Laser-Cut 3D Forms Made Simple With Easy to Use Plugins

Laser-Cut 3D Forms Made Simple With Easy to Use Plugins

Ever wanted to bring your fantastical creations to life? For some of us it’s a straightforward process, for others the design process can be too much of an obstacle to getting your work realised. The internet is full of useful tools to make life easier. Designers have benefited from this with a number of recent plugins for Google SketchUp that make it even easier to create their own great designs. To name but a few:

• SliceModeler by Public Art International (available for a $10-$50 donation)
• SVG Outline plugin by Flights of Ideas

Sliceform modelling is a technique which lies happily on the borders between art and mathematics. The models are made from intersecting sets of parallel panels made of paper, cardboard, wood, plexiglas or MDF which slot together to generate interesting 3-dimensional surfaces or objects.

Slicemodeler allows you to take a 3D form and slice it up into interlocking pieces through a series of simple steps. 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. Slicemodeler is based on the work of John Sharp – watch this interview to hear more about it.

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 also lets you label the different parts so you can keep track of things.

Designers who want to benefit from these but aren’t familiar with SketchUp can rejoice – you can model your designs in your preferred program and then import it. You can then use the plugins to develop them further.

Here’s what to do:

• Create the form in SketchUp (If you are using a different modeling program, you’ll then export a.3ds file and import it into SketchUp)
• Run SliceModeler (see above for these steps)
• Export SVG files from SketchUp
• Open in Illustrator (or similar), label and laser cutting

These simple steps make creating 3D designs from scratch much easier than having to create the 2D version first and then doing it manually.

Previously, this style of form creation has been possible with premium 3D modeling software like Rhino, but the great thing about SketchUp and its plugins is that they are free/super cheap.

This significantly lowers the barriers that stop people making great things. The plugins being made available either free or for a small donation make it totally worthwhile to support the great independent software creators that add huge value to these bigger software packages.

With these plugins making it so much easier to create awesome designs, it’s likely a wave of similarly based designs will emerge that share a basic design language. Now you’ll just need to add enough ‘je ne sais pas’ to make them stand out from the rest!