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If someone was to ask you for examples of industries where computer-aided design (CAD) is used, you'd probably go for areas like the automotive sector, architecture or civil engineering. Indeed, if you look at the guides we've produced on CAD and its uses, you'll see a staple list of industries where it has obvious applications.
One you might not have thought about, though, is jewellery making. In a market where the idea of handcrafted products reigns supreme, it may seem odd to think of CAD as a key tool – but it most certainly is. It has revolutionised the sector in the same way it has many others.
So, what's the story with CAD in jewellery design?
What is CAD in jewellery design?
CAD in jewellery design is the process of creating casts via specialised 2D drawing and 3D modelling software. Using jewellery CAD tools, designers can create STL files of prototype casts. These can then be produced via a 3D printer or milling machine.
The 3D printing process is commonly known as additive manufacturing. It starts with creating a polymer cast of the proposed design, followed by a metal master model from which many replicas can be made (rapid prototyping).
There are several CAD tools available to design jewellery, offering basic geometric, more advanced freeform, and precision sculpting modelling capabilities.
What's the history of computer-aided design in jewellery?
The uptake of CAD began in the 1960s and 70s, before being more broadly adopted with the rise of desktop computers in the 80s and 90s. The introduction of tools like Sketchpad (1963), UNISURF (1968) and ADAM (1971) all played pivotal roles in progressing CAD into commerce and industry, with the latter being the program on which most of today's digital drafting tools are based.
Despite the progress across several major production industries, the jewellery sector and its methods of design largely steered clear until later. This was due to misconceptions in the industry as to what CAD was, with sceptics criticising it for going against 'handmade' principles – instead believing it to be something of an artificial shortcut.
The jewellery-making industry was one of the last to adopt CAD, with even fields like fine art and sculpting immersing themselves beforehand. But CAD has become a mainstay jewellery design tool, with all the same advanced technologies found in other markets now fully integrated.
How is CAD jewellery software used?
Additive manufacturing (3D printing)
CAD has replaced the traditional method of creating jewellery by introducing a new way to cast designs. For centuries, hand-carved wax blocks were the primary method of creating a piece of jewellery.
Where designs were once drawn on paper and then carved into wax, you now have the 2D drawing and 3D modelling capabilities of CAD. Specialist jewellery design software allows the user to create highly detailed and intricate casts that can be replicated to an extremely high level of precision via a 3D printer.
Typically, this starts with creating a prototype cast out of a polymer which can then be converted into a metal master model. From the metal master model, exact replicas can be cast – a process known as rapid prototyping.
Additive manufacturing is significantly quicker and less demanding on resources than traditional methods. But this isn't to say CAD-crafted jewellery casts are lacking in skill; the ability to get the most from the depth and detail of modern software is most definitely a craft in itself.
Beyond the time and resource-saving attributes of CAD jewellery design software, perhaps the most revolutionary change is the ability to render designs before they're made. 3D rendering in CAD allows you to create an accurate virtual picture of what the proposed piece of jewellery will look like.
Rendered imagery of 2D and 3D models is of use in several areas of the process. It can highlight any potential flaws in the cast design, allowing for revisions before production. It can also offer value to prospective customers, letting them see what a design will look when finished.
What are the benefits of using jewellery design software?
Replacing the traditional cast-making process with digital modelling has sped up production times massively. While CAD jewellery design still takes a huge amount of skill, the advantage of having all your design tools and concepts in one massive database is that every step of the build takes less time and resources to complete. Likewise, 3D printing and rapid prototyping have revolutionised the way mass-produced jewellery is created.
Through CAD, jewellery designers can see the finished product well before the final draft reaches the 3D printer. Detailed evaluations of prototypes allow for potential errors to be highlighted, edited and eradicated. The chance of error is thus much lower than with manual drafting techniques.
Clear cost projections
CAD models also allow the designer to understand the material requirements ahead of production. For example, producers can get an accurate estimate of the metal weight required and therefore be able to offer price projections to clients.
Speaking of clients, the evaluation and analysis capabilities of CAD are also used for offering previews of products. A client can see what their proposed design will look like before getting a physical prototype, which makes revisions and requests easier. This boosts the relationship between the producer and customer.
Download our free CAD jewellery design software today
You can get started with our CAD/CAM jewellery design software for free! Download DesignSpark Mechanical Explorer to see what our basic CAD package looks like, then upgrade to Creator or Engineer to get a host of advanced features.
If you want to know more about what our CAD software has to offer, you can learn the basics of DesignSpark Mechanical or take a look at our support FAQs and Mechanical forum to get the answers you need.