Rhino 3d modeling basic concepts

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Rhino is based on AutoCAD... it used to be an AutoCAD plugin

3d rendering concepts

Friendly advice:

  • get a 3-button mouse or suffer the consequences

Control points

  • anchors from which paths are generated in 3d


  • translating = moving something
  • rotating = rotating around an axis
  • scaling = changing the size, either uniformly or along an axis

View port modes:

  • change view modes in View menu
  • wireframe - shows you an outline of all curves, isocurves, and segments


  • tab at the top of the window
  • square anchros allow you to stretch an object along each axis
  • arcs allow you to rotate around each axis


  • 'units' command... let's you set the units of measure in Rhino
  • you can scale up and down


Command help:

  • Help -> Command Help
  • shows documentation on each command

Nice rhino settings to have

  • Preferences -> Display Modes -> Shaded -> General... select Backface settings to 'single color for all backfaces' - select a nice color. This colors the back face settings differently than the front face color
  • select History tab at top of window... keeps history of commands


Space bar repeats the last command

Zoom command

  • type 'zoom', then hit enter
  • select 'extent' to fit everything on screen
  • select 'selected' to zoom selected object into focus

Line command

  • type 'line', then hit enter
  • click to draw each of the beginning and ending anchors

Polyline command

  • multi-anchor lines
  • hit enter to finish the line
  • ... or click the 'close' button to cmoplete a closed loop shape

Curve command

  • similar to polyline, but has curvy anchors

Copy command

  • can easily copy only along one axis, such as vertically

PointsOn command

  • select an object
  • type 'PointsOn' command
  • makes points appear with dotted lines betwen them on all shapes
  • allows you to move around the control points... like moving anchors in illustrator

2d shape primitives

  • circle command
  • rectangle command
  • etc...

Transformation commands:

  • 'move' - specify the origin and target points of the transformation
  • 'rotate' - rotates around the point that you select
  • 'scale' - first click center of selected object, then click to make a reference point, then scale with mouse in all directions
  • 'scale1d' - scales on only one axis, rather than maintaining proportions


  • 'extrudecrv' - extrude an existing curve
  • stretches out a shape along a second axis
  • closed shapes, if you extrude them, will automatically have caps attached on top and bottom
  • if you don't want the caps, toggle the 'solid' checkbox


  • select an object and type 'flip'... flips the front and back faces of that object


  • select a path, type 'pipe', specify start and end radiuses
  • can add additional anchors with different diameters in the middle


  • select a curve to revolve, then type 'revolve'
  • select start angle and revolution angle. this stretches/revolves that shape around a given axis
  • good for objects with radial symmetry


  • type 'loft'
  • select several curves
  • hit enter... a lofting surface will connect them


  • sweeps a curve profile along a 'rail'
  • type 'sweep1'
  • select a curve as a 'rail'
  • select other curves as 'cross-section curves'... these represent cross-sections at various points along the rail
  • hit enter.. select 'freeform' style
  • 'sweep2' allows the same thing, but with two rails

3d primitives

  • box, cylinder, tube, spehere, etc.
  • work as expected

Boolean operations

  • commands for combining multiple shapes in various ways
  • 'booleanunion' to merge two shapes together
  • 'booleandifference' can indicate that one shape should be subtracted from another
  • as expected for other boolean operations: 'booleanintersection', 'booleansplit', etc


  • takes a 3d shape and twists it
  • make sure 'midpoint is selected' in optinos
  • click on midpoint of one of the bottom edges of shape
  • click on midpoint of top edge of shape
  • then start twisting


  • draw a 3d shape
  • specficy start of spine by clicking on a bottom corner
  • click on end of spine on top corner
  • then start bending

Types of geometry

Two types of 3d geometry

  • mesh and NURBS
  • rhino uses nurbs by default

NURBS geometry - "non-uniform bezier splines"

  • e.g. bezier splines and bezier surfaces
  • all control points are controllable
  • you can 'rebuild' complex surfaces to give you many more control points - 'rebuild' command

Mesh geometry

  • also control points in space
  • meshes are a set of triangular or rectangular faces that are connecting all points in space
  • to get more detail you need to include more vertices in your geometry
  • no implicit curvature in mesh geometry
  • meshes are generally more efficient for performance

Easy to switch between types

  • often when exporting from Rhino, you need to convert from NURB to Mesh geometry for other apps
  • can convert a nurb to mesh within Rhino via menu: Mesh -> From Nurbs Object

Importing / Exporting


  • 'export' command allows you to also export as mesh... 'obj' format is common format
  • select checkbox that says 'map rhino z to obj y', since the axes are different in rhino from usual
  • can twiddle with the # of polygons in mesh to make sure it's detailed enough for us


  • can open obj file up in Cura or Makerbot for 3d printing
  • can drag and place into Unity scenes for game development