When I lent my services to a collegue who was working on a film about 12 years ago, I was introduced to the world of cnc. I remember watching this huge machining centre milling out a slab of mdf and turning it into a fantastic set of gears. I knew that it would have taken me hours to achieve the same thing with traditional power tools. I decided then that I would invest in a cnc router for my own business Oxenham Design. At that time I could turn on a computer, but even to check email seemed like a crazy set of operations. I persevered and learned every piece of relevant software I could get my hands on. I am now fortunate enough to be using Vectric's ASPIRE software, and Techno cnc routers, which has helped us to create some amazing projects, both in part, or in full. I thought that this blog would be a great place to share "behind the scenes" adventures with the software, materials and equipment we use, as well as the projects we build.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Banner tutorial part1

 Our Aspire software is very flexible, and used in a wide assortment of industries. But the most widely used industry would probably have to be the sign industry. It definitely is the ideal software for this. Most of my readers do use the software for this purpose. I was asked to write a tutorial that would make it easy for a beginner in 3D to get up and running quick. With a lot of thought going into what I would create, I decided on a banner. This is definitely a model that sign makers could use, and it helps take some of the mystery, and the unexpected results, out of modelling a relief in 3 dimensions. As our next couple of jobs are all being done in the computer only, this works out well. Please comment if you are not clear on any steps, I WANT people to understand, and chances are, if you have questions, someone else has 2. The written steps are BELOW each of the images. As this tutorial is about the 3D side of things, It would be good if everyone already had a handle on drawing vectors. If this isn't the case, and people let me know, I will do a tutorial on 'drawing with vectors' for this same model.
This is what the vector outlines for the banner look like. We only will need one side of the ends, as we will duplicate them to the other side when we have built them. It is important however, to draw these vectors a certain way.

The red areas are all the separate vector objects. These are all CLOSED shapes, which simply means Aspire
knows that each one of these red areas are individual objects, and not simply just lines touching each other that look like a shape.

Now we need to create the additional vectors that we will use to fuel the 2 rail sweep feature that makes Aspire so powerful.

 We need to use our guidelines for the next few steps. This will help us line up all of our pieces. Drag 2 guides
to each side of our flag tip vector object.  Then drag down a horizontal guideline, we will use the horizontal guide as a constant bottom edge for all of our cross sections. This will also help Aspire give us predictable height results.

Now we need to create our cross section. As you'll notice, I have just used the bottom edge of the flag tip object, as a visual guide for the cross section. You'll also notice that the cross section is an OPEN vector, it has no bottom to it. This is important because Aspire can't use a closed shape as a cross section.

 Now we need the 2 'rails' that we will drive the cross section down. For this banner, they are just 2 straight lines on each side of our flag tip, set right on top of our guidelines. Using the guides helps keep everything lined up.  It is VERY important that these 2 lines go beyond our flag tip shape, both at the top and bottom. This is so we have enough room later to cut our shape out of the 2 rail sweep extrusion.

After we have our cross section and 2 rails drawn, we want to select our flag tip vector, as well as our 2 rails and move them to their own separate layer. We will leave the cross section vector, as we will need to refer to it as we draw the rest of our cross sections. Layers are a very powerful way of keeping things organized in Aspire, and should be employed to the max whenever possible! If we don't, most projects will become VERY cluttered and confusing very quickly. This is done by selecting the vectors we want, right clicking, and selecting 'move to new layer' from the fly-out menu. Call this layer "1"

At this point, I would suggest opening the 'layer control dialog' box by pressing the highlighted button in the drawing tab under the LAYERS heading.

This will open the layer control as a 'floating' palette. You can drag this palette anywhere you want on the screen. If it gets in the way, you can close it. You can always re-open it at anytime, by selecting the the highlighted button again. One of the major reasons for employing layers here, is to be able to visually turn off each layer (by clicking the lightbulb icon next to its name) so we keep our workspace clutter free.

Then we just keep doing the exact same process for the rest of the vector shapes. Setting up the guides, drawing our 2 'rails', and creating the cross sections. Again, use the bottom edge of each banner object as your visual reference for each new cross section, and then move the object and rail vectors to a new layer, leaving out the cross section. Leaving out the cross sections allows us to visually see the cross section shape progressing when we turn off the visibility of each new layer. Again, by hiding the layers we aren't using, we keep our drawing simple and clean. Letting all the cross sections be visible, ensures a smooth flow between each of them while we keep adding the new sections. Remember to give your new layers a name, I would number them sequentially.

