Creating a 3D Print From Start to File Using Zbrush for Beginners




Introduction: Creating a 3D Print From Start to File Using Zbrush for Beginners

You will need:

A computer Zbrush 4R4 or equivalent Z plugin 3D Printer Exporter (free from Pixologic’s web page)

Time taken: 2-3 hours

Ok, this is my first instructable and I hope that you find it helpful. The aim is to show you guys how to create a digital sculpt from scratch using Zbrush 4R4 and then take it through several stages to end up with a 3D printable file that you can either print yourself or send away to be printed. I will be concentrating more on the techniques that I use and the pipeline/workflow and you can choose to either make an exact replica of what I have done or create something original using the same process. The important thing is to have fun and experiment for the best results, after all, that’s what it’s all about.

Also, remember to save frequently- save your sculpt as a Ztool and keep the saves together in the Ztool folder of Zbrush. When you come to close the program it will ask if you want to save the project, this is up to you; all it will do is keep the file links and tool settings.

Step 1: Zbrush

1) Let’s start by opening Zbrush. The interface can be intimidating at first as it isn’t set out like most programs, but the real scary thing is that it is so easy - everything is already there for you to use on screen, so we won’t be using the drop-down menus that much.

Step 2:

2) The first thing we will do is to hide/close the lightbox to see what we are doing. Basically it is a file opening tool, but we don’t need it.

Step 3:

3) Next we go to the big gold “S” (simple brush). Right-clicking this will give us some Ztool options, or toys, to play with. Go ahead and select the Zsphere.

Step 4:

4) With the Zsphere selected the gold “S” is replaced with a Zsphere, now we have to click and drag out our Zsphere into the workspace.

Step 5:

5) Try and keep the centre line of the Zsphere as horizontal as possible as it will affect orientation. It’s not essential but will be less hassle later.

Step 6: Making a Rig

6) With a single sphere drawn, we now go and click on the “Edit” button at the top left of the screen next to the big “Quick Sketch” button. As it says we can now edit the sphere and start playing and getting creative. The idea at this point is to create a rig, a basic shape from which we shall create a mesh to sculpt on.At this point hit the “X” key, this will toggle the mirror draw tool, so we can keep our sculpt symmetrical as we start to create our rig. When the tiny circle in the middle of the cursor is green, it means you are centered on the sphere, which is handy to know. Let’s start playing.

Step 7:

7) Now when you click and drag on the sphere a new sphere will appear. Dragging will scale this new sphere up and down. The white triangle that joins the two spheres is a bone to say it is connected. We won’t be using bones at any point, but it’s nice to know what it is.

Step 8:

8) By clicking on any empty space in the work area and dragging you can rotate around your current creation, after all it is a 3D (actually 2.5D) program.
At this point I will mention the “Scale”, “Move” and “Frame” buttons (found at the bottom right of the workspace) as these will help you move around the workspace. “Scale”: zooms in and out by dragging the mouse. “Move”: by dragging the mouse you can move horizontally and vertically around the workspace. “Frame”: centers the workspace to what you are working on. If you ever lose sight of what you are working on, click frame first! There is another button set just above these called “Local” which sets the camera pivot point to the last thing that you you edited in the workspace. I am turning this off as I find it easier without it.

Step 9:

9) On the new spheres that I have created, I have made another two spheres. Now next to the Edit/Draw buttons to the top left of the workspace I clicked on “Move” then went to my new spheres and moved them down. To get a good pose we will be clicking between the Draw, Move and Scale buttons a lot. If you hover over the buttons a little box will appear telling you the quick keys for these actions.

Step 10:

10) You can click on any sphere and create a new sphere from it, making sure you go back into Draw mode.

Step 11:

11) By clicking inside the cones between spheres you can create more spheres to manipulate the shape of your rig rather than constantly drawing new ones and moving them, which will help speed things up.

Step 12:

12) Remember at any point you can click on a sphere and move it. At this point I have what looks to me like a head, chest shoulders, elbows and hands (use your imagination!). It is good to have a plan of what you want to make, but it is also fun to just play around.

