How to Make 3d Printable Art

Introduction: How to Make 3d Printable Art

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Hello there and welcome to my first instructable! This instructable is intended to deliver an understanding of creating 3d art from a 2d image in autodesk inventor fusion. If you are a student you can get the software and any other educational autodesk software here. Remember this is the educational version of the software and cannot be used for commercial purposes.

I also recommend using a three button mouse, however it isn't a necessity. At the bottom I've included the DWG file and also some other surprise DWG files (if you want to see it faster just scroll down to the bottom of the page; I've included pictures) Once completed there is an impending array of options available--You can either print it or order a print, OR make your own model using cardboard! I'd consider this a tutorial that covers the basics, however previous knowledge in 3-dimesional design will assist you. If you have a question just ask! As a younger (I'm 13) and new member of this site your constructive criticism is greatly appreciated. I'm proud to be joining the instructables community!

Nota Bene: Want to make more 3d models? Check out my other recently released instructables!!!

Step 1: Getting Started

Finding Inspiration

"An Exploration of Inspiration"

There are many ways to acquire inspiration. One that I personally find effective is simply making a brainstorming list. Good ideas of things to add to the list are:

  1. Video Game Objects or Characters
  2. TV/Movie actors
  3. Anime--or other fictionalized cartoons
  4. Book/Magazines
  5. 2d Images You Have Created


These are supposed to represent just a few ideas, but if handled correctly just about any 2d image can be recreated into a 3d printable art piece. While your starting out don't plan to make too complicated of objects though!

Step 2: Finding/Importing a 2d Image

Finding an Image

After you've received your inspiration you need to find an image. When finding an image try to find one that most simply portrays your character/object accurately. It should be centered around the object you want to make a 3d model of. It is also a good idea to get the image with the highest resolution possible--This will allow you to make your object more accurately. You should also be able to tell where lines make the key features start and stop.

Importing an Image

Once you have found your image download it to a convenient folder.

Nota Bene: It's generally a good idea just to create a file for images to import for 3d design.

Click on the autodesk fusion program, and observe the links to tutorials and documentation to the right of the white window. Then click on "new." We are going to create a rectangle... It is found under sketch. If you can't find it hover your mouse over an icon. A tiny window should pop up telling you what it is. To create it you will first click the rectangle button and then define it by clicking to points on the grid.

Good now go under Sketch>Place Canvas and click on it. A window should pop up prompting you to find the image file. Locate the image and import it. To place the image simply click on the rectangle. Then you can re-size it or mirror it. Change it until it meets your liking. Finally got to image>Ok in the upper right hand corner. (it has a green check mark by ok)

Nota Bene: Instead of clicking the upper left had corner all the time you can also navigate yourself by right clicking. When you right click an interface will show up with several tools.This provides quicker access to the tools.


Nota bene: If this section got was difficult it's ok. You're new to this. Take a deep breath and find some tutorials to help you. The learn section in the start up is a great way to learn basic skills.

Step 3: Tracing Your Image

A Quick Note on the Curve and Draw Tools:

Congratulations! You are well underway to creating your 3d printable masterpiece! There are two tools you will need for this step: The draw tool and the Curve tool. Both of these can be found under the sketch menu. The draw tool has you click on two points and then it creates a segment between those points. The curve tool has you click on two endpoints and then a 3rd point to define the curve. Generally, I prefer to use curves for organics, and segments for other things.

The Basics of Modeling

Start with the base of your model. In my case Matt Smith's face. (No! I don't have his head in a case!) Create curves and lines matching the edges of the image you want. When you are finished their should be an orange "canvas" covering the area of your image. You've made a closed shape! If you don't see orange there must be an opening in your image. Retrace and see if you can find the opening.

This is all great but our model looks kind've flat. In fact, it's infinitely flat! To fix this we will use the extrude tool. Go to Solid>Extrude. Click on the orange section (in the area of your polygon). You will notice an arrow appear and a number box. These are the ways to extrude it. Your first option is to drag the arrow until your satisfied with the extrude. The second, and in my opinion, better option is to enter an exact measurement in the number box. This tells autodesk fusion how far you want your object to extrude. After completing this take a break! Rest awhile and admire your work!

Step 4: Finishing the Base

Get ready! We will be covering a lot quickly this step--using the information we learned in the last step. Now that you have a basic feel of tracing 2d images let's finish the base of our masterpiece! I highly recommend looking at the pictures for this step. They will make it tremendously easier to understand. Just continue tracing one piece of your object at a time and extruding them. If the two pieces are adjacent make sure you don't extrude them the same amount! They will merge to become the same piece!

Nota Bene: Instead of tracing the object all the way around look at my second picture! As long as your extruding it behind the adjacent piece you can just connect them with a curve! Just click on the two points and bend the curve inward toward the adjacent piece. This can save lots of time in the design process.

