The Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing an Engagement Ring
When it came time to find the right engagement ring, I was clueless. I’ve never worn jewelry in my life and knew nothing about the subject, let alone how to build a piece from scratch. After doing a bit of reading, I ended up with more questions than when I started. I think the whole process is made to be as complicated as possible on purpose, to maximize confusion and profit.
I was really torn about whether to buy a ring form a jeweler or attempt to make one myself. At first I was resigned to just try to find a nice, but somewhat affordable ring, but that’s easier said than done. After scouring websites and visiting a few shops in person, I was beginning to get incredibly frustrated with the whole ordeal. So I decided design and print the ring myself. I did a deep dive into all aspects of making a ring and I’m really glad I did, because I ended up with a really nice end product at a fraction of what it would have cost otherwise.
I wanted to do a step by step breakdown, to hopefully save a few people a lot of time and heartache. I’m going to detail each part of the entire process and explain the steps I took, along with possible pitfalls you might run into. If you are interested in 3D printing an engagement ring or jewelry in general this is the guide for you. Even if you know you want to buy a pre-made ring this could still prove to be useful, and you never know, after learning how it’s done, you might decide to go with a custom design after all. Most complex jewelry you see in stores is designed this way. An artist designs a prototype in 3d software and then they mass produce them at once and drastically raise the price. Cut out the middle man and print it yourself.
Why 3D print the ring over buying one already made?
Engagement rings are expensive. Really expensive. There are a lot of problems with the industry in general, blood diamonds, insane markups, equating your love for someone with a dollar value. I’m not going to go into any detail about that here. But just know that 3D printing a ring will almost certainly be much more affordable than anything you can find in a store. Do you really want to spend as much as a car costs or a down payment on a house, on one piece of jewelry?
The cost is also a lot more flexible. You can work with a range of different budgets, and what you do spend will go a lot further in the end. You could spend less than 100 dollars for a really good looking ring, or you could pour a couple grand into it, and still save money. It’s all up to you. I’ll have a few example cost breakdowns later on for different metals and stones you could choose from.
One of a Kind Design
One of the biggest benefits of having a custom design is that it’s one of a kind. Your partner can proudly wear their engagement ring knowing it’s unique and they’ll never run into someone wearing the same one. When someone asks where they got the ring, they can proudly respond by saying “my fiance made it just for me”. It makes the whole thing a lot more special.
Along with being a unique design you can also incorporate elements into the deign that are personal to you/ your partner. Do you have a favorite flower, or maybe a favorite animal, or you love Celtic knots. Maybe you love 2 or more existing ring designs and want to combine your favorite aspects into a single super ring. Almost anything is possible using 3D printing.
What to know going into the process.
This part is pretty straight forward. Asking is the easiest way to find out. If you want it to be a surprise, you’ll have to find out some other way. You could look at other rings and compare it to a size chart. Or ask a friend or relative who might know. If you don’t know after all of that, you can go into a jewelry store and get fitted.
Stone Color, Shape. Size and Type
There are so many options to choose from when it comes to picking out a stone. I’ll go over most of them here. Most rings have one large center stone. Some have additional smaller stones decorating the band. Personally I think too many smaller stones clutters the design, and adds a lot of cost. I would rather put the extra money into having a single larger center stone, but that’s just me.
For the color I knew that I was looking for a clear or blue stone. Clear stones I think are a bit more traditional, but you can finds tons of examples of engagement rings with all kinds of gem stones in them. It’s all about personal preference. Also worth noting that some gems are hardier than others, some will scratch and crack easier than others, this is why most people default to a diamond.
Lots of shapes/ cuts to choose from: round, oval, princess cushion, heart shaped, etc. Take a look and see what you like. I knew I wanted a symmetrical shape. I ended up going with round. Round is one of the most common cuts and you will have more variety in color, size and type.
There is a really steep curve when it comes to price vs size of a stone. Right around 6-8 mm in size should be affordable. Once you go higher than 8mm the prices start to go up drastically because of the rarity. Just a general rule I noticed while researching. You also want to factor in the width of the band, and the size of the hand that will be wearing it. If it’s too small the stone won’t be noticeable. If it’s too large it will be awkward juxtaposed with the rest of the ring/ hand.
Even though I knew I wanted either a blue or clear stone there were still plenty of types to choose from. Different types of sapphires, diamonds, and other crystals, some of them natural, others lab grown. I ordered a bunch of test stones to see which ones I liked and fit with the design of the band. After much deliberation we decided on a clear stone, for maximum sparkle factor. So I narrowed down my clear stone choices to: cubic zirconia, szwarski crystal, moisanite and diamond. Here is a really useful article that breaks down the differences among them.
