VS3D / VScad3 - 3D Model Relief Carving Tutorial

This tutorial shows how to use VS3D & VScad3 to create tool paths from a 3D model.

To illustrate the process, the exact steps to perform within VS3D / VScad3 are shown below. The model used in this tutorial is a DXF format 3D model of the Eiffel Tower. The 3D model can be downloaded from the official Paris Eiffel Tower web site at:

1. Import the 3D DXF model.
Start VS3D. Select the main VS3D "File -> CAD Geometry Builder -> Start..." menu. VScad3 will now start. Select the main VScad3 "File -> Import -> DXF..." menu. Choose the downloaded Eiffel Tower DXF file.

2. Set up the 3D view.
Select the main VScad3 "Workspace -> Region..." menu. In the "Workspace" dialog, click on "Auto Adjust" and then click on "Apply".

Select the main VScad3 "Resources -> Layout..." menu. In the "View Layout" dialog, enter an X Window Size 512 and a Y Window Size of 640. Enter an X Page Size of 4 and a Y Page Size of 5. Click on the "Reset Positions" button. Click on "Apply".

Change the main VScad3 mode to "View". Set the view mode to "Zoom". Click and drag the left mouse on the tower to zoom the view (drag up to zoom in and drag down to zoom out). Set the view mode to "Rotate". Click and drag the left mouse up and down and side to side to rotate the view. Click and drag the right mouse button to pivot the view. You can reset the view back to it's original orientation by clicking on the View "Reset" button. Exact view rotations can be entered by clicking on the view "Vector..." button. Use the view Pan, Zoom, and Rotate operations to get the view that you wish to machine. You can also click on the "Eye..." button to set a perspective or orthographic view.

3. Export a relief surface to VS3D.
Go back to VS3D and select the main VS3D "Edit -> Resize Grid..." menu. In the "Resize Grid Dimensions" dialog, enter the X Grid Dimension 512 and the Y Grid Dimension 640.

Click on "Ok". Click on "Ok" again in the coordinate resize message.

Go to VScad3 and select the main VScad3 "File -> Export to VS3D..." menu. The VS3D "Import Cad Relief" dialog will appear. Use all the defaults and click on "Ok".

A relief surface of the tower is now shown in VS3D, in the view orientation set in VScad3. If desired, you can select the main VScad3 "File -> Save Session..." menu to save the current CAD model and view settings for later use. Select the main VScad3 "File -> Exit" menu to quit VScad3 (VS3D will remain running).

Note that the size of the window (in pixels) in VScad3 and the size of the grid in VS3D should match for best results. The larger the window and grid, the higher the resolution (and the higher the amount of memory required to process the surface).

Select the main "Edit -> Coordinate Scale..." menu. In the "Data Coordinate Scales" dialog, enter the X Data Range of 0,4 and the Y Data Range of 0,5 .

Click on "Ok".

Switch the main VS3D mode to "Display" and click on "Show Rulers".

4. Scale the surface heights.
The X and Y coordinates are now set, but the Z coordinates range from approximately -100 to 50 (the depth values will vary, depending upon the view parameters that were used previously in VScad3). The next steps will scale the Z heights in preparation for machining.

Select the main "Help -> Surface Statistics..." menu. Note the maximum and minimum surface heights as reported.

Select the main "Edit -> Layer Math..." menu. In the "Layer Math" dialog, set up the equation "Layer_1 = Layer_1 + Constant".
Enter a constant value that is approximately -50, so that the resulting maximum surface height will be zero. In other words, use the Layer Math tool to subtract the maximum surface height from all the surface heights.

Click on "Ok".

Select the main "Edit -> Layer Math..." menu again. In the "Layer Math" dialog, set up the equation "Layer_1 = Layer_1 * Constant".
Enter a constant value of 0.001 . This will multiply all the surface heights by 0.001 .

The surface will now look almost completely flat.

In the Display mode section, enter the "Z Height Shade Range" values of -0.1,0 and then press the keyboard "Enter" key while in that field. The relatively shallow relief of the surface can now be seen.

5. Carve the surface.
Switch the main mode to "Machine". Click on the Cutting Protocol "New" button. In the "New Machining Protocol" dialog, leave all the default settings (but you may wish to change the Machine Type, depending upon the type of machine you have). The surface now looks flat because you are now seeing the existing material before any cuts. Applying appropriate tool paths will reveal the original surface again.

Enter the Cutting Tool parameters as follows:
Type: Cone
R: 0.0625 (1/8" diameter)
O: 0.0
H: 0.1083 (a 60 degree "V" bit)
D: 0.125 (press the keyboard "Enter" key while in this field to see a plot of the tool profile).

Enter the Cutting Path parameters as follows:
Type: Traverse Horizontal
Entire Surface mode
Step-Over Spacing: 0.02
Maximum Path Depth: 0.125

Click on the "Make Cuts / Add To Protocol" button. If you are not running in Demo mode, then the "Tool Path File Parameters" dialog will appear. This is where you can enter the feed rates (cutting speed), RPM, etc. Leave all the fields with their default settings, except the RPM and Feed and Plunge Rates. (Give the Feed rate and Plunge rate the same non-zero value for a more compact G-Code output file). Note that VS3D version 1.55 or newer has additional fields not shown here

Click on OK.

If not in Demo mode, you will be able to select the name of the output G-Code (or other type) file.

The tool path is now plotted over the surface as blue lines. When the "Tool Path Completed" message appears, click on "Ok". The surface is now displayed, showing the predicted results of the tool path. The horizontal striations are the small ridges left between the traversals. A narrower step-over spacing will minimize these (but will result in a larger output file).

Note how the parts of the tower that are closest to the viewer are the highest parts of the relief surface, and the farthest parts are the lowest on the relief surface. This was automatically calculated by VS3D / VScad3, and is a result of using a 3D model to start with.

Also note that VS3D versions 1.4 and newer include additional tools for specifying the "climb" or "descend" direction of the tool path.

Your work can be saved by selecting the main "File -> Save Relief" menu. The next time you start VS3D, select the main "File -> Load Relief..." menu to restore the surface and machine settings.

VS3D is the default starting program. But you can make VScad3 the default starting program by changing the preferences available from the main VS3D "File -> Preferences..." menu.


A complete tutorial for VS3D / VScad3 is available via the main VS3D "Help" menu, or by clicking on the link below:
VS3D / VScad3 Documentation

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