Now that all the basics are covered I am going to finish my rig before the next stage. Have a little play around to get used to the interface and making a rig for yourself.

Step 13:

13) Here is my finished rig, I have kept it fairly simple but now you can see a basic form to create a “Mesh” from to start sculpting on.

Step 14: Turning Your Rig Into a Mesh

14) There are 2 main ways to make your rig into a mesh - Adaptive skin or Unified skin. We will use the first of these as I find it gives the best results.

On the “Tool” area on the right hand side of the screen click and drag the menu up, then select “Adaptive Skin”. You can play with the option sliders to change the results, but first we will just click “Make Adaptive Skin”.....Nothing happened? Well something did, so don’t panic.

Step 15:

15) Drag the tool area back to the top and a new preview window will have appeared, usually named Skin_Zsphere_1. In the preview you can see the results.

Step 16:

16) By clicking on the preview it will open up your mesh in the workspace.

Step 17:

17) Now in the Tool area click on “Geometry” and a new drop-down will appear. There are 4 main features we will be using in this menu.

“Lower Res”: this decreases subdivision levels. “SDiv slider”: allows you to move up and down through your subdivision levels. “Del Lower”: this will delete any subdivision levels lower than the one you are working on (be careful with this!). “Divide”: this will increase your subdivision levels - very important. I am going to go off-track a little to explain what this all means, as a basic understanding always helps. At the moment you should be able to see that the mesh is made up of little squares - these are called polygons or poly’s for short. Each poly is made up of three basic things: Vertex or Vertices (plural): this is a recorded point in 3D space. Edge: these connect the vertices and create a frame for the mesh. Faces: this is the bit that you can see, it makes the mesh into a solid shell and gives it form. There are two main poly shapes, Tris and Quads ( triangles and four sided shapes like squares). Any poly with more than 4 vertices or edges is bad news. The reason why we use quads more than anything is because you can change their shape, no matter how much you edit a triangle it will always be a triangle, whereas quads can be stretched and changed much easier. When we edit a mesh what we are really doing is moving the vertices (points in space) to create new shapes. Now lets talk about subdivisions. This is basically the poly resolution - the more poly’s there are, the more detail we get, but also more memory and processing power is needed. Anything under 10,000 poly’s is considered low-poly.

As you can see from the next few pictures, each time I click “Divide” the poly resolution increases so we can get more detail on the mesh. In the top right corner of the workspace, next to the tool area, is an active points count. This is the amount of vertices on the mesh. Each time we hit “Divide” this number quadruples, as each polygon will be split into 4 more poly’s.

I tend to work between 5-7 subdivision levels for my detail, depending on the mesh. For this tutorial we will eventually stop at 6 levels, but will do most of the work on levels 3-4.

Step 18:

18) Use the slider to go down to a lower poly level, 3 is good, and now we can start sculpting.

Step 19: Sculpting

19) In the top left corner are the brush tools for sculpting. The first thing we want to do is to start editing the basic shape of the mesh, getting it more to what we want. To do this I will use 2 brushes, “Inflat” and “Move”, which will allow me to add bulk and weight.

Step 20:

20) Under the brush is the stroke settings, which determines how the brush will draw. Let’s leave it on “Dots” for now.

Step 21:

21) Go ahead and select the “Inflat” brush and check to make sure mirror draw is still active by using the X key.

Step 22:

22) I’ll start by adding more bulk to the shoulders. As you draw you will see the poly’s stretch and grow - you want to try and keep the poly’s equally spaced to reduce poly stretch, otherwise detail will be lost.

Step 23:

23) Next the elbows. You can start to see how the mesh is changing and becoming different, a more organic looking shape.

Step 24:

24) Where I pulled out the elbows it made the inside of the arm a little odd-looking. By holding the “alt” key you can reverse what the selected brush does, so in this case rather than pulling the poly’s out, it pushes them in, creating a more normal looking elbow.

Step 25:

25) Next I select the “Move” brush - this pushes and pulls selected poly’s around and is great for adding weight or fixing odd areas.

