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Making a replica of the Monymusk Reliquary

Monymusk Reliquary

The Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society commissioned Celtic3d and Angus 3D Solutions, to make a replica of the 8th century Monymusk Reliquary from photo reference.    Quite a challenge, but one that pricked our interest. 

The National Museum of Scotland have the original on display and we have been lucky enough to see it 1st hand.  While some of the pieces are missing,  you can still see the incredibly intricate knotwork and engraving.   Although, some of the original engraving very difficult to make out.    

We needed to include all the intricate knotwork in order to create a 3d model that we could 3d print.  We considered how we would achieve a convincing surface finish on the model to represent the guilding, metal parts and engraved panels.   This was a serious test of our 3d modelling and CNC engraving skills.

The real Monymusk Reliquary. Image by Johnbod - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Getting Our Facts Straight

For any project like this, especially when you have limited access to the original, and need to rely on photos, there is a natural tendency to try to fill in the gaps for yourself by making assumptions about parts you can’t see clearly.   Thankfully, when gathering our reference material, we found there have been a number of detailed academic studies of the reliquary.  A particularly useful source is an article from the Glenmorangie Research Project which describes dimensions, what it is made of, some excellent close-up images and also some helpful information regarding the knotwork panels.

For some aspects of the model,  like the latch mechanism and interior detail,  we couldn’t find an authoritative source of how it should look.  So, rather than make it up, we left these areas plain.

Digital modelling

If the model was being created for 3d graphics,  you would use shortcuts, like using an image file to fake the bumps and hollows.  Because the project was going to be 3d printed,  it was important that details, like the knotwork on the jeweled bosses, were modelled in 3d.   

Blender is our software of choice for this sort of modelling.  

Engraved Panels

To represent the two silver engraved panels on the front,  we chose tooling aluminum.  This comes as 0.127mm thick,  considerably thicker than kitchen foil – but a challenge to engrave without cutting through.    

Using a technique learned for making custom printed circuit boards (PCBs),  we mounted the foil onto some flat hardboard, then probed the surface using electrical contacts to build an accurate map of the surface height of the foil.  

CNC machine making probes of the surface
Surface probing to accurately map heights prior to engraving

This allowed us to accurately engrave into the foil to half its depth without cutting through.   The artwork for the engraving was prepped in Adobe Illustrator and exported as vector art, which can be read by the software we use for CNC machining.

3d Printed Parts

With the 3d model, broken down into component parts, we manufactured them in nylon using a selective laser sintering (SLA) technique.  This gives a robust model that can take some handling, and provides a solid base for paint finishes and further work.


Many of the main features of the original reliquary were gilded.  So the obvious choice to replicate the finish was to do the same.   We used imitation gold leaf on the bosses and on the decorated parts of the main body.

Applying gold leaf to the boss parts
Gold leaf applied to the main model

For the other panels we used standard paint finishes applied with an airbrush.    Handpainted the red enamel, and created a wood effect in paint for the interior.   

Jewels were simple rhinestones – which we bought quite a lot of so that we could select the few we needed of the right size and colour.

The Completed Replica

We had the pleasure of hand delivering the completed replica in Arbroath.  The story was covered by The Courier.    We believe the long-term plan is for the replica to be on permanent display at the Arbroath Abbey visitor centre.  We will keep you posted

Read more about Celtic3d’s model making capabilities for Engineering or Architectural projects.

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It’s personal

We received a lovely note from a customer, Andy, who bought one of our clan crest digital designs.    Andy was looking for a way to add a personal touch to a gift for a friend celebrating a milestone birthday.    He thought a 3d printed clan crest design would be an ideal way to add personalisation to a decanter filled with his friend’s favourite Islay single malt.      While he had access to a 3d printer, unfortunately,  we did not have the MacGregor crest available in our shop, so Andy got in-touch.   We were more than happy to create a design for a MacGregor clan crest for Andy.  We have since also added it to our portfolio.

Preview on Sketchfab

Buy the 3d model file

Get in touch

We have quite a few Clan Crest designs ready to purchase and download.  If you would like us to model a Clan Crest not yet in our collection, drop us a line.  We would be happy to help. 

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The Big Build Appeal

Architectural Model

The Big Build Appeal

We are delighted to support local charity, Charlie House with a scale model of the specialist children’s care centre they are raising funds to build in Aberdeen.  

Since we first started supporting Charlie House in 2017, plans have evolved and this is our second version of the model.   Our capabilities have evolved too.  For this version, we tried out some of our new labelling kit to add some colour and extra detail to the interiors.  

We had the pleasure of attending the Big Build Launch event at The Marcliffe (14th November 2018) and found ourselves seconded onto team Charlie for the afternoon to explain the model (or rather explain the build, using the model) to the crowds at the launch.   It was very encouraging to see so many people already engaged to make this project a success.

Picture by Abermedia / Michal Wachucik

About Charlie House

Charlie House are raising £8m to build a state-of-the-art support facility for children with complex and life limiting conditions in the North East of Scotland.  It is shocking to think that there are currently no specialist respite facilities within a 100 miles of Aberdeen and families are having to either make long journeys or to struggle through without the help a centre like this can provide.  The new building will provide a place for the children and their families to get some respite care.    

