What is the game about?

VRML export filter creates 3D model of PCB layout, which can be examined with VRML viewer. The 3D model can contain all layers – copper paths, silk screen, solder mask, laminate substrate. It can be populated with component models, if they are available in 3D model library.

One may ask: is such 3D model useful?. First of all, it’s nice. Carefully prepared 3D model looks very nice, it looks better than photo of finished and assembled board. But it can be also useful:

  • you can check the appearance of board before first prototype is assembled
  • you can fix some mechanical issues, which are not very obvious when working with 2D footprints
  • you can fix some visual issues like component spacing, component orientation

The visual aspect of board design is IMO very important. You can disagree with it, you can object to it, but that’s all you can do about it.

VRML viewer  compatibility

The situation with VRML viewers is very bad. I did not find any functional  multiplatform VRML viewer. Unfortunately, I discovered that fact too late, when most of work was already done.

The only working viewer I found is Cortona3D.  It installs as plugin into Firefox of MSIE. Unfortunately, it is Windows-only browser. I am aware of that limitation and I know, that it is the serious problem.

Alternate browsers (freeWRL performed best) usually do not implement certain features or nodes (extrusion for example), the implementation has serious bugs (missing caps on concave extrusions or incorrect rotation of extrusion with straight spine) do not implement all attributes or do not implement them correctly (vertical text alignment). And almost all browsers were unable to display complex structures with hundreds of nodes).

Different way of the creation of output file s possible – to flatten the exported model (to reduce number of child nodes) or replace extrusions by facesets. But this is very complicated change and I currently do not plan to go that way.

VRML Export Filter concept

VRML Export Filter is standard HID export filter, similar to PostScript, Gerber or PNG filter.  The VRML model created by this filter is self-containing single file – there are no references to external 3D models and textures.  It makes it ideal to publish it on the Web or include it into presentations.

The VRML Export Filter performs two major tasks:

Export of PCB layout exports everything, but components: copper paths, component pins and pads,  silkscreen,  solder mask, board outline. You can include inner layers – this option allows you to inspect whole structure of the board.

To get this output just compile the PCB with VRML filter included (how to do it is described on Downloads page).  Open your layout, select VRML export and  that’s all.

Export of  components on board assembles the model with components. This feature requires additional effort – we need the 3D model library and we have to pair the footprints with the 3D models, using so-called map file.

Several scripts are available to create wide range of 3D models very fast. We also provide some examples, how to create the map files. The library is available on Downloads page, the scripts are described on Script reference page.

More information about the VRML Export Filter usage can be found on Export filter page (you will find the complete User’s guide there) and 3D models page with 3D model design guidelines.

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