Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Sculpting in VR is more intuitive than on a 2D screen due to better spatial perception.
  • VR apps allow for realistic sculpting experiences including fine details and scale adjustments.
  • Most VR sculpting apps let you export 3D files for 3D printing after ensuring model integrity.

I’ve never been great at technical drawings or working with CAD, so when I got back into 3D printing I mostly made stuff sculpted or designed by other people. Then I thought to myself “I wonder if I can sculpt stuff in VR instead?” and, predictably, plenty of developers have already thought of this.

Sculpting on a 2D Screen Is Counterintuitive

For anyone making artistic models, CAD programs have never been the best option, but luckily there are plenty of great apps that essentially act as virtual “clay.” Think of applications like Zbrush which was probably used in just about every video game or movie you like to create characters and other artistic assets. These types of sculpting apps are way more intuitive than working with numbers and vectors in a CAD program, and with tablets and touch screens it’s getting closer to the real thing.

However, on a 2D screen, you can’t really get an instant and intuitive sense of the object you’re making, and you need to develop the 2D representation of an object that you see on screen into a true 3D shape in your head. I have to take my hat off to the talented artists who can do this, but not even the ghost of Patrick Swayze could help me make a decent flower pot on a flat screen.

VR Sculpting Apps Let You Sculpt for “Real”

While I’m still not actually good at sculpting, by using some of these VR apps I can work with these virtual materials more like I would in real life. I can “shrink” myself down and work on the fine details of an object, or I can scale it to the size I want it to be in real life and get a sense of how well it would work. Whether it’s in video games or in 3D modeling, one of the biggest advantages VR has over a 2D screen is that it can offer you a real perspective of scale.

There are a few options, both free and paid, for you to sculpt in VR. I personally tried out Gravity Sketch and the trial for Polysketch for the Meta Quest. However, there are PC VR apps as well, such as Adobe Medium where you can put all that PC horsepower to good use.

Exporting and Printing VR 3D Sculptures

The Gravity Sketch model export menu.

While most people are probably interested in 3D sculpting to make assets for a project, my main interest is in making things I can print on my K1 Max 3D printer. Most of the apps I looked at, and the ones I tried for myself, let me export whatever I sculpted in the program as a 3D file such as OBJ or FBX format. While these might need further work, such as making sure there are no breaks in the model or other invisible issues that will cause print failures. Luckily, most modern slicers have a function to detect and fix such issues.

VR Is Even Available for CAD

While I’m not particularly interested in CAD for my own purposes, in my research looking for 3D VR sculpting solutions I did come across some VR and XR CAD solutions. In general, these are aimed at enterprise customers and, as you might expect, they’re pretty expensive. AutoDesk VRED will run you a cool $1855 a month, or almost $15K a year. Though there is a much more reasonable CAD-To-VR feature for AutoDesk Inventor. I’m sure we’ll see more mainstream VR plugins or VR-first design software in the future, but right now it seems that it’s either enterprise-grade software, or simply the ability to view models in VR, but not necessarily design them.

As for the sculpting side of the equation, I’m personally very impressed with the potential here, and it’s definitely a significant leg up for someone like me who doesn’t have that much artistic ability to begin with. Without that extra cognitive load of having to visualize things in 3D space, even an old butter fingers like me could make something useful. I can only imagine how someone with real talent will take it to the next level.

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By John P.

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