Wednesday, November 9, 2011

'Create more' Photorealistic 3D Printed Models; Natural Color in Architecture

This week’s blog comes from David Munson –

While the point at which an architectural project gets into photorealism is an ongoing debate for every design team, all projects do eventually. More engaged owners may request it at the onset or early in design development. At the very latest, when the building is being built, all want to see it realistically, in a reproducible medium in order to promote it. This was the case for the new Federal Courthouse in Jefferson City, Missouri with Kallmann, McKinnell and Wood as the lead designers, for which dozens of 4” diameter, 1:1000 scale 3D printed models were made.

Historically, color in 3D printing started out as a palette of primary colors for mechanical parts in engineering. When I started 3D printing in architecture five years ago, the quality was already well enough along to use for architectural finish models. Today it is simply a fantastic tool in reproducing natural color for physical model creation. At Munson3D we have produced scores of such models over the years. Below is our model of the Monastery of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

Using 3dsMax Design we work with the same texture mapped model that we use for visualizations. Then we print small test pieces to nail down the final color definitions. Generally we build custom color palettes which are 3D printed to then pick what feels right. For solid colors we make coded bars which depict families of colors:

For texture mapped elements we do the same type of color bars representing textures of larger elements in the model. Each swatch has slightly different settings of hue, saturation and/or brightness:

This specific effort yielded a large, multiple pieced, 3/32” = 1' scale full color 3D printed model. Note that the glass is not monochromatic, just like in real life. One of the most common aesthetic errors made is to define glass as a solid blue color which gives an unnatural feel. Glass is reflective and therefore full of many colors and is perceived to be lighter towards the top than the bottom of a building. 


  1. Tridaxis review "The reality of architecture"