Picture to Prop - Creating a 3d Printed Prop From an Image

Introduction: Picture to Prop - Creating a 3d Printed Prop From an Image

Please do not skip this section.


Everything has a beginning, and any project you start should have the same beginning, safety. We're going to be 3D Printing a few items, maybe priming and sanding if you're willing, maybe even painting - printing deals with fumes emitted form burning plastics and primer and spray paint are very fumey, make sure you do this stuff in a well ventilated area and have proper protection, you've been warned!

So what exactly are we doing...?

What we're going to accomplish here is taking a picture from the internet and creating a 3d printable object.I'm a fan of a TV series that's not natural, you could go as far as to say it's a super show, about unnatural things. This concept can be applied to any item but we're going to try to recreate this item. I'm going to use the 3d software 3D Studio Max for my recreation, if you want a quick tutorial on 3ds max look no further, we're going to go over a few basics of the software while we create this. Before we get started, there's an old saying to work smarter not harder, well, let's move onto the next steps and see what we can make.

Step 1: Getting Started

Getting started

First thing we're going to need is some reference images, you may not need them if you've got a great memory but, I don't - so after a bit of searching we see the image above, it actually contains a profile image for the item we want to create - so that's a plus (smarter not harder!)

We did some google searching and found ourselves some issues some images. We're going to go ahead and do some math for our final steps when we get ready to get our model printed. Let's move onto 3ds max.

Step 2: Getting Reference Image Into 3DS Max

Getting our Image into 3DS Max

We've got some picture heavy stuff going on here, let's go through this step by step:

  1. First thing we want to do is create a plane
  2. We'll then set our Width/Length segments to 1
  3. Once We've done that we want to set our main view port to Perspective and click that button in the lower right hand corner.

Setting up the Plane

  1. With the plane selected we want to open our modifier tab
  2. Modifier tab is the half blue rainbow looking deal
  3. Select the drop down box
  4. Select UVW Map

Getting the size right

  1. With the UVW Map on our plane we want to hit the Bitmap fit option in the panel
  2. Browse to the reference image
  3. Open that bad boy up
  4. When we apply this UVW Map modifier it will set up our image for placement, it will attempt to size the UVW Map as close as possible but it only gets one object right, in this case our length is fine but our width is not.
    1. We're going to get our sizing right,
    2. Copy the Width setting from the UVW Map modifier
  5. Select the Plane object in the list up top in our "Modifier Stack"
    1. Paste the Width Value


  1. To get the picture to display on our plane we need to select our Material editor
  2. I personally don't like the slate material editor so I'm setting up the compact material editor by clicking on the Modes menu option
  3. Select Compact Material editor
    1. Once that is complete select the tiny box next to Diffuse
    2. Select Bitmap on the Material/Map Browser
    3. (Not pictured) Select the bitmap we're adding to our project.

Still don't see a picture..

  1. Our sphere shows up with the picture but not on the plane.. Well, first we have to assign it to the currently selected object
  2. Select "View Material in viewport"
  3. TA-DA!

Rotating For Dual view

  1. We need to have a Top and a side view, we're going to select our plane image
  2. We're going to rotate the image so select the rotate tool
  3. Turn on Angle Snaps to make rotating easier
  4. Hold down the Shift key and start rotating the image 90 degrees and (Not pictured) smack (or lightly tap, it works either way) the OK button when we finish

Making replication easier

  1. (Not pictured) Right click the plane and click on object properties that shows up in our "Quad Menu"
    1. Select the Freeze option
    2. Uncheck show Frozen in gray (translation: grey for those accross the lake)

Look at that, lots of steps and we haven't even started modeling..well, let's get to it.

Step 3: Using Your Resources

Working smarter

Alright we're going to need a femur for this prop, we can take the time to model it ourselves, but surely the internet can give us a hand. As it turns out it can, we're going to snag a femur prop from 3D Warehouse, a model made by 3D Warehouse user bmerkl. Here's the link for quick access.

  1. I don't have it pictured but we're going to import our newly downloaded Femur

Converting the Model

  1. Alright time to go door to door and talk to these models, not really, maybe, no - Right click on the femur (Epic mouse image)
  2. In the quad menu select The convert to option
  3. Select the convert to editable Poly

Rotate it like a polaroid picture

  1. ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT, wait that's not how the song goes - select our rotate tool with our femur selected
  2. Once again we'll want to make sure our angle snaps are turned on for easier rotating
  3. Rotate the femure to match the middle image in composition

Getting it just right..

  1. We're going to use our Translation tool (Sorry I forgot to picture it) but you can access it by pressing W on the keyboard, it's in the same tool bar as the Rotate tool and you'll see it hilighted when we press W
    • Actually I lied it's just not labeled.
  2. Move our femur to the top section to again, make it fit the reference image.

