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HelpTutorials3D Tools Tutorial

Shapeways' 3D tools Tutorial

Written by Natalia Krasnodebska


Shapeways 3D tools provides designers with more transparency and functionality as you prepare your 3D models for 3D printing. These tools are based on checks performed by Shapeways 3D Printing Engineers when you order your model, so by sharing what we see, we hope to help you check, visualize, and fix potential problems with your own model before purchasing. If you've received an email detailing why your model is not printable, the 3D Tools should help you to address any specific issues we've identified.

All of the tools contain information for you to check your model, and some contain automatic checks, visualizations, and automatic fixes you can choose to apply. These tools are extensive and include: wall thickness check and fix, mesh integrity and repair check, bounding box check, details check, part clearance check, part count check, escape holes check, text check, loose shells check, machine space check, structural integrity check, interlocking parts check, wire thickness check and content policy check.

Our scaling tool allows you to proportionally resize your model to address potential printability problems based on the information you see from the automatic checks and visualizations of the other tools.

Getting Started

There are three ways to get to the 3D tools, all from the model edit page:

Existing models: Click on the Make tab then select the existing model you want to edit. On the model edit page, in the first column of material finishes, you can click "View 3D tools" for each material you want to view.

New models: When you upload a new model, you are brought to the model edit page and the first column of material finishes has links to "View 3D Tools" under each material.

From an email: If you have received a rejection email, there will be a link direct to the model edit page in the email and it will bring you to the model edit page. You can click into 'View 3D tools' for the material you were going to order from, and it will show the rejection information, picture and text from the email in the pane where the design guidelines go, and the design guidelines will be pushed below this information. You will also see a red 'X' in the manual check column, which should help you address specific areas.

Design guidelines are different for each material so chose the material you want to print in to get the most relevant and accurate information from the 3D tools.

Tool Functions

Details about each of the checks in the 3D tools and why they are useful as you review and prepare your model for 3D Printing. Each tab represents problems your model can have and any results, whether automatic or manual we have and possibly a fixing tool. The tools are split into two groups on the sidebar: those we check upon upload and those we manually check.

The tools we use for automatic checks upon upload are:

Mesh Integrity & Repair check
The mesh integrity & repair tool ensures your model can be 3D printed. Most 3D printers require the model to be manifold and orientable. A manifold surface is one that has a continuous surface with no holes. An orientable surface is one where you distinguish the inside from the outside. We check and repair the for the following things:

  • Fix any holes in the mesh
  • Fix any self-intersections
  • Fix flipped triangles
  • Remove double triangles
  • Remove degenerate faces
  • Union overlapping shells
  • This helps to ensure your model is in a format that the printer can recognize and print.

Bounding Box check
The bounding box check insures your model is large enough to be printed and successfully get through any post processing steps. This is important as really small items may get lost in the polisher. It also makes sure your object is not too large for the printer or post processing steps. We have some big machines, but they have concrete boundaries!

The bounding box visualization shows you the size of your model relative to the maximum bounding box. If you have a multi-part model, if any of the parts are too big or too small, they will be shown in red to help you identify which part is outside the material-specific guidelines.

Wall Thickness check
Each material has different physical properties such as how much it will flex before breaking and its innate material strength. We publish a set of wall thickness guidelines that summarize this information. While wall thickness is not a perfect metric it can help you understand when certain geometries definitely will not work and you can see problem areas with two different visualizations. The wall thickness check will analyze your model for places that are below the published thickness and identifies them with a color coded guide.

The tool does have some issues, especially around the edges of objects. It can sometimes identify areas that are not actually problems, like a triangular edge coming to a point. Consider these areas it flags as problems and decide whether you think the objects need to be thicker. In addition if your model has really thin areas the tool may not detect those. Usually areas below ¼ of the wall thickness may not always be detected, so be aware of those.

This tool has an option to 'FIX THIN WALLS', which is an automatic fix we can apply for you. The Wall Thickness Visualization identified weak points in your model with areas below our recommended wall thickness guidelines. Pressing the 'FIX THIN WALLS' button will prompt the tool to actually thicken those walls to the minimum recommended wall thickness for the material you’re working with. You can click ‘Save and Exit’ to apply your fixes or download the fixed model files for use in your 3D Modeling software. You can read more detail about how fixing thin walls works here.

Wall Thickness Heatmap check
The wall thickness heat map tool is a visualization of the wall thickness issues. The underlying algorithm we use is different between the Wall Thickness check and the Wall Thickness Heat map. The heatmap version finds the skeleton of the object and insures the surrounding geometry is at least as thick as the required minimum. This tool is currently in beta as we refine its accuracy.

Why are there two Wall Thickness tools?

Both styles have their strengths and weaknesses and you can toggle back and forth between them. We expect eventually to move to the heatmap tool. We’ll continue to display both until we are satisfied the new tool provides accurate results. Let us know what you think to help us decide!

Loose Shells check
Loose shells are when two separate shells are positioned closer than the clearance value. These shells are at risk of fusing together during printing. The check visualizes the areas at risk by making a semi-transparent box around the region for your review.

Part Count check
The part count check counts the number of separate parts in your upload. Intertwined shells are considered one part, for example, a chainmail shirt is composed of thousands of links but since the links won’t separate during printing they are considered to be one part.