How you can help

The team have already raised an impressive £1m of their £8m target.  To donate, get involved with fundraising or find other ways to support Charlie House, check out their web site at:  

About our models

Scale models are an excellent way to engage with stakeholders.   At events (like the Big Build Appeal launch) a model works really well as a conversation starter to engage with people browsing past.  Models also work well in 1:1 discussions, they focus discussion on the design and a good model will help you draw attention to the key features you want to highlight.  

For the model for Charlie House,  it was very important that they were able to show the layout and function of the rooms within the building.   For this reason, we made sure the roof and first floor could be removed to show the interior.  We also created small labels with text and details taken from the architectural plans to show what each room was for. 

Using the model, you can see how the family rooms are arranged separate but nearby to the medically equipped children’s rooms, how the social spaces are arranged and where the admin and support areas fit in.  

When showing a bed or a desk,  we raised the label up to the correct scale height, which really helped bring the interior to life and helps people relate to the space.  Another important architectural detail we needed to include, was the use of tinted glass to create a warm glow in some of the communal areas.

For more information and example projects check our architecture page.

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View of The Engine Shed in Stirling

Reflections from DigiDoc2018

9th to 12th October, 2018, DigiDoc2018  was held at The Engine Shed, Scotland’s building conservation centre.  The three-day conference brought together professionals from all over the world using digital technology to document historic buildings and artefacts.   We expected to see (and did) lots of laser scanning/point clouds, photogrammetry and VR headsets,  but we got so much more information and inspiration than we expected.  A very worthwhile few days.

Why attend DigiDoc?

We have a strong interest in Scottish heritage and architecture.  We think the models we make as aids for stakeholder engagement for engineering and architecture, could be just as effective at engaging audiences for heritage.  So we were keen to use this conference as an opportunity to learn about the needs and requirements of the heritage sector and also meet and speak to some of those involved.  Seeing Bob Marshall, who produces stunning historical illustrations, was on the running order, was all the excuse we needed to book our tickets.  Bob uses Blender, the same software we use for 3d modelling for his illustrations and we have been long-term fans of his work.  Bob’s attention to detail and mastery of his tools sets the sort of example we aspire to.

We also hoped to address some key questions we had on how to approach heritage projects.  How to balance the accuracy needed to authentically represent historical buildings and artefacts, with the practical compromises often needed to make a scale (or even a 1:1) model?

Bob Marshall explaining his approaches in a recent project

Who was there?

Looking around at who else was attending, there were lots of academics, architectural historians, archaeologists, museum curators, a host of preservation specialists and even the odd biologist and palaeontologist.  Mixing with these, an impressive array of leading experts and innovators in CGI, VR visualisation, scanning,  technical photography,  illustrative arts, storytellers and educators.

World-class Speakers

Much of the content was jaw-dropping and inspirational, and I’m not easily impressed by computer graphics.  I am impressed with deep technical knowledge, skill, attention to detail or an ambitious goal and folks with a passion for what they do.  That was evident in spades.

Leading experts in their fields were there from all over the world.  From Bob Marshall’s recent work published in a new book: Windsor Castle: 1,000 Years of a Royal Palace, insights from the Smithsonian on digitising their massive collections.  Similar from Fang Li Yu, a senior engineer working on a multi-year project documenting the Forbidden City in Beijing in both 3d and 2d.  

Using 3d printing in the reconstruction of historical musical instruments (Mario Klingemann, Google).  Some impressive equipment to automate the digitisation process of both 2d and 3d objects, one involving a conveyor belt system that had lots of curators asking searching questions about the safety of their artefacts (Pedro Santos, Fraunhofer Institute).

It was also good to hear that the recently destroyed Glasgow School of Art building was one of the best documented (and scanned) heritage assets we have.  Hopefully, that means something useful and authentic can be preserved for future generations.


We also enjoyed the session with Thomas Flynn from Sketchfab who reminded us about the API interface allowing direct access to functionality from code.  The ongoing lack of a standard way to view and access 3d assets over the Web is a topic that came up in several discussions. We will certainly be taking a fresh look at the current status of Sketchfab.  

Wall-to-wall VR

Multiple, interesting sessions explored the use of VR headsets to engage audiences and tell a story.  Some innovative ways to make VR a more collective rather than a  solo experience.  Notably, Martin McDonnell, Soluis showed off their stunning use of planetarium domes and movie-quality visualisations in some of their recent high-end projects.

A point cloud projected onto the outside of The Engine Shed

Computer graphics for serious purposes

The movie industry was well represented with jaw-dropping visuals and presentation on immersive storytelling from Atlantic Productions and Tippet Studio.  The gaming industry, not to be left out, sent Maxime Durand, Ubisoft, who explained his role as the franchise historian for Assassin’s Creed.   

We also had a passionate presentation on the role of digital and heritage topics in education from Jenni MacKay from Dundee City Council.