Step 26:

26) Here I pull the horns around to illustrate what the brush can do.

Step 27:

27) By now you may have noticed the little squares appearing above the work area - these are created each time you edit the mesh - a history.

If you make a mistake or want to undo something click on these. The light grey is the current history and the dark grey is the past histories. You can also click “ctrl+z” to undo but this bypasses the history so be careful.

Step 28:

28) After using the “Inflat” and “Move” brushes, I am happy to move onto the next part of the basic shaping.

Step 29:

29) Select the “Flatten” brush.

Step 30:

30) So far I haven’t done much with the brushes, such as changing the size/scale or anything, and have done everything with a brush draw size of 64. Now I need a smaller draw size, we can do this either by:

1: The slider above the workspace.

2: Right clicking on any empty part of the workspace.

3: Using the [ ] keys on the keyboard (what I usually do).

I have reduced my draw size to about half of what it was (size 36).

Step 31:

31) Now I am going to use the “Flatten” brush to flatten off the soles of the feet.

Step 32:

32) Oh no! What has happened? It’s ok, I wanted to show you guys this. This is due to the strength or “intensity” of the brush. The higher it is, the more it will affect the mesh and pull the poly’s out and visa versa for a lower intensity. As I don’t want to play with the intensity settings I will show you how to back face mask to stop this from happening, but first let’s undo this in the history.

Step 33:

33) Go to the brush drop-down menu at the top left of the screen.

Step 34:

34) Go to “Auto Masking” and click “Back Face Masking”. This means the poly’s behind the ones you are working on won’t be affected as much by the brush.

Step 35:

35) Ok, now I can flatten off the feet.

Step 36:

36) This time the mesh on the feet hasn't collapsed.

Step 37:

37) Now I am going to smooth over what I have done. Do this by holding the “Shift” key and drawing over the mesh. What this does is average out the faces and gets rid of hard edges.

Step 38:

38) I am now back to the “Move” brush and just editing a little until I am happy. “Move” and “Smooth”.

Step 39:

39) With the “Flatten” brush I just click over a few areas to make the mesh less balloony. I do this to the arms, legs, shoulders and head.

Step 40:

40) I am now happy with the basic shape and will move on to the detail.

The first thing I am doing is the basics of the face and will be using the “Slash 3” brush.

Step 41:

41) I have raised the subdivision level up to 4 and zoomed in on the head using the “Scale” button to the right of the work area

Step 42:

42) Using the “Slash 3” brush I have cut in a mouth and eye sockets.

Step 43:

43) I now select the “Claybuildup” brush. You can use the standard brush if you prefer but I prefer this one.

Step 44:

44) First eyebrows.

Step 45:

45) Lips and cheeks. It looks a little weird huh!

Step 46:

46) “Smooth” (hold shift and draw) to bring it all together.

Step 47:

47) I also created some ears by holding the “alt” key to reverse the brush and then smoothed it over.

Step 48:

48) I define the jaw and add in some neck detail.

Step 49:

49) Again shift to “Smooth” and blend. This really is all the basics to sculpting.

Step 50:

50) Adding detail to the chest.

Step 51:

51) “Smooth”.

Step 52:

52) I have raised the subdivision level up to 5. You can now see how the basic detailing is coming together.

Step 53:

53) Now to zoom out using the “Scale” button, to start work on the body.

Step 54:

54) I have decreased the draw size to 14 and gone back to the “Slash 3” brush and cut in the basic muscle shapes, creasing areas on the body.

Step 55:

55) I now go over my slash marks and “Smooth” them out around the edges, but not too much.

Step 56:

56) I now “Inflat” the butt cheeks and pull them together with the move brush to make a more realistic looking butt!

Step 57:

57) I go over the mesh again with the “Move” brush to reinforce the weight of the mesh and make things look more natural. When I say weight I mean to simulate gravity on areas for a more realistic look.

Step 58:

58) Going back over the mesh with the “Claybuildup” brush to create more areas of detail - ribs, hips, knees and ankles.

Step 59:

59) Now “Smooth” off the edges of what you have just added.

