ZBrush for Jewellery

Zbrush being used to model a tree branch engagement ring in CAD for 3D PrintingZBrush was originally designed as a digital painting tool with 2.5D features which allowed illustrators to use 3D models and relief tools to enhance the realism of their digital imagery. They patented a “pixol” architecture which stored 3-dimensional information with colour pixels for easier and more sculptural relief editing. However, as time has gone on, the 3D sculpting tools enclosed within this 2.5D program have become the main feature most users seem to be interested in, so its use has expanded into CGI and digital effects, and eventually into product design.

With each new version and service release, its digital clay sculpting tools have become increasingly powerful and easier to use.

Only recently has Zbrush started to appear in the realm of CAD jewellery design, but since it has appeared it has become one of the tools of choice for the purpose of adding texture and sculptural forms to jewellery.

Zbrush’s Advantages and Disadvantages

Even a cursory glance at work of Zbrush artists will quickly show the unbelievable potential this software holds for being able to create texture and sculpted surface detail on any CAD model.

What the Zbrush forums and website don’t tell you, however, is just how non-intuitive the interface really is for newcomers to 3D modelling, and how steep a learning curve this software requires. Once you finally get used to using the software, however, it is hard to underestimate just how powerful the texturing and sculpting tools in this software can be.

I know I’m not alone among 3D CAD jewellers when I say this may be the most powerful secondary software package you can get for creating complex jewellery. Assuming, of course, you’ve already become skilled at a first software package.

Of course, there’s more to it than just that. Contact me to discuss the advantages of Zbrush relative to other jewellery CAD programs, and whether Zbrush is the best jewellery CAD software package for you.

To Learn More About Jewellery CAD/CAM

If any of these tutorials whets your appetite for learning more about how to use ZBrush for your CAD jewellery design and manufacturing, I can provide you with two options:

  1. I am currently developing a course curriculum for using Zbrush for sculptural and organic modelling specifically for jewellery. If you are interested and would like to be kept up to date as to when it is ready, Contact me directly.
  2. Alternatively, I have collected a series of tutorial videos below which can both help you get a feeling for what the software is like to use, and also how to perform certain key tasks in the software.

Selected Tutorial Videos

Zbrush’s own Zclassroom is a good place to start learning the basics of Zbrush functionality. It is, however, very much focused on character modelling for games and movie CGI. There is only one jewellery tutorial in that entire set, and it’s not an easy one.

13 Comments Zbrush for Jewellery – Jewellery CAD Software Overviews and Tutorials

  1. Actually, no, brush was not designed to add textures to 3d assets. It was originally a 2.5D illustration program.
    And the “pixol” has nothing to do with Zbrush’s 3D capabilities. The Pixol is a term coined by Pixologic used back in the day, when it was only a 2.5D application. Assigning depth information along with the standard RGB information. Pixols aren’t used currently for 3D modeling in Zbrush. It uses polygons, just like any other 3d application. However, unlike other programs, Zbrush has the best digital-clay manipulation tools available.

    The interface is easy to pick up, if you leave behind everything you know about traditional 3d programs.
    Stop misinforming the public!!

    1. Dear Dan:

      Thank you for providing some corrections to the semantics of Pixols versus polygons versus digital clay. I have adjusted the article above accordingly. However it has only been in the past couple of years that Zbrush has been using the term digital clay. If memory serves, in version 3 and earlier it used displacement maps to do much of the heavy lifting of the surface texture work in its models.

      You are indeed right that Zbrush was designed as a 2.5D program. They’ve been advertising that since version 1.

      Funnily enough, whenever I mention anything about how difficult the Zbrush interface is to learn, it seems Zbrush devotees get very defensive. But then when I explain what I’m talking about they end up agreeing with me. So that’s what I’ll do here:

      As you said yourself, Zbrush started (and still is) a 2.5D design program, having as much in common with Photoshop as it does with other sculpture programs. You have to basically go into a sub-editor inside the program to work on 3D objects at all (called zTools). The thing is, tasks which would be simple and commonplace in most 3D CAD programs, even other digital clay programs, require knowledge of awkward tricks, finger dances, or adapting of tools to uses never intended by the developer to get them to the cooperate.

      For example: performing a basic boolean operation of cutting a hole exactly through the middle of a cylinder. This is a mainstay of ring making, and takes seconds in most CAD programs. Even in Geomagic Sculpt it doesn’t take more than a few moments. However, try doing it in Zbrush and see how big of a headache it is (even with the improved Dynamesh functionality in the latest versions). Even worse, try teaching someone else who’s new to Zbrush how to do this.

      Or as another example: Try modelling to scale in Zbrush.