Alright, let's start modelling! ..in the next step.

Step 4: Let's Start Building

Finally...Modelling the Blade

So, we didn't model a femur, but we are going to do some touch ups to it later to get it ready for our prop. We'll move onto making the blade, which is pretty simple since it's rigid in shape and not organic. Ain't nothin' to it but to do it. This is a doozy of a topic, this is a simple blade but a lot goes into getting this set up.

  1. We're going to use a modeling technique called box modeling. We're going to start out by being in our front view
  2. Next we're going to make sure we're on our creation tab, the sort of star looking deal
  3. Click the Box option
  4. When we create a box we want to encompas the blade as much as possible - on a side note when we create a box, after we've clicked and dragged our size 3dsmax wants us to create our third dimension, so just move the mouse up a bit and click a second time.

Getting the basic shape

  1. Alright, get a gym membership, start running, let's get into shape - er wait, the model, let's start by selecting our box and hitting Alt + X on our keyboard, that will create a transparent image so we can more easily maniuplate the model
  2. I don't have it pictured but we need to Right click and convert this to an editable poly, just like we did the bone, review the previous step if you forgot, but it's just Right Click > Convert To : Editable Poly
  3. Next select our Modifier tab, the blue half rainbow deal
  4. Go into our Vertex Subobject mode
    1. Vertix Subobject mode (the three dots) are for manipulating vertices
    2. The Triangle is our edge sub object mode, which are the lines on our model
    3. The Kidney looking option is the Border selection mode which is useful for fixing holes in our mesh
    4. The square is our face selection sub object which is our outlined areas
    5. The cube is our Element sub object mode, which is useful for when we have multiple, separated objects in our mesh We can use this later when we're slicing the model up for 3d printing
  5. Once we're in vertex sub object we want to move our verticies into place. It's a cube ( I keep wanting to type qube, yeesh) so we need to make sure we click and drag to select the unseen verticies in the "back" of the model, if you just manually click on one of the verticies and move it, you'll see what I"m talking about

Getting detailed

  1. I thought I already did explaining the subobjects..uh - oh yeah, the model - so we're going to go into our Edge Subobject mode first
  2. Once we've done that we want to click and drag around the top and bottom edges, so we'll have 4 total edges selected, your selection box should look like that wonderful square.
  3. Next we want to select the little box Next to the word Connect in our Edit Edges selection (Edit Edges box > Connect > The little square next to it)
  4. We're going to add however many edges we think we'll need to get this set up, I went with 11
  5. Click that check mark, cause we are totes done here (yeah pandering to the hip crowd, I'm hip)

Getting it just right..

  1. We're going to use our Translation tool (Sorry I forgot to picture it) but you can access it by pressing W on the keyboard, it's in the same tool bar as the Rotate tool and you'll see it hilighted when we press W
  2. Move our femur to the top section to again, make it fit the reference image.
  3. Now it's not pictured, but we're going to go back into our sub object mode and move around our verticies again, to outline the shape of the blade.

Rinse and repeat

  1. Yeah get that shampoo bottle and lather your hair up, dangit, remember what we did to add our edges? Well we're going to do the same here, go back into our edge subobject mode
  2. Select the left most edge and we're going to to something crazy
  3. Smack that ring button, and notice how all of our Longitude lines (the ones running up and down) get selected, oh boy! "But you could have just dragged and selected all the lines manually!" Yeah well...shut up.
    1. In all seriousness, on a model like this, it would have been easier to do that, but it's the concept that matters, Ring and loop are useful tools for getting our edges selected
  4. We're going to click the box next to connect again in our Edit Edges option, just like before
  5. I decided to make 4 additional edges, that way I can make the base of the blade - smack that check mark.

Whew... getting a bit lengthy here

  1. Alright we're going to sum up the next few parts quickly, we're going to Isolate the blade to make it easier to work by pressing Alt + Q on our keyboard
  2. We're in our perspective view
  3. Go into the face sub object mode
  4. Select the two edges we've got there

Extrusion tusion what's your..fusion..I'M NOT A SONG WRITER

  1. Alright with that bad rhyme out of the way we're going to select the little box next to the Extrude button
  2. We're going to extrude it just a bit and hit that check mark

Time for a change of..perspective

  1. We're going back to our front view port
  2. Click the little red lightbulb down below to exit our isolation mode
  3. We're going to move the right most verticies to match the picture

Moving along

  1. We're going select all of the outer verticies of our blade
  2. We're going to then go into our Top view port and select our scale tool
    1. We want to select the Two boxes with the red dots on them and select the middle option
    2. Once we've done that we want to click the (in this picture) green Y axis and drag down to shrink it to more of a blade like object.

Man that was a lot of text there. Maybe I should cut back on the lame jokes.

Step 5: Ya' Femur Me?

