One of the cool things about using a service like Shapeways is that you can get 3D prints made in materials like metal–even precious metals. This clasp was a commission for fashion designer Katie Bickford-Sawkings. It is printed in polished silver from a model created in ZBrush:
Shapeways first prints the model in a castable wax, then uses a traditional lost-wax process to cast the final piece in metal.
Each material has it’s own design constraints, which has been a sometimes frustrating learning experience for me, as I’ve had to keep tweaking things to create something that will print successfully and pass through multiple steps to become a finished product….
Sometimes a customer wants text engraved or embossed on a small piece of jewelry. While I can model it as small as I want–there are limitations to how fine a detail you can get. The smallest detail that you can get is about 0.3mm, so when you model the text you have to think about the thickness of the strokes and serifs rather than the height of the letters. You also have to be aware of the space between letters!
On this jump ring, the customer wanted the word “C.U.R.E.” in a font that had thin serifs. To scale the text up so the serif was 0.3mm would make the word too big to fit on the ring! So I had to go in and modify each letter, offsetting the original curves to create letters that would make it through the process.
But even though there are some design constraints with this process, there is also a lot of freedom when it comes to sculpting digitally and then reproducing that piece with 3D printing.
An example is this Bahamian conch shell. The client wanted this specific type of shell in a piece of jewelry, and airmailed me an actual shell so that I could use it as a reference.
I used a Structure 3D scanner to capture the basic geometry of the shell and then imported into ZBrush.
The scan data gave me a pretty good base mesh for the shell, and I had the actual conch shell in my lap as I went in and sculpted the details. This 3D model of the conch was then incorporated into a custom pendant.
For Shapeways and other services that offer custom jewelry from 3D printed wax, there is a minimum feature size that affects details that are engraved or embossed. Because of the lost-wax process that the design must go through, the smallest feature for polished metals is 0.35mm
For an example, look at the ring above. The strokes of the letters in the text “One Ring To Rule Them All…” is scaled to 0.35mm. The ratio of width to depth is 1:1, so it mustn’t be deeper than it is wide…It is possible to print details in wax 10 times smaller (.03mm), but it will be rejected when it comes to manufacturing.
If you would like some help turning your idea for a custom jewelry piece into reality, you can contact me on the Designers for Hire page at Shapeways. I would love to help you bring your dream to life!