Here are some of the test stones that I ordered:
The final stone I chose was a round, clear, 7mm moissanite. I think moissanite was the best choice for several reasons. It’s is a great alternative to a diamond, especially if you’re working with a tighter budget, because they’re significantly cheaper. They’re the second strongest stone next to a diamond, highly unlikely to break. They’re made in a lab, so you don’t need to worry about any ethical concerns about where the stone came from. And because they’re lab created the cut is flawless, whereas a natural diamond is likely to come with lots of surface imperfections and cloudiness. This is just personal preference but I like the way the moissanite sparkles the most of all four types. There’s a bit of color in the way they refract the light, giving a rainbow effect similar to the cubic zirconia, but less pronounced.
Important note: Please be careful where you source your stones. There are a lot of scammers that will try to pawn off cheaper stones as diamonds. If the price of a stone seems too good to be true then it likely is fake. Beware of Ebay. Better to spend a little extra and get it from a reputable source. On the other hand, prices vary greatly even among reputable sources, and you don’t want to needlessly spend way more money then necessary. Shop at your own risk.
Less complex than choosing a stone, there are really only a handful of (traditional) materials to choose from for the band: gold, rose gold, white gold, silver, and platinum. Pick a material that works with your budget and looks good with your chosen stone. I knew she wanted a lighter metal, Silver was a little too dark, platinum was a little too expensive, so I ended up going with white gold for the final.
Some things to consider:
- Silver is very pretty and relatively inexpensive but will tarnish and you will need to clean the ring from time to time.
- You could go really inexpensive and get a brass or bronze ring, but they will leave a greenish discoloration on the skin after a lot of wear.
- You could also save money by get a cheaper metal (bronze or brass) plated with gold. The plating will eventually wear off, usually around the edges.
Here are the different materials and prices for the final band I submitted for print:
Talking it Over
I think it’s really important to talk about the ring with your partner before you jump into this. It’s not totally necessary, but it will be a lot easier if you do. You will be cutting out all of the guess work and giving them exactly what they like. Surprises are nice, but you have to think about this long term. This is a ring they will wear almost everyday for the foreseeable future. It can still be a surprise when and where you propose, but they will have some idea of what the ring will look like.
We had already talked about getting married so I felt fine discussing the engagement ring at length. I received a ton of valuable input about how to proceed. If you have been together for a while, it’s likely your partner has put some serious thought into what they want in an engagement ring. Take advantage, I’m sure they will be happy to tell you.
Step 1 The Design
Choosing a designer
Are you a 3d modeler? If not, this design section is probably not for you. Your better off hiring someone to design the ring for you. If you are a 3d modeler and you’re confident you can handle the design then read on.
Maybe the most important step that is so often overlooked. I had a ton of reference gathered, for this one and it really helped. You can have you partner send you existing rings they like. My girlfriend had an entire pinterest board to look through, which included Gladriel’s ring from LOTR.
I used Zbrush for the design. If you are using a different software I’m sure you could take my steps and apply it to whatever program you are using. For this how to I will be explaining it as if you were using Zbrush.
Most 3d printing websites take OBJs as a file format. So no matter what software you’re using you should still be able to export your model as an OBJ.
Zbrush has an amazing plug in called ring master that was incredibly helpful for getting this done. You can set your ring size and it will automatically generate the correct scale for you. During printing and casting I believe there is some shrinkage, but this did not matter at all, the scale fit her finger flawlessly. So if you know the right ring size it should fit when printed without having to adjust the scale at all. Otherwise you may be stuck doing trial and error.
This part is really on you. You know your own modeling skills better than I do. Just study your reference carefully, look a a variety of ring designs and see what works for you. The ring really is just a cylinder decorated with shiny stones. Don’t feel too intimidated. Dive in and have fun with it.
Some tips on designing the ring:
- leave lots of space surrounding the stone for maximum light refraction
- make the sides of the ring thinner to fit between the fingers comfortably
- Don’t go overboard with the details when they may not be visible in the final print
- Do test prints to see what details will show up
- work with symmetry on in the x and z axis(not applicable to all designs and software)
here is an earlier mock up of the ring versus the final model:
There are many different ways of setting stones. (See images below) This is a subject that like many aspects of this project deserve their own series of tutorials to cover all of it. I’ll just go over the basics as it relates to your model.
I think the most common type of setting uses prongs in one form or another. This is where usually 4 or more prongs rise up from the band and are shaped to hug the edges of the stone. The other one I see often is a flush setting, where it looks like the stone is embedded directly into the metal. I went with a pretty standard 4 prong approach.
