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I'm not a designer, but I always enjoyed playing with design tools and exploring things. However, one category of design was always out of reach for me: 3D design.
This changed last year when we met the team from Spline during YC W21.
Alejandro León (CEO) had started to build a place to design and collaborate in 3D. He called it “Spline”, a tribute to the function used to refer to a wide class of functions that are used in applications requiring data interpolation and smoothing.
“Make an accessible, easy, and collaborative 3d-first design tool.”
- Alejandro León
Spline helps beginners like me get started with 3D design with an intuitive product that re-uses codes of web design.
When you sign up to Spline they don’t make you watch complex tutorials. Instead, they lead the experience with their product. If you ever used Figma or Sketch the way Spline works should be straightforward.
On the left side you get your layers
On the right side is the layer editor
At the top has your design files
Spline comes with a library of 3D assets built by other members of their community.
Picking a scene or object from the library is great to save time or get some inspiration from others. But the library is more crucial than that. It teaches you how to use Spline.
When you open someone else's file you can inspect it. You learn what shapes or effects they used and can replicate that. It feels like watching an experienced 3D designer working, and teaching all her tricks.
The “aha! Moment”
If you come from web design like me, your “aha! Moment” maybe when you discover Extrusion.
Although 2D objects don't have a depth parameter, they can quickly become 3D using a modeling operation called Extrusion. To extrude a 2D object, select the object you want to extrude, go to the Shape panel on the right sidebar and add a value to the Extrusion property by sliding to the desired amount.
Escaping from basic shapes
Using existing objects like spheres or cubes helps you move fast, but soon you feel limited if you can’t design your custom shapes. This is when I discovered the pen.
The pen tool lets to create custom 2D shapes. This lets you modelize almost anything. The best part is anyone who used MS paint already knows how to use this tool.
What really makes the difference between an average and great-looking 3D scene are the effects you apply. Before using Spline I didn’t really know they existed.
While they must be hundreds of them, Spline promotes two of them that will elevate significantly your design.
1. Bevels (3D Corners)
If you add extrusion (3D) to your shape, you can add rounded edges to the resulting volume. This effect is called bevels. It makes your corner much smoother and gives this bubbly playful effect.
2. Fresnel (bright corner)
It’s sometimes hard to differentiate 3D shapes that touch each other, especially if they have the same color. This is where Fresnel is handy. It brights up the corners of your shapes and gives this Looney Tunes aspect that you often see in 3D design.
Spline provides end value by letting you embed your design through an iFrame.
By doing that Spline solves three key problems:
file formats are painful (FBX, OBJ, USDZ/USD, STL, …)
Adding an interactive 3D file on a website is complex are required engineering resource
updating an online file requires long export and upload times
Spline's primary way to teach you 3D design is by using their product. But they also have
Nice documentation which breaks down into tiny bits their main app concept
A youtube channel where Alejandro, his team, and some guests explain how they designed some assets
This approach makes the most complex concepts approachable 👏
How much does it cost?
Spline recently released their paid plan. The plan starts at 9$ / month / user (7$ with a yearly plan) and includes removing their logo from public URLs or creating personal folders.
The team plan costs 12$ / month / user and includes unlimited files, projects, folders, and files.
Here you can find all the details!