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The 3 Steps To Using 3D Printing In Your Jewellery Making

Admin -  23/01/2022

The 3 Steps To Using 3D Printing In Your Jewellery Making


It used to be that only the highest of high-end jewellers could afford to design their jewellery using Computer Aided Design (CAD), and turn their designs into 3D prints, ready to cast. Nowadays, what used to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds is achievable on a far more modest budget.

There are 3 simple steps to turning your ideas into finished items - designing, printing and casting.

Step 1 - Computer Aided Design and 3D Modeling

If you've ever hired a CAD technician, you know that they can take your 2D drawing and turn it into a computer model, ready to print. It takes hundreds of hours of training for these people to be able to so effortlessly transcribe your ideas into reality. If you're just starting out, this is the best option. However if you want to learn to do this yourself, there are alternatives:

Learn with Free Software and Learning resources

Believe it or not, there are free resources out there you can use for 3D design.

Sketchup (www.sketchup.com) was developed by Google, and is free to download and use. It's mostly used for simple designs, and can be a great place to get started on your first experiments.

Blender (www.blender.org) is also free, but is a more complex and professional level piece of design software. It's used by the film industry for computer generated imagery, as well as by digital artists and designers of physical products.

YouTube is full of tutorials on both of these platforms. If you're unsure about breaking into 3D design, this is probably a great place to start. It won't cost you anything but time, and skills you learn on these 2 platforms can be transferred to more professional software packages.

Learn with Paid Software and Learning resources

If you're really committed to doing your own designs and you've played around with the free options, then this is your best option for professional design.

The most common design package used in Jewellery would be Rhino - now on version 7. The basic package will set you back somewhere in the region of £800, but there are options (both free and paid) for jewellery specific software plugins. A google search will give you the name of your local Rhino dealer. Most of these places also offer remote and in-house training. Getting proficient in Rhino can take several weeks to months of hard study. Becoming a master in it will take much, much longer.

Be aware if you take this route, it can cost anything from £800 to £10,000 for your software and training, depending on which options you choose.

Step 2 - Choosing (and using) a 3D Printer

So you have your designs, and you have them converted into STL format, ready to print. All you need is the right 3D printer to get started. 

3D Wax Printers

Nothing casts quite like wax, so it makes sense to print your designs in casting wax, right?

Well, kind of...

The best printers in this class are made by Solidscape, and cost tens of thousands of dollars. They will print your models in 2 types of wax - the castable wax, and a support wax (for all the overhangs and parts that require support during printer) that melts away before you invest your model. There's no doubt that if money is no object, this is what you want to buy. However, besides being expensive, they also require a lot of maintenance and careful attention. This isn't something you want to buy if your plan is to 'set it and forget it'.

The alternative is to use SLA or DLP printers that can print in castable resin.

Desktop SLA Printers

SLA (Stereolithography) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) printers work by curing layers of liquid resin on a build plate. Once you've made your choice on which type of printer you prefer, you're locked in to which types of resin you can buy and use.

What's the difference, and why should you care?

Let's talk about SLA (Stereolithography) printers first. Like all resin printers they work by lowering a build plate into a vat of UV curable resin. A blueray laser is then traced onto the build plate from below, curing a microscopic layer of resin onto the build plate before it's raised slightly. The process is then repeated over and over, building your model one tiny layer at a time.

SLA printers have the highest resolution and accuracy of all 3D printing technologies, as well as the smoothest finish. A decent printer, capable of printing to a resolution of 25 microns, can be picked up for around £2000.

Desktop DLP Printers

First the pros. These printers are far cheaper than SLA printers. A budget of £500 will get you a good one that can print in layers of 35 microns (human hair is around 70 microns thick!) They also give you control over the speed of your print layers so you can experiment with different settings on different resins. They're also faster, as they 'project' one layer at a time, rather than trace it out with a movable laser.

The downside is that these aren't as smooth as SLA printers - but only slightly. Also, that level of control you have over your print parameters means there can be a lot of trial and error, and a lot of wasted printer resin, while you work out the best printing profile. These are quite technical machines with lots of settings and engineering terms. The learning curve is steeper than with an SLA printer.

No Printer

By far the cheapest initial outlay, and probably the place to start while you're getting used to CAD. There are plenty of services out there that will print your model in the material of your choice, and ship it to you or your casting service. A quick google search will give you plenty to choose from.

Step 3 - Turning a 3D Print Into Finished Jewellery

Once you have your printed model, you'll need to cast it to get your final piece of jewellery. This is something you can either do yourself, or send to a casting service. One thing you should be aware of is that a lot of castable resins start to shrink after printing. They may shrink as much as 5% by the time your caster has received your model in the post.

Cast in your own workshop

It's creative. It's fun. It's on demand. It's flexible.

It's also expensive to set up. It's messy, noisy, dangerous, time-consuming, and difficult to learn.

A typical starter casting workshop would consist of:

  • - vacuum pump (capable of 3CFM)
  • - vacuum chamber
  • - centrifugal casting machine
  • - casting flasks
  • - burnout oven with timer
  • - safety clothing and eye protection

Casting, like 3D printing, isn't as simple as it appears. There's a learning curve that can take from months to years to get you from pitted castings to the works of art you're looking to produce.

Send to a casting service

This is by far the easiest option, with the least outlay.

Casting services nowadays are relatively inexpensive and reliable. While traditionally you would either send them a wax model or have them create a mould for you, most have now moved with the times and will accept 3D prints, or print and cast for you.

One thing to consider, besides the shrinkage rates of your own prints, is that castable resins tend to need a special burnout schedule (how the casting flasks are heated before casting). If you plan to send your own prints, you should speak to your caster to ensure they support your resin. It's also worthwhile starting with a test cast to make sure your prints can burn out cleanly.

What Now?

Hopefully that should be enough to get you started on your 3D Design/Printing/Casting journey. It's a complicated topic and there's lots to be learned along the way. You can start right now by sending a sketch to a casting service that also offers CAD and 3D printing, then maybe dip your toes into the process as you go along. This is a different type of jewellery making - a whole distinct skillset - that's here to stay. It can be used for full pieces, for intricate filigree, or for simple components that you can put together on your bench in a more traditional workflow. It can be a powerful tool in your jewellery designing and making arsenal.


Author: Charlie McManus - Circinn Studio

Tagged Under: 3D Printing
Related Products: 3d printing3D CAD Ring

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