Step 60:

60) Zoom in on the hands to create fingernails in the same kind of way.

Step 61:

61) “Slash 3”.

Step 62:

62) “Smooth”.

Step 63:

63) “Move”.

Step 64:

64) “Claybuildup”.

Step 65:

65) “Smooth”.

Step 66:

66) “Flatten”, then do exactly the same for the thumb.

Step 67:

67) Back to the face and go up to level 6 subdivision.

Step 68:

68) “Flatten” off some of the detail.

Step 69:

69) “Slash 3” the mouth to make it deeper and to reinforce the shape.

Step 70:

70) “Claybuildup” to start adding more detail.

Step 71:

71) “Smooth”.

Step 72:

72) A new brush now, I am spoiling you guys! This time it’s the “Displacement” brush, which pulls out/extrudes a local area and is good for things like horns or teeth.

Step 73:

73) I use the brush to create eye balls within the sockets. Usually I would use separate mesh objects but as this will be a 3d print there is no need and it’s easier to keep it as one object.

Step 74:

74) Same brush to create crocodile/fish like teeth around the entrance of the mouth.

Step 75:

75) “Smooth”.

Step 76:

76) Back to the “Slash 3” to create nostrils and cut in around the eyeballs and mouth to make them more defined.

Step 77:

77) Let’s sort out these hoof feet.

Step 78:

78) “Claybuildup” and “Flatten” to add detail. Then “Smooth” them over.

Step 79:

79) At this point I “Inflat” the fingers as they were looking a little small.

Step 80: Alphas

80) To add in more detail I will use the basic “Alphas”. Start by selecting the standard brush.

Step 81:

81) Change the stroke to drag, this will keep the integrity of the Alpha for better detail.

Step 82:

82) We now go to the “Alpha” setting, just below the “Stroke” setting. This is the basic library of Alphas. It is easy to create your own in photoshop or download from the Pixologic website, but for now let’s keep it simple.

Step 83:

83) Select the long claw-like scratches Alpha.

Step 84:

84) Zoom in on the crest and have a play. Dragging up and down will scale the Alpha, whilst dragging left and right will rotate it.

Step 85:

85) Holding the “alt” key will reverse the effect of the Alpha, just like with the brushes.

Step 86:

86) And now “Smooth”.

Step 87:

87) Now we select the scale-looking Alpha.

Step 88:

88) Drag out and create scales across the mesh. The best areas are on the back of the natural joints and long blank areas, such as the chest, forearms and shins.

Don’t go too crazy - you can quickly spoil a sculpt by overdoing the detail. Less is more so keep some areas blank to accent the detail, especially if your 3D print is going to be a miniature.

Step 89:

89) You can see some issues with the Alphas - again, like the feet, this is due to the intensity. We can try a few things to remedy this as back face masking is still on.

Step 90:

90) We can drop down a subdivision or two and try smoothing it out, but as you can see there may still be some affected areas.

Step 91:

91) The best way is to “Mask” out the affected area directly.

Similar to smoothing by holding the “shift” key, to mask hold down the “ctrl” key whilst on the mesh and left click - you can paint over the affected areas and they will show up darker than the rest of the mesh.

Step 92:

92) Add the Alpha detail again.

Step 93:

93) To unmask hold “ctrl” and drag a square in an empty area of the workspace.

Step 94:

94) “Smooth” out the edges of the Alpha detail.

Step 95:

95) I added some hips, a crotch and bulked out the thighs to balance the sculpt and any detail that may have been lost.

Step 96:

96) The sculpt is FINISHED! Now let’s pose it to make it look more dynamic. We will do this using basic transpose. Although there are other methods, this is the simplest.

Step 97: Posing and Transposing

97) Turn off the mirror draw tool with the “X” key. Then mask off any areas that we don’t want to pose yet.

Step 98:

98) Turn down the subdivision levels so that the computer will run faster and you can see the pose better.

Step 99:

99) Click off of “Draw” mode and onto “Rotate” (Just like with the Zspheres at the start of the tutorial) A new kind of cursor has appeared - this is the transpose tool, for moving elements of the mesh.

