Dyce & Sons Ltd.

Helping IT since 1993


Thursday 1st April, 1999

As far as killer applications go, it has been a long time since something really incendiary hit the market. But all that could be about to change thanks to a surprise arrival. RealSculptor 1.0 is a hardware/software package that allows you to create physical 3D models directly from your Mac, and at a fraction of the costs of high-powered ‘3D printers’ - laser-based fused deposition modelling devices starting at £85,000.

Producing your 3D object begins with the creation of a computer model in the RealSculptor environment. As you would expect, the controls bear more than a passing resemblance to other 3D Mac OS modelling environments you may be familiar with; there’s a full set of primitives - planes, cubes, cones, pyramids and spheres (curiously called ‘balls’ in the manual) - as well as an editing workshop, reminiscent of the old Infini-D workshop, that supports path-based as well as stretched canvas modelling operations.

RealSculptor also supports standard binary operations between objects, so you can, for example, subtract a sphere from a cube, and so on. One element that users of other packages won’t be familiar with is the Weight palette. As you create the object, the environment calculates the amount of material required to build it. This is important, as the weight of the object affects both the drying time and the upper limit on the size of the object. To this end, there are a number of tools for converting a solid object into a hollow or ‘skinned’ object.

Included in the package are libraries of predefined objects - dolls-house furniture, model ships and (strangely enough) cake decorations - that you might use in your model. These can be edited, and you can also create your own libraries from within the editing environment.

Libraries can be shared across a network, which is great for anyone who works in a teaching environment, especially as the licensing agreement for the software allows you to run as many copies of the software as you like (you still have to have an OlaProfil Sculptor box in order to build objects). Indeed, we’ve been assured the public beta of the editing environment will be available on the Web site shortly.

For the more cross-platform among us, there are a few stumbling blocks. As far as import and export of models goes, RealSculptor uses its own internal storage format. It can import EPS, DXF (although in tests we had problems with some ‘facet’-based files) and 3DMF files, but it can only export 3DMF. This doesn’t really present a problem for Mac users directly, but if you wish to move your Sculptor files to a PC rendering package, you’ll need to make use of a third-party 3DMF-to-DXF translator. PC users may also have to wait for their version of the editing package. The authors have announced that development work has begun, and the product should be ready ‘about the same time that Bill [Gates] fixes the Y2K problem with Windows 2000’.

Of course, RealSculptor is a hardware package as well. Having created your 3D model, you’re ready to fire up the Sculptor hardware and have it build your object for you. Having seen the system in operation, perhaps ‘build’ is the wrong term.

OlaProfil’s Sculptor box is a SCSI-based device (a USB version is promised soon) roughly the same size as a household microwave. But rather than having the door on the side, access to the workings is from the top, giving it the appearance of an overly large toaster with just one slot. This slot provides the access to the accretion vat, where your object is constructed or, to be more accurate, grown.

Looking inside reveals that the device itself consists of a moveable plate below a fine tubular mesh, both of which are suspended in a fluid bath. At the start of the process, the plate rises until it’s in physical contact with the mesh. By releasing chemicals from certain points in the mesh, starch particles are precipitated out and build up on the plate below. The plate is then lowered and a new layer deposited on top. In this way, your object is built up in layers. Once the object is completed, the mesh can be removed and the plate raised out of the fluid to let the object dry.

By altering the precipitation timings, it’s possible to stretch your object in the z direction, producing a range of similarly- shaped objects with different heights. The process is relatively slow, with a wristwatch-sized object taking about an hour to build and about two hours to dry. Once they’ve dried, objects shrink by about 20%, but the software can make allowances for this.

When dry, objects can be painted with non-water based paints or sprays, and glued using standard wood glue. The most obvious use for the system is for prototyping industrial design objects, but it should find a sizeable niche in the engineering, medical, and scale modelling worlds as well.

Affordability is the watchword of this system, which is expected to ship at around $2700, including software, cleaning equipment and enough building materials for 800g worth of model - which, given the Hollow Object tools, is equivalent to about 50 model aeroplane kits. If you’re fed up with all those 3D graphics boys having all the fun, put this on your Christmas list.


Create actual 3D models straight from your Mac with OlaProfil’s hardware/software combo.

Get Further Info
Rating BETA
Manufacturer OlaProfil Inc
Pros Low-cost ˜ Reliable under test ˜ Mac OS only
Cons Slow ˜ Doesn't export DXF directly
Price 2700
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 15, Issue: 7, p33