3ds Max Versatility

Game developers and animators have been using 3ds Max® for presentation, collaboration, concepts, and design since its development. In the last few years though, Autodesk made strides to include more tools to assist outside those areas of specialty, which has allowed 3ds Max to be used in unconventional ways.   I’d like to speak about a few of these below.

3D Printing

Estimated earnings in 2013 for 3D printing were approximately $2.2 billion USD, up 11 percent from the year before, as reported by Wohlers Associates, a 3D printing consultant company. Whether its buildings, concept cars, prosthetic pieces, toy robots, part replacement, or more, 3D printing is making huge strides and has been said to revolutionize the way we make most anything.

Figure 1: Concept for prosthetic leg

While 3D printing continues to find ways into our minds and hearts (perhaps literally), the steps to producing one’s first 3D printed part with 3ds Max is relatively simple.

Step 1

To begin, select the Create Icon in the tool panel, select the Shapes icon, choose Spline, then Text.

Figure 2: Step 1

Step 2

Under parameters select your various font and font size then type your text in the text area.

Figure3: Step 2

Step 3

Text in 3ds Max inserted this way simply consists of line segments programmed to create each letter’s shape.  We can manipulate the line segments as we could any other object in 3ds Max. For this step, we’ll extrude the text. Make sure you have your text selected then pick the Modifiers tab and choose Extrude. Enter an amount to extrude and number of segments.

Figure 4: Step 3

Step 4

For our purpose we don’t want to print multiple letters separately. As our model sits, the printer would print nine separate letters. We’ll combine those letters using a ProBoolean and Box. First, create a box that overlaps your text by a fair amount; extrude it down so that the top of the box is at the same level of the bottom of your text. Second, join the two by selecting your box, then the Geometry tab, Compound Objects, and finally ProBoolean. Choose Union under Parameters then Start Picking. Select your text object.

Figure 5: Step 4

Final Step

You are now ready to export your model for printing. One of the most common formats to export your file to is .STL (stereolitho).  Simply select File, then Export, and choose .STL as your file format. Other file formats often supported by 3D printers and 3D printing services are X3D, Collada, VRML97, and VRML2. 

If you can’t purchase a printer of your own, 3D print shops have opened worldwide, and many offer their services online. Examples are Shapeways ( and RedEye (   Local shops may be available in your area (there is in mine), or you might consider opening a shop of your own (#winks).

AEC, GIS, and Viewers

GIS has predominantly been its separate, distinct function in the past. Recent advances in computers and software have allowed GIS and AEC industries to merge more effectively and develop an entirely new level of sophistication in design, construction, asset management, tracking, and collaboration. Specifically, Autodesk has introduced ways teams can collaborate in a streamlined fashion to quickly identify design flaws and constraints.  Recent advances are 3ds Max Civil View inclusion and 3ds Max software’s ability to export to Autodesk’s FBX Viewer.

Civil View for 3ds Max and Civil 3D

Civil View is an application that allows the civil engineering community to export models in the same way architects and mechanical engineers have been doing for years. Together they are now able to collaborate as a team more effectively while providing site models that encompass an entire project and all its aspects.  In the future, this will allow more sophisticated studies to be conducted with the models that could include emergency service routes/building accesses, detailed flood studies showing the effects of structures on pathways, visibility studies identifying security risks and premium views, optimal direction for solar panels on residential homes, and much more.

3ds Max Export to FBX Viewer

The last item I’d like to discuss is FBX viewer. 3ds Max exports directly to .FBX file type and I’d recommend everyone at least try it out if you haven’t. The viewer is easy to navigate, can be downloaded by clients and design teams for free, and can be used to review massive 3D models and animations with predefined camera locations and textures.   


3ds Max and tools made available have given artists, designers, scientists, medical industries, architects, and engineers the ability to collaborate worldwide and study the effects and influences of their designs in detail. With hope, persistence, and determination it will lead to a brighter future for us all.

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