Step 100:

100) Click on the yellow outer ring and line up the new cursor tool with the part of the mesh you want to pose. Rotate around the mesh to make sure the tool is lined up with the natural joints of the mesh, in this case the center of the shoulder to the center of the hand.

Step 101:

101) Click the smaller red ring inside of the yellow ring of the tool and drag to rotate the arm.

Step 102:

102) Re-align the tool to continue a smooth rotation.

Step 103:

103) As you can see some areas will deform a little strange as the poly’s move to their new position.

Step 104:

104) So “Smooth” out these areas to correct them.

Step 105:

105) Repeat this process all over the mesh to get a pose you are happy with.


Align Tool.



Step 106:

106) I am happy with this simple running pose.

Step 107:

107) Turn your subdivisions back up and sculpt in/smooth any areas that might need it. For example, on the left arm I sculpted in an armpit, with the “Inflat” brush, that the mesh didn’t have before.

Step 108: Colour and Texture Painting

108) If you would like a coloured 3D print then I will now show you an effective way to polypaint (texture) your mesh. If not you can skip this stage.

Step 109:

109) Above the workspace is a button called “Zadd”. Turn this off otherwise the brush will keep sculpting.

Step 110:

110) Now click on the “Rgb channel” to allow you to add colour.

Step 111:

111) Go and select the “Standard” brush.

Step 112:

112) Change the stroke to “Colour Spray” or “Freehand”, colour spray gives a mottled effect and appears more natural. Freehand will give you a solid colour.

Also turn off any Alphas that you have on or they will act like a stencil.

Step 113:

113) Go to the colour picker in the bottom left of the workspace.

Step 114:

114) If you right click the colour selector it will enlarge.

Step 115:

115) Select a colour for your mesh - in this example the colour is a little off due to the “Metcap Red Wax” material we sculpted the mesh in.

Step 116:

116) I click on the material library above the colour selector and change it to “Skinshade4” for a cleaner, white colour background to work on. After doing so, I painted the mesh. See the variation in colour tones - this is due to the “colour spray” in the stroke settings.

Step 117:

117) Zoom in and paint some of the detail in with another colour, I went darker for shading.

Step 118:

118) Experiment. I have softened the brush by bringing down the Rgb intensity on the slider above the workspace. I also zoomed in to do the nails/claws, teeth and anything else.

Step 119:

119) I changed the material to “Sketch toy plastic”, not just because it’s cool, but to get a better look at the mesh details and for a clearer idea of the final result.

Step 120: Creating the 3D File and Exporting

120) Now to create the file. Go to the top of the tool menu and click “Export”.

Step 121:

121) Select your file location, give it a name and make sure the file type is set to “Obj” format. An Obj is an object file read by all 3D programs so is the safest bet for a 3D print file.

Step 122:

122) Alternatively, click on the “Zplugin” drop-down list and select “3D Printer Exporter”.

Step 123:

123) In this version of the exporter you have a basic scale option. Mine is set in inches and is at 3.5 - the proportions will stay the same for the mesh and will come out at 3 ½ inches tall.

You can also select which file type to export as. If you are outsourcing your 3D print to a company it is worth finding out what files they prefer/accept beforehand and exporting it out in that file type rather than an Obj. When an Obj file is exported you will get 2 files - the Obj itself and an “Mtl” file, this is the material/texture file, so if you want a colour print make sure you have both.

Anyway, thats it, so go have some fun and happy sculpting!

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    7 years ago

    Wow! This is super cool. Thanks for the detail in the 'ible.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for Sharing all the steps , i always wanted to try out Zbrush..

    tho b mas
    tho b mas

    7 years ago

    Nice work man! ?


    7 years ago

    This is so awesome, now I can make something cool at my school


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks guys, don't forget to vote for this 'ible at the top right of this post.

    Tom Howbridge
    Tom Howbridge

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    @gravitiyisweak I am sure this took ages to make a think a video would be nice too !


    This may be a record for the most steps ever in an instructable. I think this would work great as a video 'ible too. Thanks for taking the time to do this write up.