Voxels produce a virtual grid in 3D space, and the mesh then occupies sections of this grid to form its shape. The word voxel comes from combining the term pixel with volume. Low-resolution voxels are a common art style in video games, for example, Minecraft or Roblox.
While voxels are based on cubes, the high resolution of the grids means smooth curves are still possible. Similar to how polygonal meshes are flat planes that can make smooth curves by having a high number of polygons and using smoothing groups.
Since the mesh in 3D Coat uses voxels, you do not need to subdivide polygons which can give you better performance on some PC setups. The other benefit is that your 3D object is solid and isn’t just a shell like a polygonal mesh. This makes some sculpting and deformation techniques easier, both computationally and creatively, for the artist.
Starting with an “empty” space or starting with a volume of some sort are both options within the Voxel environment.
Everything you add or subtract is done as you would expect when dealing with real materials like clay, wax, wood, or stone.
What is more extraordinary are those tools and functions which create or subtract more volume from an object as you use them, like the Move or the Grow tool.
Accurate organic and mechanical shapes can be created with splines and curves.
The picture above illustrates the important visual and technical differences between surface and voxel sculpting.
But of course, you should know some limitations of this technology; the surface can’t be too thin in voxel representation. If you want to make it too thin a surface, you should increase the resolution of scene or use the “Surface mode”.
This can be done by clicking on the V icon next to the particular layer you would like to work the surface of, and it will change to a [S]. Represents this “Surface mode”.
So what are these voxels anyway?
Mathematically, voxels are numerical values [0..1] placed in a cubic grid. The object’s surface is located where the value is equal to 0.5
Simply put: Voxels are points in 3D space that contain information on volume and color.
This unique method of sculpting voxels is akin to traditional clay sculpting. If you need to sculpt an ear, simply start sculpting the ear. The same thing goes with arms, legs, or anything else for that matter. If you need it, sculpt it.
Voxels are the 3D version of pixels, in a nutshell. A pixel is represented by a square, having the same height and width and a specific size.
Given any two-dimensional area, this area can only contain a set number of pixels.
Voxel is a new word that stands for “volumetric pixel” since it has depth, as well as height, and width.
Like pixels, voxels have the same width and height but also have dimension along the typically “z” axis -which is the same as the distance for its height and width- in essence, a voxel is a cube floating in an invisible mass of voxels which occupy an infinite volume of space.
For any given three-dimensional volume, there can only be a set number of voxels occupying this space.
In a black and white painting program, “paint” is applied to a given area by giving any number of invisible pixels occupying that area a value of black or white (a pixel is either “on” or “off”) thus making it appear that some of the areas are “empty” while other parts are painted like black paint on white paper.
In a voxel program, painted “volume” is applied to “empty” space by giving any number of invisible voxel cubes an “on” or “off” value, which produces the impression of a 3-dimensional shape floating in an “empty” space. Some cubes are turned “on” while others are turned “off” (some represent occupied space, and some represent “empty” space).
An additional benefit of voxels in 3D-Coat is their ability to be assigned a color and a “material” or “shader” (giving the additional illusion of some real-world or other “worldly” substance).
For the user, this experience simulates working with a solid or semi-solid material (like clay or molten wax) using functions that mimic real-world sculpting tools.
Nearly every other 3D-sculpting program is polygon based, which means that they work only with the surface of 3D objects; they manipulate a “skin” which has no thickness. But voxel-based sculpting programs work with the volume of 3D objects, manipulating a kind of cubic array or “solid mass”.
This approach lets you sculpt without any topological constraints: it lets you build up complex objects from “nothing” and endlessly add and subtract volume “mass” and easily punch holes in the objects. This approach gives you total freedom in your 3D sculpting.
With voxels, you can work like an old-fashioned, real-world, clay-based sculptor. One who never needs to think about dreary technical things like polygons and topology and who, therefore, can just freely and easily express himself.
If you need to sculpt an ear, an arm, or a leg, simply start putting together lumps of digital clay!
As fantastic as voxels are, you should also understand some of the limitations of this technology. For instance, objects can’t be extremely thin in a voxel form. If you want to make a very thin surface, like cloth, you need to increase the resolution of the voxel object to avoid the appearance of 3D “jaggies”.
A more convenient way to work with very thin layers is to use the “Surface Mode” for voxels. This can be done by clicking on the Cube icon next to the Voxel Layer you would like to work on. The [S] icon tells you that you have entered the Surface mode
When you’ve finished your sculpture in 3DCoat, you can export it directly for 3D printing using their wizard. This makes 3DCoat an excellent choice for aspiring 3D printers.
Due to voxels making a solid model similar to that in CAD software, it’s much easier to convert it to a format 3D printers understand. It’s a useful feature if you want to print off small models of your sculptures.