I was approached by a local artist who needed a 3D print of his artwork to make a negative mold that could be used for glass art. He had a few drawings (ink on paper) and wanted a 3D digital file made from his 2D drawings.
I had never done any 3D modeling, but I was somewhat familiar with Adobe Illustrator (AI) and knew that several people at the MakerSpace are CAD (Computer-aided Design) proficient. I told him I would ask around and see if someone could take his job. After consulting a fellow member, I was turned on to a simple and free CAD program. I figured the job wouldn't be difficult since all I needed to do was take the 2D image and raise it up (on the Z axis) an eighth of an inch.
I toyed around with the program and practiced tracing black and white images in AI, converting the image to an SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic), and importing the SVG into the free CAD program, Autodesk's 123D Design. From this program I extruded the graphic into the third dimension, and exported the file as an STL (STereo Lithography). The process seemed straightforward, so I took the contract.
I ran into several issues with this project. First, 123D Design was running extremely slow. The mac version isn't very smooth, the traced SVG files were a bit unwieldy, and there was a latency of about 12 seconds. This made navigating the model a nightmare. I also had to keep the artwork to scale. After scanning them and importing into AI, this wasn't an issue. After importing the SVG files into 123D Design, the art piece size changed by a seemingly arbitrary value. So I created a one inch long line in AI, imported that to 123D Design, and checked to see how long it was. From the value change I was able to create a scale to use between the two programs, allowing me to scale down the art piece in AI so that when I imported it into 123D Design it was the right size.
The other time consuming aspect to this project was the need for one of the pieces of artwork to have its lines a uniform width. Since the piece was hand drawn, this required me hand tracing the entire piece in AI to create a line path, which could then be set to varying widths. After setting the width size on the line, I had to expand the objects lines into shapes, so that 123D Design would recognize the piece as an object.
After this project I felt the need to learn how to do proper CAD work, and use better programs like AutoCAD or Solidworks. The cross compatibility issues between the software was frustrating, and my fixes felt a little janky. All in all, it worked out and I learned how to turn drawings into things!