Basic Guidelines for 3D Printed Architectural models

If 3D printing can be used to create customized jewelry, then why not for modern-esque customized architectural structures? Additive manufacturing is stirring within the architectural industry, and creating prototypes has never been easier. For obvious reasons, prototypes are always encouraged; in fact, are often even a necessity for several professionals to understand the practicality, the feel and aesthetic of a construction. Consumers across nations have adopted 3D Printing as a tool to conceptualize and display models.

3D printed constructions help convey layouts and appearances to prospective clients with enhanced, more precise details, allowing both client as well as the architect to achieve as much accuracy as possible. And the best part? All architectural models are possible to print! 3D printers allow architects to design freely resulting in precise models. With this freedom, you can quickly, accurately, and cost-effectively explore and break the barriers that limit design liberation. Since 3D printing full-scale structures is still experimental at best, these models have to be miniature.

The scaling of these is exacting and meticulous, and the only drawback is that the minimum wall dimension of the model must be, at the very least, 1 mm thick. To shrink a model to the extent where it is too diminutive will make additive manufacturing not feasible; hence, accuracy in measurements and scaling are imperative to the meticulous process of 3D Printing architecture. Thus, at times, representational models are made for projects that are too diminutive and which cannot afford the liberty of keeping 1 mm wall thickness.

However, it is this conscientious precision of measurement that allows for 3D printed, small-scale architecture to be very nearly incomparable in terms of quality, accuracy, and details, especially when compared to the other forms of architectural prototyping methods including hand-made prototypes made out of clay, foam and thermocol. 

Whilst you’re convinced about the quality of 3D printing, how may you access and steer this technology to serve your purposes must be the question on your minds?! Continue reading to learn more:

  1. Identifying a CAD modeling software: There are numerous 3D modelling software applications that can be used to create 3D models from scratch, as well as transforming your 2D model to 3D. The identification process begins when you understand what is the structure of your architecture and how you can find a software that will fit all your needs. Here’s a article that talks about the 5 best 3D CAD softwares for your architectural models.
  2. Measurement and scale: Scales and measurements are always a little tricky. Nobody wants any of their details lost on the print! So, it is always recommended to aim for a scale that’s a little higher than the least permissible dimension the 3D printer allows. This step is just as important as selecting a design software.

  3. Removing gaps and holes: Invariably the 3D CAD file will be accompanied with CAD errors like holes and gaps. You can attempt repairing such errors with various computer applications. We have written an article that talks specifically about some of the common errors in 3D CAD models and how one can identify and repair the 3D CAD files.
  4. Topology and Polygon Count: Ideally, the geometry should be clean and the polygon count should be high enough to avoid any facets on the visible surfaces. Higher Polygon count would result in better file quality but bigger file size and vice-versa. It’s basically a trade-off between file quality and file size. Our tech. platform – COCO, can handle files up to 50 MB in size and for good quality parts, we recommend a tolerance (the maximum distance between the original solid and the polygon mesh created for the *.stl file) of 0.01 mm.

  5. Inverted Normals: A normal is an invisible line that is perpendicular to the surface of the polygon. The correct way to position your normals is facing outwards. The normals should face towards the outside of the shell.
  6. Dealing with floating shells: The other thing you need to avoid when working on 3D printable architectural models is floating shells. Although unsupported shells or geometry are perfectly welcome for rendering architectural 3D scenes, a virtual walk through or an animation, they make 3D printing a little more difficult and may cause undesired results. Removing them will allow you to print high-quality models.
  7. Hollowing the model and discarding unnecessary geometry: Whilst solid structures aren’t easily toppled over, if it is only the exterior that you want to display, then it’s a waste to spend more time, effort and money to include internal building details and components. This will reduce weight and decrease costs. Additionally, having fewer shells when creating a model of a design concept can allow you to demarcate the components and only print what is essential at maximum scale. Printing at maximum scale is advantageous because it reduces need for thickening. Here’s an article on how to make models hollow in 3D Printing.
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