Even though jewellery purists don’t like it, there is no doubt that CAD or Computer Aided Design is now an integral part of the jewellery industry but as with everything, there are multiple options to choose from and three of the most popular options are Rhino, Matrixgold and 3design.
But which one should you go for as they are all an investment, not just in terms of buying the software but also the time to learn the software and in this post, I am going to give my opinion of all three.
Now, I am not a CAD expert and someone like Jack Meyer at cadjewelleryskills.com is far more experienced and informed than me but I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who is just starting out with learning CAD.
For this comparison, I will be looking at the following three things:
- User Interface
- Jewellery Tools
- How Easy is it to Learn?
I will also summarise all three with a quick pros and cons section.
Rhino is without doubt, one of the most well known CAD platforms and while it wasn’t specifically designed for jewellery, it turns out that the surface modeler works really well for jewellery design and was one of the first platforms used commercially for designing jewellery.
Over the years, jewellery specific plugins were created for the Rhino platform, with the latest ones being Matrixgold (which is a combination of both Matrix and Rhinogold) and the new Panther 3D, but is the basic Rhino still good for jewellery design?
Initially, I thought the Rhino interface was very basic and almost a little dated but my first experience of using a CAD program was Matrix but after using the Rhino program for a while, I have come to like the simplicity of it.
As you can see in the image above, the home interface is split up into 4 sections:
- Top – viewing the design from the top
- Perspective – a 3D view that can be rotated to any angle
- Front – this is viewing the design from the front
- Right – viewing the design from the right side
This allows a lot of control of the design as you can quickly and easily move between the different windows and each one of these windows can be enlarged so that they fill the viewing area. This is very helpful when making minor adjustments!
One of the main things I do like is that the program is quite light in appearance, compared to the darker interfaces with the other two platforms and I find that the lighter background doesn’t give me as much eye strain as the darker ones but that may just be me.
It is also easy (once you are used to the system), to find the tools that you need to do and the quick search bar can make accessing these tools even easier.
Overall, the Rhino interface is quite simple but pretty user friendly in my opinion and doesn’t take that long to get used to.
The basic Rhino CAD program comes with no jewellery specific tools, you just have to use the existing tools to create jewellery. Some people don’t like this but I think that it helps you to learn how to use the program properly, rather than relying on pre-made builders that are available with some Rhino plugins or other platforms.
If you do decide to use Rhino, I would highly recommend the Free Jewels addition, which can be downloaded via the following link: Free Jewels | Food4Rhino
How Easy is it to Learn?
Rhino isn’t the most intuitive program to learn and it is worth doing a course or paying for some private tuition as this will help you learn the basic commands for the program, which will allow you to start using it for jewellery design.
But due to Rhino being the most popular CAD program in the industry, there is a good online community around it and there are a couple of really helpful YouTube Channels, that are a great resource for beginners and I will leave links below to these channels:
Jack who runs the JTR channel also does bespoke 1 to 1 tuition and is highly recommended as he not only understands the software but also how to create models for printing as he is not only a CAD design, printing and casting expert but also a trained bench jeweller as well. If you want to contact Jack, the best way to reach him is via his JTR Design Facebook Page.
As I mentioned in the Rhino section above, Matrixgold is a jewellery specific plugin for the Rhino CAD software and it is only a couple of years old but it has very strong lineage as its roots can be found in two of the most popular options for jewellery CAD for over a decade, which are Matrix and Rhinogold.
Both of the companies that developed these plugins, Gemvision and TDM Solutions were purchased by American jewellery juggernaut Stuller Inc in 2009 and 2015 respectively, which gave Stuller a lot of control over the CAD jewellery market. Gemvision remains as the arm of Stuller that develops and manages their CAD software.
Having both of these plugins under one roof, allowed the developers to start working on a new project that combined the strong suits of both plugins (and Stullers other CAD software Countersketch) into one and Matrixgold essentials was released in 2018 before the full rollout of the new Matrixgold in 2019.
As a plugin for Rhino, it is pretty understandable that the Matrixgold user interface is very similar to that of its parent program but there are a few design tweaks.
The first and most notable is the dark background and the perspective viewport was the default when I was using the platform, rather than the 4 port window that is the default in Rhino, but you can still easily view all 4 viewports in Matrixgold.
