3D Printing Workflow with Cinema 4D

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Instructor Rick Barrett

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Learn the basic workflow of 3D printing, starting with Cinema 4D and exporting via STL into a slicing application like MakerBot Desktop, Simplify 3D or Cura.

Learn the basic workflow of 3D printing, starting with Cinema 4D and exporting via STL into a slicing application like MakerBot Desktop, Simplify 3D, or Cura. There’s some key things to consider when preparing models in Cinema 4D for 3D printing, including textures, phong, hidden objects, project scale and the geometry itself. You’ll see how each of these is applied in Cinema 4D.



3D printing is a hot topic right now and for good reason. 3D printers have the ability to take your Cinema 4D models and transform them into real physical objects that are as useful as they are artistic. There's lots of different 3D printers available, and they're becoming more accessible all the time. And there's also lots of different software applications you can use to prepare models for 3D printing. Here on Cineversity we're going to focus on how you get from Cinema 4D into a 3D printer, and specifically we're going to be looking at the MakerBot Replicator because that's the 3D printer that we have here in the office, and it's also one of the most popular on the market. The theory and technique that we cover, though, is going to be fairly universal at least to extrusion-based 3D printing, which is the kind that prints in a very inkjet kind of a way, actually spitting out plastic as it moves the printhead around. So we'll start with some general theory, and then we'll look at some specific 3D projects that I've worked on to 3D print. So before we get too deep into this, let's take sort of an overview look at the 3D printing workflow. We're going to be starting in Cinema 4D and creating all of our models there. And from Cinema 4D, we're going to be exporting pretty much universally into the STL file format. STL is a CAD based format that's used pretty much universally in 3D printing, and we're fortunate that Cinema 4D has the ability to export it directly. From there, we're going to take the STL file and import it into a slicer. And this is a software application that takes the polygonal STL model and interprets it into an actual solid object and figures out all of the layers that need to be printed by the 3D printer. So it's actually literally slicing your model in the upward direction, and it figures out all of the pathways that the printhead needs to take as it moves around and creates your model. So as you can imagine, the slicer is very important. It actually has the ability to fix bad geometry, and the way it interprets your STL geometry determines how careful you need to be in your development of your 3D model. There's lots of different slicers available, and your commercial 3D printer probably came with a slicer. For instance, the MakerBot comes with the MakerBot Desktop software. So we'll take a look at some of these throughout the series, and certainly you should explore each of them individually as well, because, as I have said, they do make a big difference in how your 3D print actually can turn out. And then of course the last part of the process is that the slicer will somehow transmit the instruction set that it generates to the 3D printer either wirelessly or via a SD card or a USB stick or some manner like that, and the 3D printer actually does the printing. So in our 3D printing project tutorials you'll see this entire workflow. But our main focus, of course, here on Cineversity is how to properly prepare models in Cinema 4D in order to get them through the rest of the pipeline so that you get a nice looking 3D print at the end that's exactly what you'd expect. And with that in mind, there's some specific considerations that you need to keep in mind when preparing models in Cinema 4D for 3D printing. And the first is that most 3D printers do not support any form of textures. There are some high-end commercial printers and commercial printing services that do support a material color attribute and can print color. However, they only support color and not the rest of the texture attributes that you're used to from Cinema 4D. And most 3D printers don't even support that. So as you look at your models in Cinema 4D, if you have them textured, that can be very deceiving because you're seeing color that won't actually be there in the final print. And also you have to keep in mind that certain texture channels that alter the appearance of your geometry won't actually have any effect on the 3D printed geometry. So effects like bump, normal, and displacement as well as even transparency and alpha won't translate to the 3D printing process, and you'll need to find a way to bake those into your actual geometry in order to have them affect your final 3D printed model. Along these same lines, you have to keep in mind that 3D printers don't support Phong shading. Phong is a display technology where 3D software actually smoothes the normals between polygons in order to make the geometry look smoother than it actually is. The most simple example is if we take a simple sphere primitive and delete the Phong tag. You'll see that it goes from looking very smooth to very polygonized. So if we wanted to smoothly 3D print this sphere, we'd actually need to go in and increase the subdivision to say 48 or even something closer to 96 to get a nice, smooth curve in our 3D print. You have to keep this in mind especially with Cinema 4D because the default Phong in Cinema 4D is very severe and will smooth almost anything out. For what's perhaps a more practical example, let's take a look at this farmer character from our Unity game tutorial. And first of all, I'll need to disable textures so that those aren't deceiving. But you'll notice that this model still looks fairly smooth until I go in and delete the Phong tag on both the farmer and the shotgun. And now you can see that this is actually very sharp and not very smooth at all. So I'm obviously going to want to smooth this out before I would 3D print it. And we're going to look at specific techniques for smoothing your model in some of our 3D printing project tutorials. Another thing you need to consider in the 3D printing workflow is that you'll need to delete any hidden objects before exporting as an STL. And the reason for that is that the STL export actually considers all of the objects that are in the scene whether they're hidden or not. And so you can actually end up with a nasty surprise if you had any construction geometry in your scene that you simply hid away. Easy solutions for this is to save an incremental file or copy your final geometry into a new scene file and then export, or you can use CV-SmartExport to export just the selected objects. A couple of other considerations to keep in mind that we'll go into in more detail in additional tutorials are setting an appropriate project scale for 3D printing. Because you're creating real world objects, you'll need to work in real world units. And often you'll be 3D printing things that need to interact with objects that already exist, like GoPro cameras or cell phones. And so you're going to want to be working at an appropriate unit scale that you can do the precise modeling that you need to do. So we'll look at that in more detail in another tutorial. Also you need to have clean geometry, and we'll go over that in more detail in a separate tutorial as well. This is one of the parts of 3D printing that intimidated me most because you hear people talking about watertight meshes and non-manifold edges and things that I generally have not ever had to worry about when modeling things just for rendering in Cinema 4D. And so we're going to look at specific ways to handle those things. But I'll tell you this right off the bat, depending on your slicer especially, it's not as intimidating as you might think. There's also a few considerations when modeling that are specific to the 3D printing process and often specific to the actual 3D printer you're using, and we'll cover these in a separate tutorial as well. The first is orientation of the model and the supports that you're going to generate underneath the model to hold up the plastic as it's being printed. You may have heard about rafts, skirts, or brims, and we'll look at what those actually are and how they might affect your modeling process in Cinema 4D as well. And finally with commercial prints, you often need what's called a drain hole or escape hole to allow excess material to exit the part, and we'll look at that in that separate tutorial as well. So that's our basic overview of the 3D printing workflow and some specific considerations for your geometry when you're 3D printing. Do make sure to watch those additional tutorials that go into more detail on project scale, geometry considerations as well as the 3D printing specific things like supports, rafts, and drain holes. And then explore some of the 3D printing project tutorials here on Cineversity as well. Thanks for joining me as we explore 3D printing with Cinema 4D.
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