So as I travel around to customers, people sometimes comment on my laptop’s background. Then they get really interested when I tell them this came directly out of SolidWorks:
First of all, here is the original model, everything found in one multi-body part file:
Why everything in one part file and not an assembly? Well, from my master model post a few weeks back, you know I do that when I want the items to cut seamlessly into each other, like the gears into the baseplate. And I didn’t need a lot of relative motion (didn’t want any, actually) so I didn’t need to make an assembly to get mates or easy movement tools.
Where did the initial design come from? Well, our marketing assistant Melinda conceived of the CAPINC Gears image for shirts we wanted as a give away to customers. Here’s the shirt she designed and the gear shaped compressed packaging these shirts come in!
(Melinda is also the one who formats my text into the very blog post you’re reading now, so this just got VERY meta.)
So we took the middle of the shirt, made interlocking gears to look like that in SolidWorks, and then I used Master Model/boolean body operations to cut the gears out of a wide sheet of metal. Most everything from that point on was PhotoView 360 tweaks.
The first thing was to apply some “Appearances” to the model. These are different from SolidWorks “Materials”. Materials do make your part look like the brass or steel or aluminum you’ve selected, but they also change the part’s density and give it properties which can be used in a Simulation study later. They’re also pre-defined images you can’t change, only over the entire body. Appearances can be put on any combination of bodies, features or faces you want, made from any image you have.
There are predefined appearances you can drag from the right task pane onto your model:
You just grab one of the circular I-don’t-know-what’s and drag it into the graphics window, over what you want to color. The library is pretty big, and I usually go there first.
You can also get to the command by left clicking on a face of your model and hitting the 4-color beach-ball in the quick menu:
I like that option because you can easily see the hierarchy here. The part file is defined gray, above that could be any body color I define, which could be overwritten by a feature color I define, which could be overwritten by any face appearance I define. Always check your hierarchy if you’ve defined something jet black but a part of it is showing sunshine yellow.
This time the pre-defined library wasn’t cool enough so I Googled and Googled until I found this sample image:
Applied to the faces of the gears, it set them apart from the background plate and made something interesting happen in that large flat area in the middle of the picture. The same was done to get the red and black coals effect on the vertical “cooling” faces of the teeth:
I actually used a picture of a lava flow from someone’s Hawaii vacation album as the source for that one. And because I didn’t want to select those hundred little gear faces one by one, I set the entire gear bodies to have the lava appearance, and just the top face to override with the circular metal. A sneaky way to save yourself a hundred clicks.
While we’re here, let’s talk about the highlighted “hot” red edges in the above picture, one of the hardest things to get right about this project.
Applying a bright appearance to a face is like painting it a bright color. Tabbing to “Advanced” and then “Illumination” in the appearance manager and setting a “Luminous Intensity” is like making it a neon light:
Any appearance can have a “Luminous intensity” to make it a light source, and that’s how I made the blue laser beam radiate light in the picture. But if you make a custom picture into an appearance (like the lava flow), increasing it’s intensity isn’t like the actual lava was there, casting interesting light. It radiates in a broad color, usually washing out the very cool texture you’re starting with.
This may not sound like a problem, but try it out a little and you’ll see it switches from going to a dark surface with a cool texture to a washed out bright surface with no texture, with no in between. This stalled me for hours, days even, while making this render.
The sneaky solution I’ll now reveal to you is, that hot glowing edge is its own, separate body, made as a sweep of a small circular profile all along the cut edge. Why? Now I can set that tiny, string-like body’s Luminous intensity very high, creating the glow, but I don’t care if it washes out, because OTHER larger faces hold the lava-like cooling texture. When I finally figured that out, I felt like Einstein splitting the atom.
Moving to this area, there are a couple of neat things going on:
I wanted welding-like sparks that were almost too bright to look at, so I made tiny little blue bodies and applied an even higher luminous intensity to them, and the rendering engine did the rest. There is a feature called “Bloom” which takes high light sources and adds fuzzy halos around them, and that’s what you see here.
The reflection of the laser beam on the base plate, however, needed to be fuzzy for a different reason- you couldn’t tell the difference between the real and the reflected laser otherwise. Luckily, in the “illumination” tab for that appearance, there is a checkbox just for that:
Finally, the one last trick I’d like to point out in this picture is something everyone can use, even if you don’t want a rendered, ray-traced image out from your SolidWorks models. Look at the “cutting head” area:
The blue glow obviously comes from the laser beam luminous intensity shining through the cutouts, and the reflections on the right side are because the head appearance is a very shiny plastic, but how the heck did I get our logo to wrap around that curvy shape? Photoshop? Tedious cut-extrudes of text? No. It’s much, much easier.
The answer here is called “Decals”. Even without the PhotoView 360 add-in, you can wrap any image you have over any SolidWorks face you have, just by using decals. This literally has infinite uses. I’ve seen customers use decals instead of engraving logos with cuts into their parts, use them to show the placement of “On/Off” stickers near switches, or even to represent numbers and readouts on dials. Try them out on a simple block first to get used to the mapping functions, how the sizing of the image works, but then go wild. Decals are truly one of the hidden gems inside of SolidWorks.
So there you have it! Use those tricks to set up your model, and after 5 hours of rendering you’ll have an image like mine! (Just kidding- we were making a 24” by 24” high-resolution poster, so the number of pixels it had to render was insane. Your renders should only take a few minutes.)
Up next week: an even more meta post about how to use SolidWorks and WordPress to make a great blog post! (Or maybe just some cool issue that came up that week on tech support. Most likely that.)