The general layout of the interface is also different, with the sidebars and main navigation menu all being different to Rhino, there is also more focus on the jewellery specific tools that are available within Matrixgold. I personally found it a bit more difficult to find some tools within Matrixgold than I did with Rhino but I suppose that once you are using it regularly, this is no longer an issue.
With Matrixgold being a jewellery specific plugin for Rhino, it understandably brings a lot of features for jewellery designers, some of these include:
- Pre-built designs that can be modified
- Builders for commonly jewellery settings such as bezels, galleries and channels
- Stone library with different styles of cuts that can be easily adjusted
- Micro-setting tools for pave settings
While not a jewellery specific tool, Matrixgold also have their own version of parametric modelling, which is a very useful tool as you can make adjustments within the history of your design and the program will automatically adjust the other parts.
How Easy is it to Learn?
I personally found Matrixgold quite difficult to learn as there are lots of tools to learn and honestly, if you are completely new to CAD, I would recommend learning Rhino first and then looking at Matrixgold as having a understanding the base program, makes the plugin much easier to understand.
If you would like to find out more about Matrixgold, you can contact Gemvision directly or if you are based in the UK, you can speak to the guys at GVUK, who are the UK distributors of Matrixgold and Countersketch and they know their stuff!
Unlike Matrixgold, 3Design is a purpose built CAD program that was designed just for jewellers and that makes it a very interesting proposition.
It was developed by a company called Type 3, who also produce 3Shaper, Deepimage and the new Boutique, which can all be used in conjunction with 3Design.
What makes 3Design different from both Rhino and Matrixgold is that it is a parametric builder, not a surface modeller and this enables you to quickly and easily go back and alter your design, without having to rebuild the rest of the model.
The user interface in 3Design is quite unique as the whole screen is the viewport to work on your designs and the sidebars can be dragged to wherever you want them, meaning that you can set it up so that it fits your workflow.
While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I did run into a few issues with parts of my design being behind the parametric menu on the left hand side and having to move my design or the menu to be able to access what I wanted and this is why I do prefer having fixed sidebars and viewport as everything is in its own dedicated space.
I do really like the main menu on the right hand side, that is split between general CAD tools such as sweeps and the jewellery specific ones, such as gems or setting styles and This makes it really easy to find the tool that you want. One thing I didn’t really like was having to switch to sketch mode to access curves or similar tools as in a lot of cases, this meant lots of going back and forth between the sketch and builder modes.
As 3Design has been built from the ground up specifically for jewellery, it is not surprising that it comes with a good selection of tools, such as:
- Gemstone designs
- Setting builders for gallery or bezels
- Ring builders and a specific Signet ring builder
- Parametric history (not jewellery specific but still useful!)
While it does come with some really good tools, many of them are focused on producing rings and while it can be used for other types of jewellery, I did run into some limitations with some of the pendants I designed.
How Easy is it to Learn?
Out of the three platforms, 3Design is by far the easiest to learn as it has a very logical flow to it, which many trained bench jewellers will appreciate and the three designs below were made within a couple of weeks of getting started with the program, using the Deepimage rendering software.
Obviously, specific training on the program will make it much easier to understand and if you are in the UK, the British Academy of Jewellery (BAJ) do a beginners course, which would be worth taking.
One of the downsides of 3Design having a much smaller user base, is the very small online community and resources. Just searching for 3Design and Rhino/Matrixgold videos on YouTube shows how much smaller the community is and this really limits the learning opportunities to pick up tips and tricks from individuals.
If you want to learn more about 3Design, you can contact them directly or if you are in the UK, speak to the awesome Pooja at Sierra Consultancy (3design’s UK distributor) and she will be able to help.
Obviously, I can only go off my own personal experience with all three platforms but the one I wouldn’t go for is Matrixgold as the price vs features just didn’t make sense to me over the basic Rhino, maybe if I was doing large ranges or using it all day everyday, then I could see the reason but as jewellery plugins for Rhino go, Panther 3D does look like a better option and hopefully I will get to try it soon!
If you are just starting out with CAD design, then Rhino does offer a good balance of being good for jewellery design, plenty of resources to learn the platform and also being reasonably priced.
But if you are looking for a complete jewellery specific CAD software, then 3Design is worth considering, especially if rings are your primary business. While its not cheap, the parametric builder is very useful and can make producing a range of designs in different sizes very simple.
But what do I use? I was all set to use 3Design but I couldn’t justify the price for the amount I would use it, so I decided to opt for Rhino instead as it provided the best cost vs features balance for me.