Introduction: Create a 3D Steampunk Guitar Decal

About: I am a 2D/3D Graphics generalist and artist. I Like to create models for 3D Printing and experiment with new technology. I also draw and paint if my muse calls upon me ;-)

This is my poor man's version of getting a cool looking decal with a bit of depth that looks fairly realistic. Ofcourse, the decal has fixed shadows but you still can get away with it I think ;-) I was actually look for having a guitarbody milled out through 3D CNC'ing but finding experienced companies or people in this country is hard. You also need the right equipment and that kind of hardware isn't cheap. So, I quickly came to the idea to utilize my 3D modelling skills to render out stuff in 2D and have this printed. So here's what I did! Hope you find it useful!

Step 1: Planning and Design

As always, planning stuff in advance is a good practice if you want get to your goal quickly!

The goal here was get something cool rendered out quickly, and have this a decal on my guitar. I made a list of challenges or requirements that I thought were needed:

  • I need accurate measurements of the guitarbody
  • I need to create a mockup
  • How to render the stuff from Zbrush in zero time but still have it looking realistic enough
  • Come up with some shapes that fit my guitarbody, has to be cool looking.
  • I want it to be a sort of Steampunk-ish look!
  • What kind of sticker or material is needed? I need it to last an eternity and has to be weatherproof.
  • How am I going to apply everything to my guitarbody?
  • Software to be used?

On to the making of...

Step 2: Creating a 3D Mockup

Firstly I needed a mockup of a guitarbody in 3D. This way I could work non-destructively and get ideas out fast! In the process of searching for a good reference photo I found the measurements for a Telecaster guitarbody. It's easy to find, just Google it. Also technical drawings can help you in creating the 3D version of the body. It really shows the cavities of the guitar etc. Good stuff! Those measurements were needed later on for when I would render out my final model. More on that later.

I modelled the body of a Fender Telecaster from reference photo's that I found online. I won't go into the modelling itself here, that's beyond the scope of this tutorial. You can model it in any 3D Package you like (Modo/Rhino/3DS Max/Maya/Zbrush etc). I just like to work in Zbrush for reasons that will be obvious later on. After I had the body, I quickly modelled (not detailed) some placeholders for the scratchplate, knobs and controls, pickups. This is necessary to get a good idea of were to put stuff later on.

As you can see on the photo here, I made a few cavities and already filled it with objects. I realized I would have much control over the specific shapes I wanted on my guitar because I planning on doing that in a graphicseditor (like Photoshop/GIMP). So instead making the shapes for my guitar in Zbrush and plainly masked out everything on the top of the body, keeping distance from the edge and working around the knobs, pickups, scratchplate. I inverted that masked and pushed everything a bit back into the body. Now I have big cavity in my 3D guitarbody in which I can insert objects, creating that depth we talked about.

Step 3: Creating the 3D Inside Hardware

Now that I have everything in place it's time for some creative fun! In Zbrush you can quickly insert 3D objects by using the so-called "Insert Multi-Mesh" Brushes (IMM). Basically this brush consists of multiple brushes or objects with this one brush. You can download free brushes from the community forum of Pixologic or even better, from BadKing. This website has ton's of free stuff, check it out:

By choosing a IMM Brush (ofcourse one that has tech-like objects!) you can quickly vary between objects and place them in cavity of the body. To create more depth I firstly layer the bottom with a sort of hull-plating looking objects on top of that I did some tubing and after that all the objects. Just look at the photo's, you'll get the idea. After I was done populating the whole body with cool looking hardware it was time to render stuff out.

Step 4: Rendering

Although you can render pretty fairly in Zbrush itself, it never looks realistic in my opinion. I didn't want to tweak hours lighting and and materials so I found KeyShot a good alternative. It's a very easy and intuitive program. First I export the 3D hardware I mean in the previous step (minus the guitarbody!) and loaded this into KeyShot. I set up the camera first. I need a front view of it, dead on. After that I locked the camera, helps for accidental moving things, it stays put this way.

Next I would drag materials on the various layers! Easy as that! Some rubber material for the tubing and gold or copper for the hardware. I think rough red plastic for the bottom. I really like the contrast of bloodred with gold on a white guitar :P You can choose to use a HDRI photo for realistic lighting, as I did. KeyShot has a bunch of them onboard, so tweak it the way you like it!

I did some quick renders so I could paste it on my guitar in Photoshop, just to see how it would look like. Really helps visualising it and to see if you're on the right creative track ;-)

NB: About this mockup, I just made a good photo of my guitar on it's side, with some perspective. In Photoshop I would paste the photo onto it and adjust it's perspective with the Transform -> Distort / Perspective function.

Next I needed to render this out on it's actual real-world size. The size for a Tele-body is 40x32,5 cm and I calculate this would be 4724x3839 pixels and have it at 300dpi for printing. You can set this quick and easily in KeyShot and even lock the resolution and tweak the view a bit. I think I even went a bit bigger like 5000x4000 pixels so I could always scale it a bit down. It's easier to have more than less in this case.

Step 5: Creating Shapes and Prepare to Be Printed!

In your favorite graphics-editor software (ie. Photoshop or GIMP) load in the freshly rendered photo you made.

I can't go in depth how for example Photoshop works, it goes beyond the scope of this tutorial. There are loads of youtube movies and tutorials out there on how to mask and create shapes, which is what I did. It's also good practice to work in layers so you can work with more control.

Here are steps I did:

  1. Make sure you make a new document at 300dpi in CMYK, which measures you guitarbody almost exactly (a few millimeters won't matter but it's nice to get accurate here).
  2. Copy or Load in the reference photo and size it up so the body will be the exact size as the document.
  3. Copy or Load in the rendered out version of the steampunk hardware.
  4. Next I made a bunch of shapes on a reference photo of Telecaster guitarbody so I can see what I want to show through.
  5. When satisfied with the shapes, I positioned the steampunk-hardware where I wanted it and select all shapes and made a mask of it. This way I could slide the Steampunk-hardware layer underneath and see if I needed to move it more or scale it a bit.
  6. I made some beveled edges on the shapes to separate them out more.

Next, save it for printing.

Step 6: The Decal

When satisfied I saved the whole picture in a bunch of formats so I won't have to go back again. The format of the file depends on what the requirements are of the company that has to print it for you. In my case I contacted Dr.Sticker (Netherlands based company) because of the experience they have with this kind of stuff. I ordered my decal to be printed on strong vinyl that is also weather- and UV-proof.

Applying the decal came with instructions from the company. To make it easier and more accurate to apply the decal to my guitar, I had the company print the different shapes as a whole. So that means I get one big decal the size of my guitarbody which has the shape in the right position! No messing around with loose shapes ;-) Just make sure you clean the body first, remove dust and dirt etc. Next I cut the big decal leaving out the bridge and pickup area as well as the scratchplate and sorts. This way it's easier to apply it as a whole. I started applying it from the bottom of the guitar towards the neck because I could get more precise.

I'm really happy with the end result! You can create al kinds of cool stuff even with 3D Software.. I could have done the same thing maybe by cutting and pasting lots of photo's of various hardware but I wanted to have consisted lighting and control over my work. That's why I did it this way. Good excercise too ;-)