How 3D Printing is Changing Jewelry Design

By on October 4th, 2016 in Usage


 3D printed jewelry?
3D printed jewelry?

Technology is a driving force behind the changes in many industries. 

Even the jewelry design industry is evolving with the introduction of more advanced technology, like 3D printing, CAD, and CAM. As 3D printing, CAD, and CAM have become more widely available, they’ve been embraced by jewelry designers and manufacturers of all kinds, revolutionizing the industry in a major way for the first time in decades. If you aren’t utilizing this new technology, learn more about how it can help you create new jewelry in an efficient, cost-effective way.

How to Use 3D and CAD

The process of designing jewelry has relied on hand drawn sketches and hand carved wax models for years. While these methods are still used by some designers, 3D printers, CAM (computer aided manufacturing), and CAD (computer aided design) programs can greatly reduce the time it takes to produce these prototypes. CAD programs allow designers to create new and unique designs much more easily than with traditional pencil and paper. They allow those who are terrible at drawing to bring their designs to life in a realistic way. With pre-made settings specifically for jewelry makers, anyone can easily create and modify a piece of jewelry. Some of these automated settings include:

  • Adding scrollwork, filigree, and vines
  • Applying inlay and texture
  • Placing gemstone settings like prongs and bezels
  • Autocreate basic ring shapes

In addition to simplifying the design process, 3D printers also print wax models much more quickly than the traditional hand carving method. During the 3D printing process a wax-like resin is used as printing material. It prints layer upon layer of wax to create a piece and also prints the attached supports and wax sprues. After they’ve been printed, models can be used in the lost wax casting process traditionally preferred by jewelry makers and manufacturers. With such swift model printing, mass producing a design is much easier.

The Benefits of 3D Printing and CAD

Thanks to the ease of using CAD programs, jewelry designers no longer need to worry about precise measurements when creating pieces, as CAD programs can automatically re-adjust and resize pieces automatically. CAD programs also allow jewelry designers to work with even the pickiest clients since completely changing a design no longer takes days, it takes hours. 

Because designs are saved on your computer, it is also much easier to open them later and take certain motifs from one design and copy them into different projects to create a cohesive jewelry line. Best of all, design files can be saved and used later if a jewelry maker wants to make more of the same design, rather than having to redraw and carve an entirely new model.

Creating molds using CAD programs and 3D printers is also a far less intensive process than using traditional methods, as the time from design to completion is just a few hours instead of several days or weeks. With a CAD program that lets jewelry designers create the most intricate designs, 3D printers can also print far more complex pieces than can be carved by hand. 

CAD programs are also useful because they can create photorealistic images of pieces, complete with shadows and reflections. This gives designers and customers a better idea of what a finished piece will look like. With a 3D rendering, you can change the finish, metal style, and gemstone colors to ensure customers know exactly what a piece will look like.

Try Out Various Materials with 3D Design

While you may think that 3D printing is limited to wax materials, printers are actually incredibly versatile and can be made to accommodate any number of materials. Though it may be expensive, printers can be used to print in gold, brass, silver, and bronze. In fact, many aero-engineers use 3D printing to create the most complex pieces for their machines.

Metals aren’t the only materials used however, thanks to innovations in 3D printers, polyamide, alumide, and even ceramics can be added to metal jewelry pieces for an incredibly unique appearance. Previously, in pieces with mixed medias, each type of material had to be modelled and cast separately before being joined. Due to advances in 3D printing, working with mixed materials is easier than ever.

The following materials can all be 3D printed:

  • Precious Metals
  • Semi-precious Metals
  • Titanium
  • Steel
  • Wax
  • Ceramic
  • ABS plastic
  • PLA
  • Polyamide (nylon)
  • Glass Filled Polyamide,
  • Stereolithography Materials (epoxy resins)
  • Photopolymers
  • Polycarbonate

Human Designers are Needed

With all the technology involved in the jewelry design process, it is easy to imagine production becoming completely automated, but even with these cutting edge computers, designing jewelry still requires a human touch. 

It is these designers that are pushing the envelope in jewelry creation to embrace new styles and techniques. The talent to turn metal and other materials into wearable works of art can’t be replicated by machines and skilled personnel are still needed to refine models and molds and make sure everything is well engineered.

Retaining Quality

Although 3D printing and CAD programs speed up the design and production process, there are still high levels of quality present in the production of jewelry. In fact, since these advancements cut costs in many areas, jewelry designers are free to spend more time and money on better materials and manufacturing. Furthermore, with 3D printing, wax models are often better quality than hand carved models due to the fact that the printer lays down each layer in an even and meticulous way. There is no danger of misshapen or imbalanced wax.

Opening Up the Industry

Since these new technologies are making the design process easier, the industry is opening itself up to beginners and hobbyists who want to create their own unique jewelry to wear and sell. With CAD and 3D printing, both experienced designers and novices can experience a faster turnaround time, easier design process, and expanded variability.

These new methods and techniques are helping refine jewelry making and create opportunities for ever more complex and intricate pieces to be imagined and produced. Conduct your own research and discover what computer aided design, computer aided manufacturing, and 3D printing can do for you.

By Amy Trotter

Amy Trotter is a graphic designer, jewelry maker, and a freelance writer from Los Angeles, California. With over 10 years of experience in the jewelry industry, she has worked closely with many jewelry manufacturers like MKM Jewelry and Estate Diamond Jewelry to produce unique jewelry pieces for retail stores and private clients. In her free time, she enjoys finding new ways to incorporate technology into her art.