Recreating a Bas Relief Mural in Small Scale

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About: I am a hobbyist with an interest in open-source software, 3D printing, science and electronics. Please visit my Patreon website for other projects and to help support my work!

In this Instructible, I will teach you how to recreate and 3D print a bas relief design using open-source tools and Tinkercad.

The model I will use is the mural on the NRG Energy building at 901 Kettner Blvd in San Diego that I saw and photographed while on a trip there.

Step 1: Make a Template From a Source Photo

Starting with a good photograph of the original, load it up into the GIMP and use the Transform Tools from the Tools menu to remove any perspective distortion. From the Tool Options dialog box, check the "Corrective (Backwards)" radio button and align the grid as best as possible. Type ENTER to apply the correction.

I used the following tools in sequence to get it as even as possible:

  • Crop
  • Shear
  • Perspective
  • Shear
  • Crop

Step 2: Creating an Inkscape Document

Now, create a new document using Inkscape.

We want to prepare the document so that later on in the process in can be imported into Tinkercad as the correct size. Tinkercad imports each pixel unit into a mm, so if we want our bas relief to be 150 mm by 70 mm, we will need to configure the document to be 150 x 70 pixels, like this:

  • From the "File" menu, select "Document Properties"
  • Set the units to "px"
  • Set the "Width" to 150
  • Set the "Height" to 70

Step 3: Trace the Source Photograph

In Inkscape, create a new layer and import the source photograph. Resize it to fit the entire document area. This will be your template for tracing. You can click the lock icon in the layer window so that it stays put.

Now, create a new layer for each level of the bas relief and create paths for the elements in that layer, using the photo as a reference. Learning to be proficient in Inkscape takes a bit of time, but you can find tutorials online to get you started.

If you want to skip the tracing, I have included the Inkscape file to get you started.

Step 4: Export Each Individual Layer As a SVG File

Hide all of the layers except for one and save it as a separate SVG file. Do this for each of the layers in the bas relief. When you are done, you should have an individual SVG file for each layer except for the photo layer (which is no longer needed).

Step 5: Import the Layers Into Tinkercad

Now, in TinkerCad, import and resize each layer, starting at the highest layer (working backwards from the highest layer will make the task a lot easier than doing it from the bottom up). For each layer you import, do the following:

  1. Click the "Import" button and load the SVG file corresponding to that layer.
  2. Click on the newly imported shape to highlight it.
  3. Click on the white handle corresponding to the vertical axis. Click the text edit box that shows up and type in a new height for that layer. I suggest starting at the default of 10 mm and adding the layer number (i.e. 18 mm, if you are on the eighth layer)
  4. Repeat for the next lowest layer in the stack, subtracting 1 mm from each layer until you reach the default of 10mm.

When you are finished, select all the layers and group them into one and you are finished!

If you don't want to do this step, you can take a look at my completed Tinkercad model.

Step 6: Export and 3D Print the STL File

Finally, export the 3D model as an STL and print on a 3D printer. I have included the STL for the regular sized version.

However, you can use this basic technique to make even larger versions, such as the double-wide server blanking panels I made for server racks.

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