Once we have all of our vectors drawn, we can move to the 3D side of things. Oh yeah baby!
We now will switch to the 'modelling tab', where all the 3D functions are located. This is done by double clicking anywhere in the blue portion of the drawing tab. At any time we can switch back and forth from the 'modelling' to the 'drawing' tab just by double clicking anywhere in the empty blue space on each tab.
We now going to call the '2 rail sweep' function into action. This feature is found under the MODELING TOOLS section. It looks sort of like a leaf.
When we select this, it opens its own dialog box, where we can define all the different parameters..
Make sure that our layers pallette is still visible, and turn on our first layer we created earlier.

The first order of things is to select our vectors to define the shape we want to make. You ALWAYS start with the 1st rail, then the 2nd rail, then the cross section. Always in that order. At this point, we want to make sure that we have set our combine mode to merge, otherwise this particular relief won't be very nice looking!
 Now there is a good chance that this may happen! This isn't what we want, This is a result of the starting points of the 'rails' not being aligned to each other. Don't worry, it's a quick fix.
We just need to click the 'reverse rail 2' check-box. you will notice that Asipre highlights the vector node start positions. Now that they both start at the same end, we are good to go. Aspire also creates light grey lines between the rails to give you an indication of whats going to happen.

Now this is what I'm talking about, SAWEET!
This is where you should now be if everything was done right. If yours doesn't look like this, review the last couple of steps, you'll solve it.
Now we need to close out the '2 rail sweep' dialog box by clicking close.If Aspire asks you if you want to keep the current 2 rail sweep, say yes. The next step is to select the newly created component and our "flag tip" vector outline. Multiple selections are done by holding the shift key down. The vectors will change to pink when they are selected, and the 3d 'component' will turn a terra-cotta colour.
We now just need to hit the 'clear area OUTSIDE selected vectors' button, highlighted in red.
This will give us our 'flag tip' shape we want. This is also the reason we drew the vector shapes individually in the beginning, so we could create individual components, and have total control.
We now can turn off this vector layer in the layer control box, and turn on the next set of vectors.

Each new component is created EXACTLY the same way, every time. Don't forget to check that your 'combine mode' is set to MERGE. Each new component you create will be listed in the 'component tree' at the top of the 'modelling tab'
And don't forget to shift select the component AND the vector so you can clear the area outside the selected vector to create the final component shape each time.

You now should have all the elements built to create our banner.

We now can shift select each of the first 4 components in the 'component tree', right click on any one of them, and select 'group' from the fly-out menu

Now that all 4 of those pieces are grouped into one, easy to manage unit, we just need to copy them to the other side of our banner. Making sure that the group we want to duplicate is selected in the component tree(highlighted in red at the top left of the screen) we can hit the 'Mirror Selected Objects' button located under the EDIT OBJECTS heading, also highlighted in red.

This opens the 'Mirror Selected Objects' dialog box. We obviously want to mirror this for the other side, so we will make sure the "Create a mirrored copy' check-box is selected, then hit the 'flip horizontal' button. You should now have a mirrored duplicate of the ends of the banner.

The last step for this is to select our newly created group, by double clicking on it in the 2D window. This brings up the 'manipulator handles' and lets us drag this component where ever you may need it. In this case, we are going to drag it over to the right side of our banner while holding the SHIFT key. Holding the shift key while dragging, locks the movement to the horizontal axis, so it will be perfectly in line with the left side.

Now you have a finished banner, suitable for whatever.

 At this point you could leave it as individual pieces, or you could select all of the components and hit the highlighted "BAKE" button and make them all into one piece.

Really try to understand all of these steps, because we will use them all, plus more, to create something a little more exciting next time!

Please comment with any questions you may have and I will answer them for you.



  1. Good tutorial. Do you have a toolpoath tutorial for it? What do you use to prepare it for machining? I cant make the _3d toolpath create the banner. It comes flat.

    1. Are you choosing the "3d toolpath" option? I would set up a vector boundary around the entire object, select that boundary, as this will constrain the toolpath to just that area. My personal choice is a raster strategy, as the G-code files will be smaller. If you need more assistance, please contact me through the website, and I would be glad to assist you further!

  2. I want to ask about the vectors for the banner. Where they overlap you will have duplicate lines or parts of lines? So that each piece is a closed vector?? Is that right? Thanks for the tutorial!