It’s been more than a year and a half since Autodesk discontinued the ArtCAM series of 2.5D relief modelling CAD tools. The problem is, they were a staple for not only CNC carvers, but bas relief sculptors in the jewellery industry as well as other creative industries such as a medallion making and coin minting.
Even though being absorbed by a giant technology company is commonly considered the place where CAD tools go to die, the demand for relief sculpting hasn’t gone away.
So… what relief modelling CAD replacements do we have for ArtCAM Jewelsmith? There are already quite a few different articles out there providing alternatives (some not bad, others not helpful at all), so I decided to do some investigating myself.
What is Relief CAD Modelling?
Since almost every time I’ve ever mentioned the terms Relief CAD or 2.5D CAD Modelling, I get confused looks from many jewellers or jewellery CAD modellers, it might save us some time if I just answer this question here for everyone.
Relief CAD modelling (also sometimes referred to as 2.5D CAD) refers to a particular field of sculpture called bas relief, wherein you create the illusion of 3 dimensions on a relatively flat surface. Most coin and medallion design you’ve ever seen is bas relief. You can have depth to the carving and sculptural aspects in the surface, but you have limitations of depth and undercutting (that is to say, there can be no holes between an object on the foreground and the background).
Due to the fact that this technique works well with stamping and milling manufacturing techniques, it’s always worked very well in CAD, to the point where relief CAD modelling for CNC milling is its own separate industrial discipline.
From the early 2000’s to 2014, the program ArtCAM Jewelsmith was generally considered the last word in bas relief modelling tools, until DelCAM was purchased by Autodesk in 2014.
As it turns out, the software for ArtCAM Jewelsmith itself is still alive and well, but it is apparently no longer allowed to be called ArtCAM for legal reasons.
The story seems to go like this: When Autodesk bought out DelCAM, their old team of ArtCAM software developers, who had spent two decades refining this software, made an agreement with AutoDesk to be allowed to continue developing and selling their original code. They were not allowed to keep the ArtCAM name however. And this is how CarveCo was born.
Interestingly, the program shares exactly the same interface as the original ArtCAM Jewelsmith, although there are a few small points which have changed due to ongoing development. They are now starting to add new features, and they even now have different levels of the software at different prices.
Another interesting point—to switch from ArtCAM to CarveCo, you have to buy the software again from scratch. There is no conversion discount. While it’s not a great thing, it does make sense from a legal standpoint.
The Other 2.5D CAD Successors to ArtCAM Jewelsmith
Interestingly, there are quite a few relief CAD alternatives which have been trying to capitalise on the confusion in the market to improve their market share.
(sometimes referred to as ArtClip 3D)
While many of you may know 3Design, but did you know Gravotech (the makers of 3Design) have spent a very long time selling their own answer to ArtCAM for use with CNC engraving machines?
Type Edit is a piece of software nearly as old as 3Design itself, and unlike the other entries on this list, its interface is based on its own original way of working, with no relation at all to ArtCAM.
Also, like ArtCAM Jewelsmith, this tool does have a few features which make it useful for working at jewellery tolerances.
An independent CNC wood milling software developer hailing from the same part of the world as ArtCAM (the UK midlands), Vectric started much later than ArtCAM did, and made their software as an answer to some of the limitations they perceived in ArtCAM as it applied to design for CNC milling.
After ArtCAM disappeared, they started pushing their software Vectric Aspire to fill in the gap in the market.
While it doesn’t feature much of the jewellery-specific commands of ArtCAM Jewelsmith, it’s still a solid relief modelling tool for CNC milling, especially at larger scales.
Sometime in the late 2000’s, a veteran motion control engineering company in Israel decided to develop their own version of a relief CAD modelling software for CNC milling and engraving. They called it Cimagraphi, and it rounds out our list of ArtCAM alternatives.
In practice, it very much behaves like ArtCAM itself, albeit with a few of its own quirks.
Can I Use Other Jewellery CAD Software for 2.5D CAD Modelling or Bas relief?
The short answer is: kind of.
Given how many jewellers venture into making charms and belt buckles, or decide to make flat relief motifs to add to their jewellery, you’d reckon that more CAD jewellers would want relief tools in their software, wouldn’t you?
Indeed, for a period of time in the late 2000’s, several jewellery CAD developers thought so as well. The Rhino-Art plug-in was developed for Rhino 3D (and was brought into Matrix and relabelled Matrix-Art). Clayoo as it appeared in RhinoGold, Matrix, and MatrixGold started developing its own limited relief carving and sculptural tools.
And then, for some reason, none of these tools ever became popular. Even now only a small minority of users of these respective software packages ever dip into these relief tools for their jewellery work.
There are still a few places which teach 2.5D relief modelling techniques for software like Zbrush, and it is still possible to adapt 3D modelling tools in other CAD packages to achieve some of the relief work you could achieve in the more dedicated relief CAD modelling software. But none of these are quite as well suited to this kind of work as a dedicated relief modelling CAD program. The issue is surface texture and detail. NURBS and solid modelling CAD programs are generally unable to efficiently produce the kind of sculptural detail a point cloud modeller like ArtCAM or Zbrush can.