Colour 3D printing your mate Jimmy with a smartphone and Shapeways

As part of an ongoing (and unsolicited) mission to promote my flatmate Jimmy, I decided that the world needed more of him. Luckily the tech gods have provided us with 3D scanning software available for free on any smartphone – 123DCatch. Combine this with cloud vendors for colour  3D printing (COLOUR!!!) and boom, you’re just a few steps from having your own action figure. Here is a short video that steps through the process in a simple way, the full walkthrough follows after the break.


A full walk-through of how to go from 123Dcatch to colour 3D printing.

The Catch – 3D scan with any smart phone or camera

The Desk – Clean up and edit with a couple of free programs on a desktop computer.

The Wait – 3D print in plain or COLOUR with an online vendor and wait for it to arrive!

The Catch

Get a 3D model of your subject using any camera and free 123DCatch software.

123DCatch can be used to capture a 3D version of anything from toys to famous sculptures to entire rooms. But nothing freaks people out like a 3D miniature of themselves – its like an extreme version of seeing the back of your head in the barbers second mirror. The app works by you taking photos of a subject from all different angles, uploading these to Autodesk’s servers and reconstructing them into a 3D model. It’s available on iOS, Android and Windows, I used it on an iPhone when first checking it out and used the Windows desktop app later as this let me edit the capture.

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 5 jimmy front photo

This instructable helped me a lot to get a good result from 123DCatch. Lighting is probably the hardest thing. I don’t have a well lit, diffuse space so I found it easiest to shoot outside. Bright sunlight creates shadows so it’s best on either an overcast day, in the shadow of a large building or just after sunset. The idea is to get even brightness on all sides of the subject and with no bright spots in the background to change your exposure (or you can explore locking the exposure settings on your camera).

123DCatch Tips

  • Shoot outdoors on an overcast day, low light conditions, or a shadowy area.
  • Use tape strips on the subject to help the software make sense of constant colour areas.
  • Instruct the subject to stay still, blink between shots and hold a fixed expression.
  • Shoot in 30 degree increments (pretend you are the numbers on a clock) at various height levels as below.

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 2 camera positions

If shooting directly in the app, follow the prompts to upload the photos for processing. If shooting with the camera app or a dedicated camera, the photos can be uploading through the desktop app or at

The Desk

Clean up and edit using a couple of free programs on a desktop computer.

Jimmy looks all 3D and realistic, but he is actually a mesh of thousands of little triangles, that together, make up the 3D model. We need to install a few programs to process the model before printing

123DCatch – If you havent already got this, follow the link and click “PC download”  This lets us select the part of the model (or “mesh”) that we actually want and re process it so we have colour for these regions only.

Meshmixer – This lets us clean up the model, edit it so its sits flat, and save it as a format that the 3D printer can read. – Not to be confused with Microsoft Paine. If you don’t already have a simple image editing software, this works great for the simple resize we need to use Shapeways.


1. Open 123DCatch, click “Open blank project” then ” My Projects” and load your capture.

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 1

2. We want to get rid of all those remants of the environment. With the select tool, choose the part of your model you want to keep, leaving a bit of extra below so we can flatten it later.

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 3 select

3. Select the generate mesh tool (it looks like a blue cube). Choose standard quality and click ok, this will remake the model for only the selected region.

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 4 remesh

4. Click File, Export Capture As, choose a folder location and choose “.obj” from the drop down menu.


5. Open Mesh Mixer. Select import and choose your “.obj” file.

6. If you have any holes in your mesh these can be fixed using the “Inspector” tool (under the “Analysis” tab). Click the little blue spheres to fill the holes in.

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 6 inspector

7. We want to make the bottom surface flat. This can be done by using the “Plane Cut” tool (under the “Edit” tab). Drag the arrow to choose the cut position.

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 7 plane cut

Note: The next step is to map the colours to the individual cells. Of all the online 3D printing vendors that offer colour prints, Shapeways require this but imaterialise and Sculpteo don’t. It took me a lot of forum trawling to figure this out, but living in New Zealand and Shapeways offering a fraction of the shipping rates compared to the other vendors provided sufficient motivation.

8. Choose “Make Solid” under the “Edit” menu, Select Solid type “Accurate”, Colour Transfer Mode “Automatic” and set the values for Solid Accuracy and Mesh Density. I found values for both of around 200 provided good resolution for my print. Click Update to update the view and Accept to finalise. In the object browser that pops up, click the first object (the mesh) and click the trash can to delete it leaving only the second item (the solid).

*Note, don’t worry if the colour changes, this is just the default “Shader.” If this is important to you, a more realistic shader is linked in this forum post.

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 8 make solid

9. 3D printing vendors charge based on volume. I like to remove material from the print where it won’t be missed. In this case I removed a tube of material by choosing “Select” then selecting a circle of material from the bottom surface then “Deform”, “Transform” and dragging it into the material to create a hollow model.

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 9 make hollow.

Export and upload

10. Now we export it as a format that our chosen vendor (Shapeways) can read. The .obj we brought it into meshmixer with works great with other vendors, but Shapeways prefer VRML format. Choose File, Export, and choose VRML (.wrl) from the drop down menu.

Resize the texture

11. Again, this is only required for Shapeways. In the folder where our .obj was initially saved, there are two extra files, a texture file JPEG with all our colour maps (textures) on it, and a .MTL file which maps the textures onto the 3D mesh. We need to resize the JPEG from 4096 x 4096 down to 2048 x 2048. I use free software for this. Download and install, then open the JPEG and click “Image”, “Resize” and scale it to 2048 x 2048. Make sure you save it as the same name and delete the higher resolution file to prevent confusion.

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 10 resize texture

Zip and upload

12. Now we have to zip together the .wrl, .mtl and .jpeg. Select these, right click, send to “compressed (zipped) folder”. Upload this to your chosen vendor, when it has loaded the colours should display on the model as below.

13. See the prices of the various materials to print in. If you want the colour to print, you need to select one of the colour sandstone options. Click the “Scale” button to change the models size (and price). Now you just need to go through the ordering process and start the wait!

123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 11 shapeways

Trouble Shooting

A few things to check if the colours don’t display on the model.

  • The resized JPEG must have the same name as the original.
  • Shapeways has some criteria for minimum part thickness (3mm for colour sandstone), but you can also use there “Print it Anyway” and just risk the part breaking.

These tutorials helped me figure out and simplify the process. Thanks very much to their authors.

  • Simple format change of a 123DCatch in meshlab (not meshmixer which we used). Video
  • This forum question helped me figure out that per-vertex colour was needed for Shapeways (Step 8, “Make Solid” does this) PDF
  • This self portrait bobble-head instructable provides a great walkthrough, although without the extra steps needed to upload to Shapeways. Instructable

Which vendor?

These companies all quote online, print on site and send your finished models out to you. Below are the cost comparisons of Shapeways vs imaterialize vs Sculpteo.

Shapeways –  45mm model USD16.48 Shipping to New Zealand USD14.99

imaterialise – 45mm model USD14.26, Shipping to New Zealand USD26.28

Sculpteo – 45mm model USD21.21 Shipping to New Zealand USD50.00

Shapeways wins for me because of the shipping to New Zealand. I can not attest to the speed, quality of the print or other factors as I have only used Shapeways so far. Shapeways is certainly more picky on the colour models format type.

And that it! Good luck getting your subject to sit still…123Dcatch to colour 3D printing 5 jimmy cat