Shallow 3D relief design software

Seeing the posts by Marion working on basket weaves and others attempting gradients and shallow reliefs I thought that the design software used for coins and woodcarving would be valuable. The CAD files are are similar.
If you have time, take a look at these 2 programs. both kind of expensive, but valuable if you have the need.

Aspire - woodcarving design

Virtual Sculptor - coin design software - low relief. This is used by a well known coin designer - Daniel Carr



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I use Vectric Aspire with my CNC router and have started experimenting with it for 3D printing and laser engraving. It is expensive. It does have some great functions for thing like the weave. I’m sitting in front of Fusion 360 right now adding on to a design I created in Aspire that I hope to 3D print soon.


There’s another program called ArtCAM, used to be developed by DelCAM but looks like AutoDesk bought it up.

ZBrush and ZBrushCore are a couple more. ZBrush is ~$800 USD but ZBrushCore is ~$150 USD. Comparing the feature lists of ZBrush and ZBrushCore, it looks like ZBrushCore is a really good deal, lots of tools carried over and not too watered down for sculpting power.


…and I will vouch that ZBrush is an amazing piece of software – incredibly powerful, especially with a tablet like the Cintique.


I just remembered this morning that I had made these designs while following tutorials to learn Aspire a few years ago using the extrude and sweep features.

You can see more of what I created at
All except the last 5 were created as part of training tutorials.


Oh those are nice…wait till Marion sees those! :grin:


I can export STL files.


Sweet! I guess there’s some way we can convert the STLs into a gradient?

(I’m sure we can…I just haven’t had time to keep up with this particular topic as much as I would like…that was something I wanted to learn down the road a bit.)

(Love the duck frames and the cabin markers, BTW! ) :relaxed:

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Oh, these look beautiful. As we discuss all these designs and how to arrive at them, I do hope that the Glowforge catalog would have something like this to download. I would pay for a few of these to spiff up a design. While I’d like to learn how to do them efficiently myself, that won’t always be possible. And sometimes I just get a bit worn out spending so much time designing and not lazering.


Playing around with Vectric Aspire some more, I learned that its Export to Grayscale Bitmap function is, in fact, a depth map function. That’s going to open up a lot of possibilities.


Wow, that looks great. Hope one of our preorder folks will give that a shot. Would love to see how that comes out/what tweaking is required to make it work


Just a word of caution for those readying up $150 and hoping to create everything with ZBrushCore that googling ZBrush gallery might bring up. ZBrushCore has a VERY narrow subset of audience in mind; those that Pixologic perceives as not needing the full arsenal of sculpting tools as their prime product. For anyone amazed at the works generated by the ZBrush community, I don’t think ZBrushCore is the way to go.

In full ZBrush, the toolset of brushes is literally unlimited. For the uninitiated, these are the tools that permit different ways of manipulating the digital clay. Move, pinch, inflate, twirl, clay-buildup, smooth… I could list out several more screen-pages of brushes and it’d still only represent a few asteroids in a galaxy of brushes.

ZBrushCore firmly locks the program into a predetermined set of ~30 brushes; what they’ve determined as the most-used brushes. There’s no provision to load/install additional brushes as full ZBrush freely permits.

When an end-user like Tobias offers up his Celtic Brush to the ZBrush community, ZBrushCore stepchildren can only drool at this and the many, many other amazing brushes out there.

The outsiders might dismiss these brushes as merely variations on the shape created by the stroke. Other brushes include those created to draw out multi-meshes. A zipper brush that would have a starting pull-head, zipper teeth, and end-stop - yes, created as a full discrete 3D object in the time it takes to stroke the pen across the canvas. Snakes, dragons, buttons, stitches: these multi-mesh brushes are all available to full ZBrush.

The cost of full ZBrush isn’t justified solely to their unlimited brush collection, but unfortunately its only until the user starts using it that they realize the jibber-jabber of wordclouds like Zremesher retopology, UV export, Dynamesh, Decimation, Transpose Master, Scale Master, Alpha Grabdoc are all invaluable tools that the full program has packed in.

Online resellers like NovEdge has full ZBrush listed at under $650. It leads to the same licensing activation as if the purchase was made on Pixologic’s site.

Coming back on-topic, I’ve realized that nearly everything I’ve committed time towards has been creating things exclusively in 3D – whether via CAD or sculpting. I’ve avoided one-trick ponies that do pseudo-3D. The money/time/effort spent in otherwise making something in three separate programs is far better spent creating in the best program that will easily trickle down toward other uses.

An object/figure created once in ZBrush can

  • use its mesh in the animation pipeline just as Hollywood and game studios currently do
  • use its mesh in 3D printing out to a physical object
  • be infinitely rotated to the desired view, then flattened for use in relief design
  • use its generated Alpha depthmap to feed Glowforge’s 3D etching
  • use it’s photo-realistic rendered output for use in visual effects (photoshop, print, web)
  • be setup to render using a toon-shader to give the equivalent result of something that was hand-drawn/created in Illustrator/Photoshop

Just wanted to clarify the limitations of ZBrushCore


The beginners that ZBrushCore targets, will always have the option to upgrade to the full ZBrush at a discount if they grow beyond the limitations of “Core” so there’s nothing to lose if they decide to save some cash up front.


…and one of the greatest gifts I have found in owning ZBrush (I began with it in the very beginning) besides its incredible uses, is that every upgrade has been provided at no cost…


I noticed that they are going to release a new version soon, and have a free upgrade to it listed as part of the current purchase… and a 45-day free trial? I’m definitely gonna look at that pretty soon, after i finish up a few lingering projects.


LOL! That’s how I feel about every new thing…trouble is I never finish off the list of lingering projects, there’s always something else on the stack. :slight_smile:

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Right? This is my project for today…


Lucky dog! I’ve always wanted a sandblasting outfit. There is just no room here for such a thing.

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I’m in awe (envy is a much better word) of your workspace!