Entry level CAD/CAM Prototyping for Jewellery Makers


My Sharewear jewellery was designed on an iPad using a free app. My design file was then sent to a laser cutting machine to cut out the flat collar shape. Another design file was also sent to a 3D printer to create a solid form to incorporate in a neckpiece. The solid form was printed in three separate sections that slot together to form one solid structure.





General Technique

Structural modifying

Specific Technique

Computer Aided Design & Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM)

Properties & Qualities


Jewellery Other


White Other

Sample Information


30x140x300mm (various)

Culture & Context

Part of my interest in making is to combine analogue and digital technologies. The fab-lab maker and Creative Commons movements embrace the idea of knowledge sharing. My Sharewear jewellery series was created in this context.

My jewellery design work was created using an iPad and a free app called 123D Make. I created CAD files that can easily be shared with other makers who might enjoy tweaking my designs for their own purposes. The CAD files can be sent to a laser cutter to cut them out as flat multiple components to then construct into complex cellular forms. Additional CAD files are created to send to 3D printers to produce a solid forms. In my Sharewear jewellery series I used an inexpensive plywood, but you can use any material the laser cutter can cut. My jewellery intentionally has that fab-lab maker aesthetic that is commonplace today.

Process & Production

While I used a free app called 123D Make and my iPad, you can find lots of alternative apps and other software to create CAD files for digital machines like laser cutters, water-jet cutters and 3D printers. 

You begin by designing the form you want to create. The CAD programme I used allowed me to see my design on my iPad either as a solid form or a planar, cellular, structure. It allowed me to view my designs as a three dimensional objects from all viewpoints. The programme enabled me to make my designs more complex or simplified depending on how many planar components I wanted to include.

Once my design was completed all I had to do was save the file. There are lots of file options in CAD software programmes. The laser cutter I was using required DXF. files. So, I saved my designs as DXF’s.

Moving from my iPad to the laser cutting machine was seamless. The DXF. file is fed into the machine. The light-weight plywood sheet is registered on the flatbed of the laser cutter. The cutting process takes only a few minutes. 

You then have to identify all the parts and figure out how to slot them together to make the cellular structure. The 123D Make app provides a very handy step-by-step set of instructions. The easy part is now completed.

The slotting process is trickier than I had anticipated. The slot spacing is quite tight and some force is required to slot the components together. I use a small rubber mallet and take care not to damage the plywood. Playing around with the slot spacing tolerances in the design app helps to make this process a little easier as my Sharewear jewellery series continued.

The solid form was 3D printed using an STL file. This form was printed in three sections and slotted together to create a solid structure before it was incorporated into my neckpiece. 

Taking a playful approach to CAD allows me to accelerate and develop ideas that I might not imagine if I only used my traditional sketchbook and drawing. The laser cutter allows me to accurately cut out components that need to fit together perfectly.

My work was intentionally experimental. The CAD/CAM process allowed me to prototype and test quickly and easily. While I find the rawness of the Sharewear jewellery very appealing, I can see how these CAD/CAM experiments might lead to more finished work in the future. I can see how sharing my files for others to augment and improve can push the series forward too.


Craft Maker

Derek McGarry

Library Contributor

National College of Art & Design Ireland


Derek McGarry