Ring master has sample gems available and you can dial in the size similar to how you did with the band. I imported a 7 mm round gemstone model. Placed it about where I wanted and then modeled the prongs around them. When I unified the model I had the gemstone boolean out the difference in the prongs to create little grooves for it to rest.
Make the prongs slightly taller than needed and make sure they clip the gem ever so slightly, you don’t want the stone floating in the center. When you place the real stone on the empty prongs it should sit on top of them not slide down in between them.
If you are looking to do a flush setting, just leave a flat area, larger than the circumference of your stone, and let the jeweler create the right sized hole.
For the engraving I used a similar technique that I did with the gemstone. I created 3D text. Converted one of the edge loops on the inner band to a curve. Then I attached the text to the curve as a motion path, so that it would lay embedded on the inner band at the perfect depth. Then I took that circular text and created a difference Boolean on the band.
The engraving gave me a lot of trouble and I almost gave up. You can always have someone carve it for you after the print is complete. I went through a lot of different fonts to find one that would print well. Your first instinct might be to pick a really fancy typeface. This will almost certainly not work. It’s really important that the thickness of each letter is uniform throughout. Even with that, you may need to go in and manually inflate the text so it’s the proper thickness. I also widened the text so it would wrap around a larger portion of the band.
While I’m always amazed by the level of detail these printers can capture, there are still physical limitations. Shapeways has built in in tools on their site to check the model and make sure it’s able to print. Depending on what material you choose, the walls of your model need to maintain a minimum level of thickness. Usually 6 – 8 mm. It can be a life saver to check the thickness of your walls periodically as you go, so you don’t have to go back after you’ve finished and inflate the walls, potentially ruining the design.
General modeling things to keep in mind:
- Are all the parts of my mesh wider than the required minimum thickness
- Unify the parts of your mesh into a single object.
- Decimate your model to a reasonable size, there is a polygon limit of about 1 million, or 64mb
- Make the mesh airtight, close all holes.
- Weld your vertices.
- Delete unneeded/ hidden faces.
- Keep your topology in tris and/or quads.
- No N-gons or non-manifold geometry.
- Double, triple, quadruple check your scale, before sending it in. Sometimes there are problems exporting your model and the scale will change, or be converted from metric to inches.
Step 2 Printing
I don’t own a 3D printer. I’d like to get one eventually, but at the time of this writing I believe it’s not really cost effective to be doing the prints on your own. Higher end machines and materials are still really expensive. Most metal prints are done with lost wax casting. Meaning they print the design in wax and then cast it in whatever metal you choose. So not only would you need to know the ins and outs of printing but smelting, casting and polishing as well. Not worth the effort when there are plenty of companies to choose from who will take care of all of this for you.
I’ve had prints done through two companies, Shapeways and Sculpteo. I’ve had great results with both and think either would be a great solution for you. I ended up going with Shapeways for this project for 2 main reasons: they’re a bit cheaper, and they have more materials available to print. I knew I’d be doing several iterations so it made sense to go with the cheaper option.
Here are the different print iterations of the ring, minus the final:
left to right, top down: 1 high detail plastic, test print to make sure the size was right. 2 antique silver, thought I would try this material, but it ended up too dark. 3 Rhodium plated brass, this was the second to last ring I had printed and I set a CZ in it to make sure it would work on the final. 3 this was another rhodium plated brass, this one is from Sculpteo, the rest are from Shapeways. I wanted to see how the same model would look in the same material from to different sources and they’re nearly identical.
Step 3 Stone Setting
If you have everything set up correctly in the previous steps, you should be able to take the ring and the stone to most jewelry shops and get it set. I recommend get the ring set by a professional. You could do it yourself. There are stone setting tutorials online, but you will need special tools, which will probably cost a lot more time and effort, than getting it set by someone who does it everyday. If you do it yourself you might make mistakes. You may snap a prong off or scratch the stone and end up having to reprint the ring or buy a new stone. For a single stone setting in prongs it shouldn’t cost you more than 50 dollars.
Something to keep in mind. If you have a plated ring and you get it set, the base metal will show through where the stone was set. The jeweler will grind down the prongs to make them fit and expose the metal underneath. Take a look at the setting on the practice ring below. The brass is just visible on the tips of the prongs.
Step 4 Ring Box
This is optional but I recommend buying a nice ring box. A good safe place to store it before you ask and after whenever she want’s to take it off. A good way to keep your investment from getting lost. Also I think the box makes it feel more official when you pop the question. I got one on Amazon with a little led light that shines whenever the box is open.
Step 5 Ask
Now all that’s left to do is propose. Pick a good romantic setting, and go for it.
Here’s what the final ring looked like not long after she said yes:
I hope this helps. If you have any questions, or you’re interested in a commission, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.