      I could go on, but you get the idea. I’m not saying Zbrush isn’t one of the most impressively powerful sculpture tools available on the market. However, it was never designed with product design in mind, and it shows. Some aspects of using the tool aren’t too bad, but there are quite a few techniques in Zbrush which are comparatively awkward compared to any other digital clay tool or product design CAD tool.


      P.S. Just so you know Dan, it is possible to request that changes be made to an article without being rude. You might want to try that next time.

    2. I will say that zbrush is ONLY easy if you forget everything you ever learned about any 3d application. I bet 99% of users would say that forgetting everything is actually hard. That is, unless you have some sort of brain injury that allows for that.
      When I first started using zbrush, I took a lynda course for it. It was great. It took a week of intense devotion before I actually started feeling liek I could use it without thinking too much. There are so many options and concepts that have no link to real life or cad concepts. You do just need to go into it without thinking about what you have done in the past. it is it’s own beast.
      In the course, they spent about an hour describing the interface and how unintuitive it is. They went into how the interface evolved from the original 2.5d painting interface and how that created terms that only zbrush uses. the concepts of subtools, layers and other concepts that just do not easily come to anyone jumping in to the software. Blender has gotten better in the past few years so that jumping in is a bit easier than the old interface. It also had a learning curve that takes a while to get comfortable with. Zbrush is in no way intuitive. Saying that it is will make so many users give up after they cannot figure anything out. You must, at the very least, go through pixologics learning channel on your tube to get a base understanding.
      imagine opening the program for the first time. is it at all logical to hit the comma button on any program every to get rid of the interface? What about editing? Zbrush is amazing. It is hard to learn and worth the effort to get to a point in which an artist can feel like they are an artist in the software.
      If anyone really wants to use the program, I suggest the lynda course. It will answer so many questions about the thinking needed to use the app. You still will spend years before you understand most of the software. I bet most people will find options after years of use that they had no idea existed. It is a huge and complicated application that is in no way easy to use.

  2. I have recently gone through 3 months of training with ZBrush with their demo license. It’s fantastic and extremely powerful. Although I have to say the biggest issue I too had with it is scale. Easiest way to get something into the program is starting in an external CAD and get it to scale there and then bring it in. It’s still a bit weird that way but it does definitely work. Still a very difficult program to learn and I still have a long ways to go with it.

    1. Indeed. Most people seem to work with Zbrush this way, using another program to confirm the manufacturing tolerances of the pieces made in Zbrush. Rhino works well for this purpose, but it’s not the only one I’ve seen used.

  3. Is there any free CAD software you would recommend for getting the scale right and then importing to Zbrush?

    1. Hey Heather:

      While there are (very limited) measuring tools in Zbrush, you need some sort of product design CAD software to back it up. Most people’s weapon of choice is Rhino, because of its flexibility with importing and exporting. But while it is cheap (especially for students) it is not free, except as a temporary demo.

      There are several cheap CAD options out there, and I’m researching them now, but my experience so far tends to be you get what you pay for.

      I hope that helps.

  4. Hey Jack! Great articles here on your site.

    I just wanted to say that it is actually quite possible to get ZBrush to create models with exact tolerances…I’ve been working on a course for awhile that will be out here shortly, and one of the things I cover is how to not only create freeform shapes, but how to hollow them to exact thicknesses, add precisely sized stones, and sculpt.

    You can use the Transpose Line in the Move mode as a measuring tool. Things can be a little tricky if you’ve imported a model in from another jewelry CAD program because there is a scaling factor, but the Transpose Line can be used to measure with great accuracy. If you’re working actual size in (the full version of) ZBrush, the XYZ Size slider can be used to create accurately sized stones and settings. Thicknesses of pieces can be measured and modified using the Transpose Line. It works quite well.

    Boolean operations have become much simpler, and there are ways to simplify the interface. I have a custom interface available and easy documentation to show how to install it.

    I’ve paired ZBrush with a Formlabs Form 2 printer, which I’ve had for over four years. Learning to design and have that immediate feedback is helpful. By printing a calibration block, I know that my prints are slightly smaller (9.96mm on a 10mm block), but I can accommodate that in the slicing software. Casting or shooting waxes adds a little more shrinkage, but it’s been easy to accommodate.

    And yes, there is a learning curve. OMG, this piece of software literally made me cry in the beginning…I just didn’t “get it.” But as a former tech trainer for Apple (and jewelry artist), my goal is to make it easier for people to learn. It’s also important to work efficiently…so many artists are working in polygon counts that are far too high and adding so much detail that simply doesn’t show up.

    I appreciate your sharing of knowledge and expertise…thanks so much for your educational posts!

    1. Hi Kat!

      Thank you for this information. I very much look forward to seeing your course, and your plugin. Anything you can do to make the program more cooperative for production is a welcome change.

      All the best.


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