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Applying Color Textures Using the .3MF File Format

By Andrew Sink on September 15, 2020

During the product development lifecycle, an industrial designer will create multiple versions of a product in various finishes, textures and colors. Using the new .3MF file format, we can apply a texture in a CAD program, such as SOLIDWORKS, and save the file in a format that retains that texture and can be used for 3D printing.

For this Tech Tip, we took a consumer product prototype, applied a custom texture in SOLIDWORKS and then printed it on the Stratasys J55 PolyJet 3D printer using the .3MF file format. This is an excellent process for industrial designers to prototype their ideas and rapidly test out different textures and colors during the product development lifecycle.


Process Overview

The product we'll be using as an example is a pocket-sized door puller, and we'll be applying a texture to it using SOLIDWORKS. After we've applied the texture, we'll export the file using the .3MF file format and send it to GrabCAD Print. From there, we'll send the file to our Stratasys J55 to create our prototype.

Applying texture in grabCADClick to enlarge

We can select the Appearances tab from SOLIDWORKS to bring up the preloaded textures that come with SOLIDWORKS. For this model, we'll use a custom texture of a carbon fiber weave to give us the texture we're looking to create.

Selecting appearance in GrabCAD
Applying a texture to a model is simple; select the texture and drag it on to your model. You can choose between Face, Feature and Body for the texture application; we'll be selecting Body to apply the texture evenly across the entire model. We can apply a separate texture to various features for a more complex model to give an enhanced sense of product realism. Because this model is uniform in appearance, we'll apply the texture evenly across the entire model.

Using body in GrabCADClick to enlarge

When applying a texture, we want to spend some time thinking about how the texture will be wrapped around our model. SOLIDWORKS allows us to control this process (known as UV Mapping), and we can determine how the texture will be applied to the model. For this model, we will use the Surface setting, which will evenly apply the texture across the model's surfaces. In the screenshot below, you can see the distortion that occurs if we select a non-planar mapping system such as Sphere or Cylinder.

UV Mapping in GrabCADClick to enlarge

Once our texture has been applied evenly, it's time to export it as a .3MF file format. This format can be found in the standard SOLIDWORKS Save As file name drop-down, directly below .SLDPRT. This format carries both model geometry and texture information, allowing us to print this textured model with only a single file.

3MF fileClick to enlarge

Once we have exported the .3MF file, we can import it directly into GrabCAD Print by simply dragging it into the workspace. GrabCAD Print will natively import both the geometry and the texture, with no additional software required. We'll be printing this model with the Stratasys J55 PolyJet 3D printer, which is the perfect technology for printing prototypes and concept models with high color and dimensional accuracy.

3MF File in GrabCADClick to enlarge

Check out more of our 3D printing Video Tech Tips to expand your skills and learn more about other features and tools for 3D printing.

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