A 3D Treat

When a storm damaged a wood-backed, double-sided, storefront-hanging sign at a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream shop in Washington, D.C., its owner found herself in a bind. Elements of the hand-carved HDU ice cream and logo on it were either badly broken and/or missing, and local ordinances didn’t allow her to put up a brand-new sign design.

So she contacted KDF, a highly artistic, creative sign company in Rockleigh, New Jersey, and emailed them photos of her sign for a possible repair. Company President Stephen Hoey determined that the sign was too fully damaged to repair; their solution was to instead recreate it on their CNC router.

Fortunately Hoey’s shop had just invested in a 3D scanner, and it would be put to good use right out of the box. The lesson here: When it comes to dimensional signage, technology can be awesome!

Because this store is located in a historical district with strict ordinances, KDF had to make sure that the new sign matched the original one as cleanly as possible. “It was important that any [passers-by] wouldn’t notice that it was new,” says Hoey.

The client packaged and shipped the pieces of the broken sign to KDF. Hoey and his employees laid all the pieces out on the floor for measurements and put whatever they could together, pushing all the parts together. (Note: Some of the pieces were missing.)

Hoey ran his hand-held Cubify Sense 3D scanner over the face of the old sign, creating a 3D model form of the sign in EnRoute Pro software. An hour later, they were able to finish touch-ups, scaling, and tooling paths, in order to start cutting.

Exporting the 3D-scanned file into EnRoute was very simple. Hoey utilized a freeware application called MeshLab that allows users to clean up 3D images and import and convert one file type to another.

KDF scanned the image into the scanner program and saved it as an OBJ file. “Then we opened it up in MeshLab, clicked File>Save As an STL file, and sent it to EnRoute,” explains Hoey.

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For the missing pieces that couldn’t be scanned, KDF created reliefs for each section of the sign via the Relief Edit function in EnRoute before cutting it.

Hoey likens this state-of-the-art scanner technology to a camera, as employees at his shop just circle around any object or person, scanning in their full dimensions. “It takes pictures as it’s going around and uses that data to create the map of the subject,” he explains.

The shop used its MultiCam 3000 CNC router to cut all the pieces from fifteen-pound Precision Board HDU.The ice cream scoop was carved from a three-inch block, the cone from a two-inch block, and the round sign panel from a one-inch block.

“We then mirrored everything to make it a double-sided sign,” says Hoey.

The logo panels are 1/2-inch black PVC with 1/2-inch white PVC letters. The border is 1/8-inch white PVC painted yellow. “We created pockets for the letters for easy registration when we glued them in place,” says Hoey.

KDF performed some of their own imaginative, little tweaks to the sign design here and there. For instance, to give the sign a little more flavor, they added dimensional chocolate chips to the ice cream scoop using Magic Sculpt.

After priming the finished HDU pieces with Coastal FSC-88, KDF color-matched the color base coats of the paint from the original sign via software.

“We used an exterior water-based paint from Lowes for the three colors of the sign,” says Hoey, “and then we did a couple of washes on there to add a little texture to it.”

Once KDF applied the base paint, they created the cone texture with two layers of a darker glaze than the paint used for the chocolate chips.

Hoey shipped the finished sign (hardware and all) back to the client for installation. “The brackets they had been using were damaged as well, so we sold them new ones,” says Hoey. “All they had to do was put these new brackets up.

“And since the mounting hardware was already on the back of the sign, they were able to simply hang it.”

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Right now, KDF Graphics has been using the 3D scanner for about five months now and they currently have it hooked up to their MultiCam 3000 CNC router as well as their new MakerBot 3D printer. (Note: These two pieces are the hardware on their shop floor that can create the necessary STL files for replication.) “I can scan a coffee cup right now,” says Hoey, “and send this file to my 3D printer to make it. Then I can put this finished product right next to the original coffee cup, and you can’t tell a difference.”

Hoey is always following technology to see what’s out there and says that one of the reasons his shop decided to invest in 3D printing and scanning equipment can be attributed to the “strange” requests they sometimes get from their clients. “Because we do CNC work, we get calls from people wanting to build prototypes or manufacture parts and need a quick one-off so they could go have a prototype made from that,” says Hoey. “So we were already doing that with our CNC so I think it was logical to get involved with 3D printing to satisfy that little niche.”

There are a lot of artists in the area, as well, so it was another no-brainer to invest in 3D scanning and printing technologies. “We actually had someone come in asking if we could 3D scan people’s faces and cut them like full busts on the CNC router,” says Hoey. “But we couldn’t do full 3-D cutting on the CNC because it’s only an XYZ model and not a five-axis machine.”

Now Hoey and his team can perform a 3D scan of whatever the customer requests or brings in and instantly go to the CNC router or the 3D printer with it. “It’s one of those tools that I already feel will be crucial tool for us to use,” he says, “and in fact, already envision using it a lot.”

KDF is trying to venture into even more creative-type work than they normally do. However the shop points out that other shops shouldn’t be afraid of their use either. “Scanners allow us to capture all sorts of data,” says Hoey. “We can now do a lot of add-on types to a sign to make it a little more creative.”

—Jeff Wooten