Forums/Tutorials/Laser Cutting Tutorials & Tips

Easily create laser-cut 3D forms

Josh Judkins
posted this on March 17, 2011 12:21

A guide by Dan Emery - originally posted to the Ponoko Blog.

 

Every day I see a a lot of good content go through my feeds and occasionally they are some real gems which lower the barrier for people to create great designs. I saw two SketchUp plugins a while ago and have only just had a chance to test them out. I am amazed how easy it makes creating sliceform laser cut models and I'm wondering how I ever did this before. I wish I'd known about these when doing this project with my students back in 2009.

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The plugins are: Slicemodeler by Public Art International (available for a $10-$50 donation) and SVG Outline plugin by Flights of Ideas Slicemodeler allows you to take a 3D form and slice it up into interlocking pieces. It is so easy to use it is unbelievable! You enter the distance apart that you want the sections, the material thickness, choose which axes the slices are on, and the software calculates the intersections.

Once you have all the slices, that's when the SVG outline plugin comes in. Select the sections you want (that have been conveniently laid out by Slicemodeler) and hit Export to SVG file.

Now you have a file (or files) you can open in Inkscape or Illustrator to arrange for laser cutting. The SVG export plugin claims to be able to label you profiles but I could not get it to work with the labels that Slicemodeler adds to the parts. I manually added labels to the parts in Illustrator and then laid the profiles out on a P3 template.

And the finished article made from 1/4" cardboard.

Another couple of designs that I made looked at forms that were a bit more complex. It should be noted that I modeled all of these designs in Blender first and then imported them into SketchUp. The reason for this is that I am marginally more proficient at 3D modeling in Blender than SketchUp so creating the complex fluid forms was quicker and easier using Blender.
My (slightly convoluted) process was; create the form in Blender, export a '.3ds' file, import into SketchUp, run Slicemodeler, export SVG files from SketchUp, open in Illustrator, label and arrange for laser cutting and then finally cutting the profiles on the laser cutter.
It sounds like a lot of steps but it is actually a simple process compared to imagining how these pieces interlock and drawing the sections in 2D in Illustrator.
The process could be simplified if
a) you model your form directly in SketchUp or
b) there was a plugin similar to Slicemodeler for Blender.
This wavy form, which might be some weird shelf for my office tchotchkes, is 1300mm long so I had to cut the long sections in pieces. You can see the tape at the joints. Note the joints are staggered to minimize weak points in the structure.
And some blobby worm like thing.
Previously, this style of form creation has been possible with premium 3D modeling software like Rhino, but the great thing about Blender and SketchUp is that they are free.
This significantly lowers the barriers that stop people making things. And the plugins are either free or for a small donation which is totally worth it to support the great independent software creators that add huge value to these bigger software packages. However, with the lower entry barrier expect a proliferation of designs that start to share a design language.
What details will you add to your designs to make them stand out from the rest?
 

Comments

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chris hostetler

Has anybody signed up for SliceModeler Plugin? I paid for this but have not heard anything from the seller. I saw some others leave comments on his site that they had not received the software either. Anybody else have this trouble? -Chris

March 21, 2012 12:32
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Josh Judkins
Ponoko

Thanks for following up on this Chris - we're sorry to hear you haven't received the software. Can you update us on whether this gets resolved? We can then update the post above accordingly.

Cheers!

March 21, 2012 15:09
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Shawn Johnson

Hey Josh,

I also ordered the software with no download provided.  There is a string of comments on the page, and it appears to be unresolved.  It might help if you gave the developer a poke - that is, if you have their contact.  I'm sure you want your tutorial to useful, haha :)

April 15, 2012 23:59
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chris hostetler

Josh, I still have not received any software. Any help from your end is appreciated. Thanks, -Chris

April 16, 2012 05:39
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Shawn Johnson

Magically today, I recieved the script in email.  :)  It did not hit my junk email, but it was prompt ... so maybe it got filtered by yours?

April 16, 2012 07:38
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chris hostetler

Just got mine too. Thanks if that was you Josh. -Chris

April 16, 2012 08:48
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Josh Judkins
Ponoko

Hi Chris and Shawn!

Thanks for the follow-ups on this, I'm so glad to hear you both received the script - it sounds like the developer is back on the ball. :)

We'd love to see what you both end up creating with it!

April 16, 2012 09:25
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Nittn Warshne
Hi Josh, The link for "SVG outline plugin by Flights of Ideas" takes us to Flightsofideas.com, however the correct link seems to be www.Flightsofideas.net/?p=638,
April 23, 2012 10:14
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Josh Judkins
Ponoko

Thanks for the heads-up Nittn! I've adjusted the link.

April 23, 2012 10:20
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Stefan Jacobsz

Hi Josh, you guys should check out the free software by AutoDesk, especially www.123dapp.com/make. It uses *.stl files from any software of your choice.

It slices the file in real time and your sheet sizes and board thicknesses are customizable. Really awesome, it exports the flat patterns as *.eps and *.pdf in Vector(after signing up). I'm not able to open these files in Inkscape unfortunately, but only in CorelDraw for some reason for editing.

Also check out "Pepakura designer"- www.tamasoft.co.jp/pepakura-en/. This converts complex *.stl 3D models into flat patterns that can be cut and glued. Print the flat patterns with a free *.pdf writer like primopdf. Amazing stuff. 

 

October 19, 2012 01:27
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Josh Judkins
Ponoko

Thanks Stefan!

We certainly love 123D Make A LOT - it's super cool as you say. The above post was written before 123D Make launched - which as you say makes it a bit irrelevant now. :)

October 19, 2012 09:32
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Camilo Parra Palacio

Maybe Rhino cost some bucks but check this tutorial http://vimeo.com/35707093; for make laser cut  forms and then sent to http://support.ponoko.com/entries/20786136-cnc-routing-with-grassho...  CNC  routing with grasshopper.

December 06, 2012 18:09