Step 5: Detailing and Getting a Final Object

Good Job! Drag a selection box around your object. Its really up to you at this point but I'll show you how to finish the 11th doctor model so you can get ideas of how what to do now...

Go Solids>Move. You will notice once again arrows and a box will appear. Start dragging your model away from the image and then type an nice number into the box... Say 2. It shouldn't overlap the image!

Then on the image plane, trace out facial features such as the eyes, the nose, and the mouth. Select them all by Shift-Clicking, and then extrude. Look they all extrude at the same time! Then select all of them and move over to your model. If you remember the number you moved the the object over you can move the facial features the same amount!

Hair is difficult. Instead of tracing out every single strand I like to combine a section into a bundle. You can look at the finished product for a picture of this. When you finished tracing the bundles Shift-Click them, extrude, and then move them over your object! A similar process can be taken for the ear lobe.

Nice work! Your object is ready to be printed!

Step 6: Getting a Physical Object!

Your masterpiece is finished and you're on your way to becoming a master of 3d printable art. Use what you have learned to create more! For some inspiration I've included four objects I've made. You may notice that the objects I've created are in color and have a colorful blue backround. This won't show up in prints and I added them primarily for presentation purposes. I've included the file for the finished 11th doctor, pikachu, hylian shield, and an unfinished 10th doctor. Feel free to edit these, print them, or whatever!

Fabricate Your Object

When you have a model you want to create you have several options... If you have access to a CNC mill, laser cutter or 3d printer you can easily create this style of model with any of those! Your second option is to find a company to print the object for you. This is a viable solution however it obviously costs money and you have to wait for it to arrive. The third option will require a lot of cardboard, patience and a knife (box-cutters or exacto-knifes are recommended)

Step 7: Using Cardboard to Make a 3d Object.

To make an object out of cardboard we will be cutting specific parts and then layering them together. Super glue is my recommendation for the attachments. In my first attempt I was able to make pikachu in about 1 hour and a half. First take a screenshot of your model. Here's a link to do that in windows...

Nota Bene: If you have gimp installed on your computer (it's free) You can simply open the program and then go File>Create>Screenshot.

Let's Get Started...

Crop the screenshot if you are able too. Next, simply print 2 copies of that screenshot. Gather your supplies (knife, box, etc) and set them down on a table. You may want to have another sheet to prevent damaging your work-space. Tape the first screenshot to the cardboard securely. Start by cutting/tracing the back-layer of your object. Refer to the digital model if necessary. Continue cutting with the closer layers, and then stacking them up in a different space. The pikachu model had four layers: Back body, Front body, Body features, and Tail, but this will be different for every model.

If you get stuck follow along the pictures I put of the pikachu model. Use it as a guide. You have to have strong yet precise motions when working with smaller cuts. The cardboard will lose its shape on smaller cuts if your not careful. When you are satisfied with the form of your cuts, maneuver them into the correct location. Start to glue the pieces together. Be overly cautious. When the glue dries you have finished! Another possible step would be to paint the pikachu providing it with a more complete look.

Congratulations! you know have a wonderful cardboard model to hang on your walls or to simply admire. You can also follow similair steps for wood, or even metal. Obviously clay and many other materials are also workable. Poster-board would probably work better than cardboard!

UPDATE: It has recently come to my attention that their is a program for making 3d models out of cardboard... Click here for Autodesk Make

Step 8: Conclusions

Congrats! You are on your way to becoming a master artist! Continue making more of these once in a while if you feel like it, or if you just want cool things to hang up on your wall. Be sure to look at more instructables with 3d modeling... I'll be sure to release another one soon! When you do create a project please list it on this site for others to enjoy! This is a great community and I'd love to see it grow. Once again as my first instructable your constructive criticisms is greatly appreciated--and that is an understatement.

Remember, your limit is your imagination! Nurture it!
Sincerely and with utmost appreciation,
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    8 years ago

    This is a really good (which means free, for me) way of making a 3d image of your own skeleton. If you have ever had a CT scan you could ask for the image slices from your doctor and then use auto desk to cut out the high density areas (bones). You could do a skull from any of the many videos online of CT imagery. The trick would be getting cardboard the same thickness as the image slices. Cool concept. Also, bowties are cool.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Yes bowties are cool :) Interesting idea! If I ever have a CT scan I'll be sure to try that...

    Fission Chips

    Cool! This looks nice. I never knew 3d printers could switch colors in a single print, but now I do! Really nice work, and thanks for including the .dwg files.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Most 3d printers are unable too.... There are a few however that do have dual extruders, but those are unsurprisingly more expensive :(. I've always been trying to save up for a 3d printer but hopefully the formlabs competition will give me the experience.. But thank you very much! I'll be sure to look and support you projects...