How Can Interior Designers Utilize 3D Technology?

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3D Printing Technologies, Guides

There are several different types of 3D technology on the market, ranging from 3D printing using various materials including thermoplastics and even chocolate, to 3D scanners and modelers.

All of these should be part of an interior designer’s arsenal if they want to stand out from the crowd, and embrace all the opportunities technology allows.

How 3D Printing Works

Previously, designers may have painstakingly made models of objects in order to fully realize their concepts, but with the advent of 3D printing, this process has become so much easier as the technology will take a sketch and recreate it within a few hours. 

This is even quicker than the so-called ‘rapid prototyping’ which was popular in the 1980s for automated model creation but could still take several days to complete.

3D printing uses technology to build up layers of printing – basically it works similarly to any standard laserjet printer, but it prints the same 2D design over and over and over again on top of itself to form a 3D object.

This is known as fused deposit modeling.

In most cases, liquid plastic is used, and each layer is automatically fused together with adhesive or UV light to create a firm and tangible structure.

A 3D printer printing a small yellow vase
Image source: Osman Talha Dikyar

Any molten liquid can be used if it is one that sets quickly, with experiments containing chocolate proving popular in some areas. 

ABS, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene to give it its full name, is one of the most used plastics in everyday life, providing the basis for LEGO bricks, car interiors, and computer parts among many others.

It is often used in 3D printing as its chemical properties lend themselves to the printing process and it can be easily painted after printing to make it any color you want.

In its raw form, small pellets or plastic strings are fed into the printer, in place of ink.

In interior design, 3D printing has many uses, ranging from extremely large and practical pieces such as the Juice Bar at the LOFT flagship store in Tokyo, to smaller touches like lamps, and the quirky light switches and homewares produced by Emerging Objects.

CAD Software for Interiors

Computer-Aided Design has been available to designers for many years, but it was once only the domain of those who could afford it.

Nowadays, it is a much more common part of a designer’s tools and is used in offices and industries across the land to devise technical drawings and plans as well as create intricate creative designs.

For interior designers, it is a useful tool to be able to design in 3D and know exactly what space you have to work within any given room.

For something like a kitchen design, which relies on a myriad of appliances that need to fit into the room and also provide plenty of worktop space for culinary preparation, having 3D software to get a feel for how the room works and how the client might use it is invaluable. 

With kitchen worktops, you can even design it to know how thick you want the worktop to be, as well as the 2D dimensions of width and length that you could create previously – and see it working in the space and tweak it accordingly until it is exactly right.

This same system can be used with other furniture such as sofas, dining tables, and beds, to properly drill down into the details.

Two people working on a laptop
Image source: John Schnobrich

Using 3D modeling software is an easy way to show clients exactly what you are thinking for your design and allow them to properly visualize it in the room, or rooms, for which the design is being used. 

To be able to get a feel for the space around you, and how it is filled, makes decision-making a doddle, streamlining the entire process without needing to go back to a literal drawing board and spending time redrawing the plans. 

Another benefit is that changes can be made immediately, so there is no great downtime and clients can see how amendments affect the overall design and are better placed to give the go-ahead.

Creative Uses for 3D Scanning

There are three main ways of scanning objects in 3D to create digital versions – lasers, photogrammetry, and structured light.

Each has its own benefits, pros, and cons, and the method you choose is likely to be determined by the project itself and the object you intend to scan.

Laser scanning is the most widely used practice in the fields of architecture and design and is the most simple.

It involves using laser lights to project onto the object and a sensor then measures the distance between points to create a triangulated mesh which is processed to become your CAD 3D model.

It is ideal for generating the fine details of complex shapes or scanning delicate artifacts which aren’t able to be physically touched.

Photogrammetry uses photographs from all different angles to build up a 3D object from the 2D image. It is less accurate than laser scanning, but if you only need a rough visual of an object in its 3D form, it is a handy software to use for interior designers.

Structured light involves projecting light patterns onto an object and the way this then distorts those patterns on its surface is used to establish the 3D version.

This process has most often been used in facial recognition or topographical studies, but there is no reason why it wouldn’t work just as well in other design capacities.

Structured light 3D scanning
Image Source: Stillness InMotion

The Digital Building Heritage Group have used 3D scanning processes to great effect, notably in the restoration of the Tixall window which was part of a Tudor mansion.

By scanning the stones of the bay window and reconstructing them digitally, it enabled an accurate physical reconstruction to be achieved in the redesign.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality uses a headset to put you into a different space; what you see surrounding you isn’t really there, it has just been designed to make you think you are there and allow you to experience situations and places.

This has excellent uses in interior design as a designer or architect can reimagine a room and let you see it virtually, even walk around in it, without it having been physically reproduced.

Design components can be explored and agreed upon or changed ahead of the construction process, with a real-life experience to aid the decision-making.​​

A young girl wearing a VR headset
Image Source: Maxim Hopman

Augmented reality is different from virtual reality as it is used in the space itself and to pop-up 3D objects as if they were actually there.

This can be done using just a mobile phone, making it an incredibly accessible technology for most people. It is a great way to see if a particular color or design of sofa, for example, would look right in your living room.

As an extra string to your bow for an interior designer, augmented reality is an affordable but still impressive and useful mechanism.

Final Thoughts

With new technologies being developed all the time, across all sectors, being able to make the most of what is available is increasingly important to stay ahead of the game and ensure you are at the forefront of your industry. 

Nowhere is this more so than in interior design, where creativity has no limits and technology can aid the process and make your designs come to life – in some cases, quite literally.

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