RogerBW's Blog

OpenSCAD as a non-linear editor 01 December 2017

I use OpenSCAD as my primary tool when I'm designing objects for 3D printing. But it's also remarkably useful as a non-linear editor for existing 3D objects.

For those who aren't familiar with the term: a non-linear editing system, usually used for video or audio editing, is one that, rather than modifying the original recording, stores that original and a list of things to do to it, as it might be "reduce noise", "play this bit followed by that bit", etc. The process of editing becomes much faster, and even decisions made early in the process can easily be un-done later.

The same concept applies to 3D modelling. I can take a mesh file and load it into Blender, and muck about with it as much as I like, but while I can undo changes in the reverse of the order in which I did them, if I messed up something early in the process everything I did later is wasted.

But OpenSCAD can import mesh files. So I can import a model (without changing the original), select bits of it and remove or modify them, and export the result as a new mesh.

For example, I was working on a mailbag token for the Colt Express boardgame. (Other people had already uploaded three-dimensional replacements for all the other tokens to Thingiverse, and I wanted to complete the set.)

I didn't fancy trying to make the whole thing, but there was already a set of dungeon loot markers on Thingiverse, and I started by extracting one of those. (In Blender, because that was easiest.)

Then it was OpenSCAD time to reshape the bag (to be more "mailbag" and less "generic sack"), and to bring in the debossed text:

difference() {
  scale([4,2,4]) import("mailbag.stl");
  translate([0,0,-epsilon]) linear_extrude(height=0.6+epsilon) rotate([180,0,0]) text(text="$1200",size=5,halign="center",valign="center");

with the result:

Now, sure, I could have done that in Blender. But then I'd have had to re-do it each time I wanted a new bit of text, or to change the size or the font. This way I can have any text I like.

I did a similar thing with the existing loot markers to make Cursed Loot, which looks identical to normal loot but has a much lower value. That's just a matter of putting in new material to remove the existing debossed text (with the union() operator), then carving away at the composite object (with difference(), just as above) to put in the new text label.

There are drawbacks to this. Models are often set up far away from the coordinate origin, and need to be moved back into it. Some models are too degenerate for OpenSCAD to render, even if the original can be fed to a slicer with no problems. And, as OpenSCAD users will already know, complex models often look odd in preview mode, with missing front faces.

That's solved by not relying on preview mode, but checking that the final render comes out in one piece.

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