Time to play with our bone

Now that the "hard" part is out of the way, we're going to adjust the femur a bit to make it so our blade lines up a bit better.

  1. Alright we're going to select our femur and go into vertex sub object mode
  2. We're going to hit the soft selection menu to expand it
  3. Then we're going to turn soft selection on, who'da thought
  4. We're going to select the back half of our femur and then move the verticies up a bit to make sure our blade will fit inside of the blade

Don't copy that flemur-py..sorry

  1. Once we've got our blade and bone in place we can start the process of making them fit together
  2. Go ahead and select both of the objects, the blade and the bone
  3. See that little box? It says Ctrl+V (that's right, Ctrl+V)
  4. Bam go ahead and copy that the femur and blade
  5. Pop that OK button

Wait what happened?

  1. Makin' copppieess.. So we duplicated the bone and blade, but what for? Well it's best to have a backup copy when we perform the next step, which is boolean, so first select the bone.
  2. Once we've done that click the star burst looking tab
  3. Then select the sphere like object, it's probably already selected but anyways
  4. Click the drop down box and select Compound objects
  5. Hit boolean - true or false? well, true
  6. Now the next thing we'll do is make sure our Operation is set to Subtraction A-B
  7. Click the Pick Operand B button
  8. Click the blade

Whoopsie Daisy..

  1. We lose the blade! Good thing we made a copy. Now or femur has a gaping hole in it, shich is what we wanted, it's form factor to our blade. Next we'll go to border selection mode
  2. Select the now hollow border area and you'll see a nice red outline
  3. Then we'll select the cap button and get this really weird looking blob thing

Time to make some connections

  1. Alright go ahead and create a linkedin profile and email everyone you know to get them to join to grow your network, er wait no, go into vertex subobject mode
  2. Start selecting the verticies where our blade "edge" would be sitting
  3. We'll then select connect
    1. You'll repeat the process for the other blade edge area

Getting it all down

  1. Now we're going to go through the previous process a few times to get a good solid mesh made on both sides
  2. Repition, doing it to both sides, it's not pretty but it'll work

That's it? there's nothing else we need to do for this? Well we could but for our purposes we're doing just fine and we can go ahead and move on.

Step 6: Let's Get Ready to Print.

Getting ready for printing

Hot diggity doodly dang dern it, we're going to get this prop ready for printing. These next steps are going to vary depending on the type of printer you're using, but we're going to start out by getting our sizing right.

  1. Let's go into our Customize menu up at the top of the program
  2. Select Units Setup...

Millimeters...because everyone else uses it

  1. Once we've got our blade and bone in place we can start the process of making them fit together
  2. Go ahead and select both of the objects, the blade and the bone
  3. See that little box? It says Ctrl+V (that's right, Ctrl+V)
  4. Bam go ahead and copy that the femur and blade
  5. Pop that OK button

It's so easy, happy go-o lucky

  1. We're going to create a box, take a look at one of the previous steps if you don't remember how
  2. Using our reference image we can deduce the size of our items, so we'll take that information and convert it to our box length to let us know where we need to scale our prop to.

Scale it up scale it up

  1. We want to select our femur and our blade
  2. Once we've done that we want to select our scale tool
  3. Looking back at arrow 1 we want to select the middle triangle/pyramid deal in the center, this will scale our objects on all three Axises..axies? Spellcheck's for chumps.

Those meshes do some funny things..

  1. Once we've scaled up to the size of our reference block we need to reset our transform values, this will lock everything in place. First we'll want to select the hammer icon tab (Utilities)
  2. Select reset XForm
  3. Then we'll select the button that says Reset selected, since we've got both objects selected it will reset both of those - woot woot
  4. Then we'll convert it to an editable poly to collapse our modifier stack.

Visualization is key

I like to create a box that shows me my total build volume for my printer, I'm working with a Flash Forge 3d Printer so my dimensions may be different than yours, but a nice box will get us taken care of.

Getting our Pivot point taken care of

Pivot points are used by max to keep our object's "start" point in place, most of the time we want to keep it in the center of our object, sometimes we may not want that, for now we're going to center this mofo.

  1. First we'll select our blade (we can go through the same portion for our femur)
  2. Next we'll select our Heirarchy tab, the baby cthulu looking icon
  3. We'll then select the option Affect Pivot Only
  4. We want to click that Center to Object button

Alright, now that all of that is out of the way let's go ahead and start slicing our objects up so we can get them ready to print.

Step 7: Slice the Blade on Up

Slicing the blade

Al..most...there.. We're going to split our blade up into four seperate pieces so we don't have to print with support, so we'll start by getting a line right through the center of our blade.

