3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

Additive manufacturing has many benefits over traditional manufacturing. One of the most valuable is the ability to create natural and organic geometry. However, modeling natural or organic geometry can seem difficult in SOLIDWORKS. The introduction of 3D textures in SOLIDWORKS 2019 made texturing SOLIDWORKS files very easy (see this earlier blog to learn more), but the capabilities of 3D textures go much farther than applying a simple pattern. To test the abilities of this tool, I took inspiration from the board game “The Settlers of Catan” and recreated pieces from the game in 3D. These pieces were then printed using a Stratasys J750. The design process is outlined below.

To start, measurements were taken of tiles from the original board game and a base was created.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

Next came applying the texture. To apply a texture, first right-click the portion of the part to be textured and select Appearances (the colored sphere).

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

From here, select whether to texture just that face, the feature, or the body. In this case, the face was the portion textured. This is normally where colors are applied to parts. This is also where textures are applied. This is done by selecting the checkerboard pattern labeled “texture”.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

After selecting “texture”, the face should acquire the same checkerboard pattern. This checkerboard pattern can be changed by selecting an external image from the “Image” option.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

The process of using an external image will be expanded upon in a future blog. For the first board game piece, however, the default checkerboard pattern can be used. Press the green check mark to apply the texture.

Now, to make that 2D texture into a 3D texture, select the solid body with the applied texture from the “Solid Bodies” folder in the feature tree. Once selected, select the tool labeled “3D Texture”.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

This leads to the 3D Texture options.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

From here, click the checkbox to apply that texture to the part. This is when things get interesting. To create randomized mountain-looking structures for the Stone Catan piece, the “maximum element size” was changed to the largest possible value and changed the “texture offset distance” to be 15mm. This achieves the following texture:

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

The “maximum element size” values can be manipulated to create many different types of semi-random geometry. Changing the “maximum element size” to 20mm, results in the following:

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

That looks good! After confirming, a new “Graphic Bodies” folder appears in the feature tree. Currently, these spikes are not editable solid bodies, so the next step is to turn them into a mesh. This can be done by right-clicking the graphic body in the feature tree and selecting “Convert to Mesh Body”.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

After confirming, the spikes have now turned into a mesh. Now to make the mountain tops snowy. Since these mountains are a mesh they require mesh-editing tools to make changes. An easy way to do this is by using planes and the “Intersect” feature. This will result in the mesh being split into separated solid bodies. Separate solid bodies are a requirement for applying different colors to the part in GrabCAD. This was done by creating a plane 12mm from the base and selecting the plane and the mesh with the “Intersect” tool.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

Make sure to check “Cap planar openings on surfaces”. After intersecting, deselect the “Merge Solids” option at the bottom.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

This results in split mountain-caps that can be colored differently from the rest of the mesh.

To make the mountain range a little more realistic, the “3D Texture” steps were repeated to create some foothills. The same checkerboard pattern was used in this step, however the “3D Texture” settings were different.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

The last part needed to complete this piece is the slot to put the number token. After measuring the piece and accounting for some wiggle room, I created a cylinder extrusion feature from the offset plane from earlier. This solid intersects the original mesh.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

The “Combine” tool is going to be the key to removing the material from the original mesh. To use this tool, the cylinder needs to be a mesh as well. To do this, use the same “convert to mesh body” tool from earlier, only now convert the cylinder feature.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

With the cylinder now a mesh, select the “Combine” tool. The tool has 3 functions: Add, Subtract, and Common. In this case, select “Subtract”.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

This will subtract the overlapping cylinder volume from the original mesh, resulting in a small resting place for the Catan number token.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

Now to import the part into GrabCAD Print. The part can have a difficult time interpreting the meshes from the Solidworks SLDPRT file. In this case, the SLDPRT file had an error in the base.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

Thankfully, GrabCAD Print’s Analysis Mode was able to repair the SLDPRT part.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

From here, the different solid bodies can be colored and prepared for printing!

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

I printed some examples of different Stone pieces I’ve made with this method. These were all created using the default checkerboard pattern. Sometimes the scale of the checkerboard or the texture height were changed.

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

These look much more realistic than the original I created

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

This is just scraping the surface of what the 3D texture tool can do! In the future we will cover customized textures for creating rolling hills and valleys as well as utilizing real-world textures to apply features like ripples of water. Here are some previews:

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

, 3D Printing Natural and Organic Geometry with SOLIDWORKS 3D Textures

Until next time!

Kelsey Gabel
Application Engineer
Computer Aided Technology, Inc

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