you get)
    If you boolean those 2,, you get a volume wich is 1 1/4 (because you put the other 3/4 inside the other block)

    Hope i did explain it a bitt well,, i’m not that good in explaining stuff!.


    Best way to hollow a model out (IMO) is to use the “shell” modifier,,
    try it: a box which is:

    10*10*10 mm,, gives us a volume of 1cm3

    now give the same box a shell modifier,, set the “outer amout” to 0,, and the “inner amout” to 1mm.

    Now the object is hollow and has a wall thickness of 1mm.

    The volume now is just 0.31cm3

    You get it? :$ hope i explained it good enough to understand

  4. Paul Sinski

    just curious, will using the student version cause issues with getting the model 3D printed? i’m asking because though it is free and has the full abilities of a ful version it does say on their website that there is a print banner.

    1. Anonymous

      it works fine with student version

      But it is for non-commercial use

  5. Ashish Maru

    I am been using 3dsmax and I am facing few problems while working, as I am taking Mm from unit setup to model my object to get print. But when I am taking the file to Netfab I find those size has different issue and not fitting according to there print requirement and size. If my model size is 2mm. and its show in netfab 0.95mm why?

    Please tell me how to fix these issues in max to set Millimeters and centimeters.


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