  1. Select the blade and go into the modifier list
  2. The option we want to select is Symmetry
  3. We're in our top view so we want to mirror along the Y Axis
  4. THen we want to Slice along mirror and weld the seems, we don't have to weld this time around because we're going to break the seams anyway but either way it won't matter
  5. This is just showing that our slice plane is located at point 0,0,0
  6. It's not pictured but we need to right click the object then convert to polygon again

Moar slicing

  1. Now that we've created a slice along our center we need to go into our face subobject mode
  2. Click on the Slice plane button
  3. Check the box that says split
  4. Now we'll need to rotate the slicing plane
  5. As we rotate the slice plane we'll see a line appear on our object, we should only have to rotate about 90 degress to get a good right angle slice going for our model.
    1. Once we've gone that route we need to click the slice button
    2. We will then see our newly created line

Moving objects around

Since we had that slice option selected we'll be able to use our Element subobject mode, and select one of the sides to move it out of the way.

Pop a cap in that polygon's face

  1. Once we've got our slicing down we'll need to cap our open holes by going into the Border subobject mode
  2. Select the two edges on either side
  3. In the edit borders drop down
  4. Click on the cap button

Remember when we connected verticies together and it created a line between them for our bone? In step 0.5 we need to first be in our verticy subobject and select the verticies in the middle of our meshes and click the connect button, this is not pictured, I apologize.

  1. Go into the face subobject mode
  2. Then select the bottom half of our blade
  3. Then we want to hit the detach button
  4. The dialog will pop up and we'll want to leave everything unchecked and click ok

Another bit of rinse and repeate, we're going to cap our object's holes again, all four. Once we've done that we need to go through and detach each of the blade objects so we're left with 4 seperate objects, so if you click on one, only one section lights up showing it is selected, again this is not pictured but it's the exact same principle we just performed.

Another rinse and repeat section

We need to get our pivot points set up for each of our blade pieces again, first we'll start by rotating all four blade objects so the flat parts are on bottom. Then we'll need to go through and set up our pivot points for each object, first we'll center them and then we'll move them to the bottom.

  1. We're going to start by selecting a blade object
    • Once we've selected the blade we need to go into our Hierarchy tab and click on affect pivot only
  2. We'll then hit Alt+A to go into alignment selection mode and then click on the same blade section
  3. The Align dialog will pop up and we'll want to make sure X,Y,Z are selected and we click in the Current Object section, Pivot Point
  4. We'll then select Center for the target object
  5. Then we'll hit apply, not ok

With that done, the dialog will still be up since we hit Apply

  1. We'll now need to select just the Z position option
  2. Change our Current object to Minimum
  3. In the target object we'll select Center
  4. And we'll hit OK

This will cause our pivot to be at the bottom of the object, we'll want to do this for all four of the blade sections

Once that is done we'll want to select all of our blade objects, and with the Affect Pivot only option set we'll want to click on Align to world.

And finally we can move all of the objects to position 0,0,0 which will show that they all fit on the print bed, WAHOO!

Step 8: I'm Not a Surgeon, But Let's Work on That Femur

Slicing the femur

Slicing the femur is going to be a short section, we're going to rinse and repeat pretty much everything else we did with the blade. Two pieces are still going to require support, but it's not much support.

  1. The first two pictures show the slicing pattern I plan on taking
  2. First we will slice the bone from our top view
  3. The next view shows we'll slice the bone long ways
  4. Remember to cap each section after we've sliced and detached the objects!

Once the bone is sliced up into our six pieces we need to go through the process of rotating the pieces and getting our pivot points set up to be in the center, then have the pivot points sitting at the bottom of the mesh.

Once we've got it all sliced up we just need to go through and export each piece individually!

Step 9: Exporting, But Without the Taxes!

Let's get exportin'!

Alright short and sweet, we need to export our newly created models. To export as an STL file, here's what we've got to do:

  1. Select the object we want to export
  2. Hit the 3ds max Ribbon menu up in the left upper corner
  3. Instict will tell you that you should click "Export selected only" BUT DON'T DO IT, it's a trap, click on the export option
  4. You can either Click export in step 3 or click export where the 4 is pointing, options YAY

The Export dialog will then pop up, and we just need to select Stereo Litho and save our file.

The dialog will pop up and just make sure we have the option "Selected Only" checked and then hit OK, and we'll have an object ready for slicing!

Step 10: Printed and Pictured

Printed pieces and bonus!

And that's it, we've got the object we took from a picture and we created a model and 3d printed it. I've gone through and glued all the sections together to create each object as we did in the 3d program. It was a long journey but we got it taken care of, as a bonus I give you pictures of the objects spray painted and primered up. I can't paint so I keep my objects primered up, they'll get painted soon enough but that's how we take a 2d picture and turn into something tangible, I appreciate you reading this instructable, constructive criticism is welcomed! Unless it's stop the bad jokes and puns, I've got to keep those, I'm obligated to.

Not really. But I need them. Sort of. Thanks for reading!

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