3D Printing with ZBrush

ZBrush was conceived with sculptors in mind. Hence it is no surprise that the tool allows you to CAD like a sculptor. The advent of wooden polymers has opened doors for sculptors who could only model and design using CAD software before. Now, they can print and create copies of what they imagined or committed using CAD packages.

The advent of wooden polymers has also allowed more and more sculpting enthusiasts to explore a side of art and skill that would not have been open to them before. Because of all these reasons, we are not going to get into learning sculpting with ZBrush, but as the topic’s name suggests, we will talk about printing models using wood based polymer. This article talks about what you need to know and what must be considered when following your wood-oriented passion or hobby.


3D Printing With ZBrush

zbrushFirst off, because the concept of sculpting in CAD lacks popularity, you as a ZBrush user need to figure out whether you’re going to print the model yourself with an available printer, or whether you’re going to forward your model to a printing company. Further notes will clarify why this is important at the start of the whole process.

Second, as a ZBrush user, you need to realize you’ve taken up a task which is not common and requires additional care as compared to modeling, designing and working with metals. Read on for how to print with ZBrush.

Step 1 – Preparing your model

Material selection

Using ABS or PLA (both are available as wooden polymers), each has its ups and downs. Make sure you know which you want to use. ABS offers a lot of flexibility in printing because its glass transition zone (the temperature at which the material will start to soften) is 105˚C. When printing, most extruders are heated up to 200˚C which means you can forget about clogging and jams when printing.

At the same time, because of its GTZ, the cooling can become rapid if printing is committed in an open printer in an air conditioned room. Your print may crack during post-printing cooling. PLA on the other hand, will not stick to your print bed, and won’t require as much maintenance after the printing is done. With other options available, a quick read of our filaments article – Choosing the right filament will definitely help you decided.

Thickness of your walls

zbrush 3d printingThe thickness of your model’s walls is something that is not only affected by the material and extruder you use but also by the purpose of your model. A very fine layer as a mantelpiece may look beautiful, provided you can print it and clean it the way you want, apart from the dangers of cracking when cooling or breaking when lifting from the print bed. Using the “Transpose” tool of ZBrush.

Click on the model, on the plane you want and then (while holding the mouse button down) move your cursor to find the dimensions change in the upper-left corner. Make sure the thickness complies with material constraints or company guidelines (if asking a company to print your model).

Water-tight models

Self-explanatory, this basically means in your model is hollow (up to you), it should not leak water (or any easily flowing liquid). Close of the nostrils of a character or the taps’ ends when printing a bathroom sink (unless you’re printing to actually use it). This will make sure that your model will float (on water) and not retain any fluids (if some got into it).

Empty and hollow models

This is actually a hack that can be applied to any material or print job but is most often considered when working with wooden polymers. It helps by saving weight, material, cost and time.

Merging models

It’s a good idea to merge together any intersecting models and hollow out the geometry inside. This means that you print doesn’t get printed as two separate objects that are amalgamated into one at the expense of one or both of the structures. Instead, it prints one single object, which to the human eye is inferred as two objects intersecting one. As long as it looks like what you wanted, you’re probably doing it the right way.

Not doing this, will eventually force either your program or the printer’s software or the printing company into rejecting, reevaluating as well as simply printing your print (which may look like what you wanted, coupled with issues you weren’t able to foresee).

Step 2 – Optimizing your model

Keep all the above-mentioned points in mind when modeling and preparing your models for printing. Take a look at the following section which talks about tools and plug-ins that you will encounter at one point or another during your ZBrush endeavors.

Merge tool

Used to merge objects, it does exactly what we talked about before. It not only takes all the “insides” of the model but optimizes your model by either tweaking the insides or removing them all together. You can do this yourself, but a tool developed by a whole team of people must have some upside to it.

Dynamesh

This is the standard tool supplied by the makers of ZBrush. Its options and the flexibility it brings to modeling are a cherry on top of the ZBrush cake. It basically allows you to complete separate models and then bring them together with the move tool. Once done, Dynamesh will create a single mesh of the whole model essentially creating a single model. 123D Design and Autodesk’s Meshmixer are also great tools albeit being third party options.

Decimation Master

Did you create a Batman model? Or did you try to print a model of water droplets? Did the model’s polygons count in the hundreds of thousands? Chances are most of those will not get printed because physical, technical and resource limitations. Your best bet is the Decimation Master. The tool basically renders your model into a less detailed model (reducing the number of polygons). The detail will remain practically the same, with minimal to negligible loss of detail to the naked eye.

Print Exporter

And last, but certainly not the least. This is the exporter plugin that allows you to export your designs to an STL file (OBJ and WRL also supported). It further lets you scale your model and lets you decide what aspects of the model you want to export.


Conclusion

3D printing and wooden polymers now allow the CAD-oriented sculptor to actually bring their projects to life. And not just in metal or plastic form, but in true wood (or as close as industrially possible). This further allows you to print pencils for your kids stationary and key-rings for your loved ones. But most interesting is the fact that people are using this technology for home improvement solutions. Wooden cloth pins are a thing of the past (or buying them at least) because you can print them. You don’t need to buy spares for wooden parts, now you can print them. But the coupling of ZBrush with the availability of wooden polymer resin is going to take personal 3D printing to new heights.