Professional Jeweler Archive: CAD Software for Jewelers

July 2002

Precious Metals/Metalsmithing


CAD Software for Jewelers

A pioneer in the technology reviews five software products that enable jewelers to learn computer-aided design


One of the first articles on computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing technology in any major trade publication was published in the January 2000 issue of Professional Jeweler, written by this author. In the 21/2 years since then, two significant trends have emerged.

First, CAD software use has become much more widespread among traditional manufacturers and also among smaller manufacturing jewelers. CAD sellers are well-represented at trade shows, traditional training institutions now offer CAD classes and small communities of CAD users have popped up on trade networks such as Polygon.

The second trend is the advent of jewelry-specific CAD software and training. It wasn’t long ago anyone wanting to get involved in CAD could choose only from software built for product design engineers. The training available was generic and not very accessible.

With CAD more popular than ever, it’s time to review various CAD software jewelers are using in the manufacture of jewelry, including the pros and cons and training availability. This is not a comprehensive guide, but includes the majority of software packages a jeweler commonly evaluates when getting involved with this exciting medium.

Several Uses of the Technology

Jewelers can use CAD software technology in several ways. It’s a good sales tool. As you’ll see in this article, the photo-realistic quality of the images is remarkable. These aren’t real pieces of jewelry, rather a computer rendering where materials are applied to surfaces and light paths are simulated to account for shading, shadows, reflections and, in the case of gemstones, refraction. The more of these subtle details that are included, the more the eye is fooled into believing the image shows real jewelry.

The cost of better pictures is time – a high-resolution rendering with full ray-tracing can take a half hour on a good computer. But what better way to get a sale than to show the virtual custom piece to the customer? Full 3D animation is also becoming more commonplace in CAD software.

Beyond its use as a sales tool, the 3D model can be sent to rapid prototyping equipment to be produced as a wax model ready for casting. This is where some CAD users are beginning to diverge. Some stop at the rendering stage and fabricate the piece using traditional methods, while most go on to have the wax produced from the CAD geometry.

What makes this tricky is that much more effort goes into a CAD model created as a tool path for computer-aided manufacturing than if a pretty picture is all you need. Precut seats, azures, prong thickness and other manufacturing details need to be planned with a model intended for production, while many of these issues can be ignored when the image is the final use. The choice of software is affected by the intended use.

Types of Modelers

Simple surface model.
Model with more complexity.
Solid model.

There are two types of modeling: surface and solid. To explain the difference and show why it’s relevant to CAD/CAM, imagine a 2-cubic-in. box. The surface modeler would create this by making (6) – 2-by2-in. planes, or faces, attaching them at the edges and making sure all the planes face outward.

The key here is the edges must all be closed for the model to be “airtight,” otherwise the rapid-prototyping process cannot work. If you have an airtight box and wish to cut a hole through the center, the interior cylinder hole must be well-stitched after the cutting process.

The solid modeler would just create a solid block with all internal data points represented. When a cylinder was superimposed and then subtracted, another solid would be created naturally.

Sometimes the surface modelers create files with holes in them. These holes must be patched before the rapid-prototyping process can begin. These can be complicated to find and correct manually, but several third-party software applications are available on the market to automate this process for you.

Jewelspace –
Hybrid Surface/Solid Modeler: $995

ADDRESS: JewelSpace, Mountain View, CA; (800) 351-7620, www.JewelSpace.net.

TRAINING: $995. Three-day classes and flexible schedule at company headquarters.

DESCRIPTION: JewelSpace is one of a new breed of jewelry-specific CAD programs. Built on top of TrueSpace, which has a long history in the short time span of non-engineering CAD, it features plug-in productivity enhancements that make creating fine jewelry a breeze

Offering everything from libraries of gem shapes with accurate facet structures to eye-popping rendering settings programmed for precious metals, JewelSpace is the leader in rendering quality.

Formz –
Solid Modeler: $1,995

ADDRESS: Autodessys, Columbus, OH; (614) 488-8838, www. ArchTool.com, www.FormZ.com.

TRAINING: $980. Four-day classes from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Chicago to New York City. Also available at major universities.

DESCRIPTION: FormZ is better known in the world of architects than jewelers. Known for ease of use (relative, of course), it has powerful modeling tools and a smart tool layout.

Check whether an architecture course in FormZ is available at a nearby university for non-credit continuing education. (The difference between a ring and a building is simply one of scale and having a hole in the center.)

Excellent rendering capability.

Jewelcad –
Solid Modeler: $3,995

ADDRESS: B&D Sales, Cranston, RI; (401) 781-4810, www.bdsales.com.

TRAINING: $1,600. Three days at B&D headquarters.

DESCRIPTION: JewelCAD is the grandfather of jewelry-specific CAD software. It uses a unique file format for rapid prototyping that allows overlapping surfaces that don’t have to be melded, something that’s sometimes problematic in surface modelers and time-consuming in solid modelers.

JewelCAD is probably the easiest CAD jewelry software to learn and is the only one able to directly edit the stereolithography file format output for rapid prototyping by other CAD software. Other software packages edit only in their native 3D file format.

Good rendering capability.

Solidworks –
Solid Modeler: $3,995

ADDRESS: Gemological Institute of America, Carlsbad, CA; (800) 421-7250, www.GIA.edu.

TRAINING: $2,100. Two weeks at fixed times at GIA’s Carlsbad campus.

DESCRIPTION: Solidworks, which has the largest installed user base worldwide, is a sophisticated software favored by product-design engineers in many fields. It’s also a mechanical-engineering- level CAD software, meaning parts of a model can be built with associations between them programmed into the model. For example, a ring can be sized while other attributes – such as shank thickness – remain fixed. Other software accomplish sizing only by scaling the entire model, with every attribute scaling up at the same rate.

Average rendering capability.

Matrix –
Surface Modeler: $5,000

ADDRESS: Gemvision, Davenport, IA; (800) 357-6272, www.Gemvision.com.

TRAINING: $1,200. Four-day training on a fixed schedule at the Gemvision office.

DESCRIPTION: Matrix is similar to JewelSpace with a full complement of productivity-enhancing libraries of parts and materials. Matrix takes the technology to a new level with automated “builders” that perform repetitive and difficult tasks, such as inserting channels and pavé onto a surface, building bezels and heads, and creating certain styles of rings simply by entering the variables.

Matrix is a plug-in to Rhino, a surface modeler and relative late entry to the artist-level CAD field.

Excellent rendering capability.

Conclusion

There should be no illusions that CAD is simple to use or learn. The productivity enhancements of JewelSpace and Matrix go a long way to simplifying the process, but you still must learn the underlying software upon which they are built before the productivity enhancements become useful.

Unlike many consumer-level software programs, where users can become productive right out of the box even if they don’t learn 99% of the other functionality, CAD software is different. You must learn 50% to 70% of the functionality to begin producing the simplest models.

In evaluating the various CAD software programs, trying to pick the perfect system for jewelry-making, jewelers often overlook training as an important consideration. The fact of the matter is designers can create any design with any of the software. Some are easier, some have better rendering, some offer productivity tools that make it quicker. The bottom line is that what you get out of the CAD software you choose is determined by your training, commitment and talent.

– Steven Pollack

Steven Pollack is president of Digital Jeweler LLC, developer of patent-pending online custom jewelry manufacturing technology using CAD/CAM. The system allows jewelers to design, visualize, price and order unusual custom jewelry via the Internet with no CAD experience necessary. More information is available at www.DigitalJeweler.NET or by calling (888) 300-8031.

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications