Be a maker! Why you should learn Rhinoceros?

One essential thing to learn to be a maker is CAD software(s) due to utilizing today's rapid digital prototyping tools such as laser cutters and 3D printers. Learning 3D modeling or hiring a 3D modeler is almost an unavoidable thing for makers today. Particulalry when makers create products for IoT such as wearable computers, and connected devices, the process requires product or spatial designs.  

I would like to introduce a powerful CAD software called Rhinoceros for makers. It's a great tool for 3D modeling beginners to 3Dprint as well.

the user interface of Rhinoceros

the user interface of Rhinoceros

The advantages are:

  1. The most powerful NURBS modeling software
  2. It has a powerful Plug-in, Grasshopper (a graphical algorithm editor integrated with Rhinoceros)
  3. The cost is relatively lower, especially for educator and students with 90 days trial

What's NURBS modeling?

Considering about 3D modeling with physical materials like a clay, even though 10 people create exactly the same 3D objects, their ways to make the shapes can be completely different. Some might create a solid sphere to create a tea cup, but others may make pieces of sheets and put them together. Each technique has advantages and disadvantages and every virtual 3D modeling tool has different suitabilities. 

images from www.lakesidepottery.com

Very briefly, there are two kinds of modeling approaches in computer graphics, polygonal and NURBS( Non-uniform rational B-spline). In polygon modeling, there is no organic curve that it approximates the surfaces by triangles, good for real-time rendering. See this link on Wikipedia for more information. On the other hand, NURBS modeling takes an equation-based approach that it has great flexibility and precisions. Rhinoceros is very powerful NURBS CAD modeling software in the market today. 

Wikipedia NURBS

this image from 3D grid

this image from 3D grid

The plug-in Grasshopper

One of the plug-ins called 'Grasshopper' makes Rhinoceros outstanding that it allows the users to create parametric design without scripting knowledge. Learning scripting takes longer time compared to the visual interface. This is an extremely powerful tool when you design a shape that the users can generate many options of one shape very quickly by changing the parameters. We just slide the numbers of the slider as we like and it automatically generates different shapes real-time. In addition, it allows to generate a 3D model by running a math equation.

a graphic interface of Grasshopper source from this website

a graphic interface of Grasshopper source from this website

The cost performance

The trial version is free for 90 days and the license prices are reasonable particularly for schools, educators and sudents. *Jan 2016 on the official website

  • Rhino 5 Win (single user) for commercial use $995, Mac $495 (Free software The Zoo allows multiple users to use)
  • Rhino 5 Win (single user) for faculty and student $195, Mac $95
  • Rhino 5 Win for schools (30 labs) $975, Mac $975

Of course, there are some disadvantages to use Rhinoceros.

  1. It's very difficult to use Rhino to model as a virtual clay. 
  2. Due to its higher precision, it's not the best software to do real-time rendering and it's not the best tool to create an animation. 
  3. The data tends to be heavier than polygon models. 

Indeed, 3D models for 3D printing have to be polygon models yet with those advantages listed above, it's one of the primal software today. You can just make any NURBS 3D models to polygon model with only one command, 'mesh'.

Alternative popular 3D modeling softwares:

  • Maya (it's a very powerful CAD software dealing both polygon and NURBS. The UI is a little complicated for beginners but great tool for animation.)
  • ThinkerCAD (a browser-based 3D modeling tool)
  • 123D Design (a free 3D modeling tool)

Interested? Here are my Rhinoceros tutorials. Please take a look and give me feedbacks and let's be a maker from today!