The part count visualization allows you to see how many parts you have as each and every part is uniquely colored. This can help protect you from ordering a model you expect to come in one piece, but actually receive in many pieces.

If you have many parts in a model, a sintershell will sometimes reduce the price of your model which you can do by clicking ‘sintershell’. A sintershell encloses your parts inside a mesh, making it easier to handle and sort. It uses more material and space in the machine, but lets you only pay labor on one part. While a sintershell may help you reduce your overall cost, it is NOT designed to optimize for price alone. If you want to read more about how to optimize for price this tutorial is useful.

Please note you can only generate a sintershell for printing in our White Strong and Flexible material.

Machine Space check*
Some materials charge based on the total machine space your model uses. This visualization shows you the space used for your model. Any holes smaller than 40mm are closed and a buffer of 1mm is added to the object. Read more about how machine space is calculated or learn more about how to optimize for price in this tutorial. *This tool is only available when viewing materials that use machine space as part of it's price calculation, so currently it only displays for the XSF materials.

After purchase, we use these tools for manual checks:

Wire Thickness check
The wire thickness tool will allow you to see our design guidelines for that material next to your 3D model.

Details check
A detail is a feature whose length is less than twice its width. Embossed details stick out from a surface, like a lace napkin lying on a table. The minimum detail is determined by the printer's resolution. When detail dimensions are below the minimum, the printer may not be able to accurately replicate them. Details that are too small can also be smoothed over in the polishing process. To ensure details come out clearly, make them larger than the indicated minimum. We may refrain from printing products with details smaller than the minimum, since the final product will not be true to your design. If your product has details smaller than the minimum, try making them larger, removing them, or considering a material with finer detail capabilities. Currently this check is just for returning manual results, there is no automated component so its up to you to review if details are a possible issue for your model.

Text check
This is a manual check that any text you have on your model will be readable. Each material has guidelines helping you to make legible text. As a rough guideline, sticking to non-italics and non-serif fonts gives you a better chance at both legibility and printability.

Texture check*
The texture tool automatically checks to see if your model has color and textures. Manually we will check to see if you have any problematic texture maps.
*This tool only displays for Full Color Sandstone models.

Part Clearance check

Clearance is the space between any two parts, walls or wires. Strong and Flexible plastic is printed with an SLS process that uses a laser to fuse together nylon powder. When there is a very small gap between features or parts, partially fused powder can get stuck in between the parts. This can prevent mechanical parts from moving, or fill in intended gaps between features.

To ensure a successful product, make the clearance between parts, walls, and wires greater than the indicated minimum. If your clearance is too small, try making the gap bigger, or consider fusing the parts or features if their independence is unnecessary. You can also try a material with a smaller minimum clearance. Current this check is just for returning manual results there is no automated component, so its up to you to review if clearance is a possible issue for your model.

Structural Integrity
Your model needs to be able to withstand the forces undergone in our production processes, including printing, cleaning, and other post-processing such as polishing so we check for structural integrity. If your model consistently breaks during production, we’ll unfortunately need to reject it.

Escape Holes Check
Escape holes allow unbuilt material inside hollow products to be removed.

When products contain hollow cavities, they are often filled with powder even after they are removed from the build tray. If escape holes are not large enough, or the geometry of the product makes it difficult to shake or blast the powder out, we cannot successfully clean it. This is especially important for our water-based dyeing process as models cannot be successfully dyed if they cannot be successfully cleaned inside and out. To ensure a successful, cleanable product, make sure to include sufficiently large escape holes for each hollow cavity in your product. Multiple escape holes are recommended for large hollow parts. A single escape hole at the end of a cavity will not allow material in the corners near the escape hole to fully escape; so multiple escape holes at both ends of the cavity are recommended. If your escape holes are insufficient, try enlarging them, adding more, or filling in the hollow space. Current this check is just for returning manual results there is no automated component, so use your judgement to determine if your escape holes are sufficient.

Interlocking Part check*
The interlocking or enclosed parts tool checks to see if you have parts that are interlocked or enclosed. With the production process of this material, we’re unable to produce interlocking and enclosed parts. *This tool only shows for the Steel, Brass, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Castable Wax material families.

Content Policy check
All models uploaded to Shapeways are subject to our guidelines, so we've included them here to help you make sure you are complying with the content policy. It speaks to intellectual property, sexually explicit content and weapons. This is something we manually check once you order, so we list out our content policy for you to review for yourself.

Clipping Tool
In the picture window, the clipping tool allows you to see an x-ray version of your model along the x, y, and z planes. You might find this useful to investigate problem areas.

Scaling Tool
In the toolbar at the top of the picture window, the scaling tool allows you to proportionally resize your model by dimension or percentage. This gives you greater flexibility for you to purchase models at the price you want and to remedy common printability problems like thin walls and bounding box errors on-site.

Feedback Button
Whichever tool you are using, you can use the 'SHARE FOR FEEDBACK' button to share your model visualization with others.

Help Button
Got more questions? Use this to find helpful links, and to email our customer service team.

Try 3D tools now by uploading a new model or fixing one of your existing models . This is just the beginning of the 3D tools so we'd love to hear about how you are using them, what you find them helpful for and if you have any suggestions. Head over to the forum to tell us what you think!

Get more help in our Forums



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