A call for responsible 3d printing

The most shocking example of the potential problems in the reckless use of 3d printing came in the closing remarks by Professor David Mitchell, Director of Conservation at HES.   An image of a carved stone panel where the missing head of a cherub had been 3d printed in bright yellow plastic and stuck onto the panel.  The audience (including me) visibly winced.   Fortunately, he also had some positive examples, including a 1:1 scale 3d printed column head used as a template for stonemasons.

There were many other fascinating speakers I have not mentioned. I’ll keep an eye out for an official write-up and update this post with a link when available.

Our Takeaways

Data Provenance

The importance of data provenance.  The event underlined our prior view that accurately capturing data and measurements of heritage sites is properly the domain of trained surveyors.  Accordingly, we have no immediate plans to get involved with scanning.  However,  having obtained their data, lots of heritage organisations are struggling to make best use of it to engage their audiences.  In that context our services could produce usable 3d models (for 3d print or visualisation) derived from the master data.

Data Management

Common to many industrties, there is an  explosion in the volume of data to manage. It was encouraging to see  BIM principles being adopted within Historic Environment Scotland for the historic buildings under their care.  There are many data management challenges for heritage that sounded familiar from our time working in Oil and Gas and it was interesting to hear the discussions searching for frameworks and platforms to address  data management.  I suspect suitable frameworks already exist in different industries and sectors.

Filling in the blanks

Whether the challenge is creating a stylised illustration, a photorealistic movie sequence or a scale or 1:1 model, there are a ton of choices to be made and likely data gaps filled during the process. Working these issues needs to involve expert guidance to ensure the historical accuracy and authenticity of the result.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

There were some interesting questions raised about the validity of filling in damaged areas of artefacts using 3d printing or some other reconstructive techniques.  Sometimes the damage itself tells an important story about the history of the artefact.  We note that there was no definitive answer offered, underlining again the need to seek expert guidance.

Engaging Groups

There is a lot being done with VR and AR. Several speakers underlined our view that while undoubtedly immersive, these can be solitary experiences.  We saw some impressive (but expensive looking) dome solutions for groups of people.  It seems to us that scale models and replica artefacts may have a useful place augmenting other approaches to tell stories and engage audiences.


The conference far exceeded our expectations.  Perhaps coming from a corporate IT background, I am just not used to so much glitz and glamour associated with highly technical topics.  Although I got some answers to the questions I arrived with, the conference planted many more new questions and quite a few new ideas we look forward to exploring in the coming months.

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Ran out of time to tell #DigiDoc2018 everything I wanted to on Friday, so I've added notes to my slides about online #3D for you here:

A PDF version if you don't like GIFs or video:

...and a 10 second video if you're in a rush:

Ran out of time to tell #DigiDoc2018 everything I wanted to on Friday, so I've added notes to my slides about online #3D for you here:

A PDF version if you don't like GIFs or video:

...and a 10 second video if you're in a rush:

Ran out of time to tell #DigiDoc2018 everything I wanted to on Friday, so I've added notes to my slides about online #3D for you here:

A PDF version if you don't like GIFs or video:

...and a 10 second video if you're in a rush:

Load More...
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June Business Bulletin

Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce Business Bulletin June 2018 Feature

Small steps to big ideas

Celtic3d is featured in the June edition of the Business Bulletin from Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.   This month’s theme is on Micro.   

Russell Borthwick introduces the theme by emphasising the nimbleness and innovation often found in small businesses, and we agree.  We would add that from our experience, small companies can be better at collaboration, using each other’s expertise and capabilities to augment their own, often with a multiplier effect.   

With that in-mind,  we are delighted to be sharing our column inches with Marketec.   We worked with Marketec on the Architectural Mould project a few  months back and we admire their capabilities and the design philosophy reflected in their products.  

The feature can be found across pages 26, 27 and 28 of the June 2018 edition.

The Business Bulletin is a member publication of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.   The feature can be accessed online at this link.

If you would like more information about the services available from Celtic3d,  Contact us here or email or call 07714 790161 (GMT +0)


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Expanding our digital manufacturing capability with CNC

CNC Machining

Lost Capability

Since Make Aberdeen closed in March,  we have been working on ways to close the gap caused by the loss of direct access to laser cutting facilities.   We frequently incorporate different materials and manufacturing techniques in our models,  especially for engineering and architectural models.  

it was important to find a way to continue to be able to do this going forward, especially the ability to accurately cut sheet materials like acrylic/Perspex.

CNC Machining

We looked at several options including laser cutting machines but settled on a CNC machine from Ooznest as the option that would give us maximum flexibility.  A CNC machine could not only cut flat sheet, but carve shapes, opening up some interesting new possibilities.  Combined with 3d printing, we would have the option of using both additive and subtractive techniques, whichever best suited the job.

The Ooznest machine,  the “WorkBee”, is based on an Open Builds design which fits well with our preference for open source solutions.  The WorkBee comes as two large boxes of components which you have to assemble yourself.  We went for the 750mm x 1,000mm screw driven version with a Makita router to do the cutting.  The quality of the kit and the clarity of the assembly guides from Ooznest was excellent.   Support is also excellent, we needed to phone for one missing part which duly arrived the next day.

In principle, the operation of a CNC and the steps needed to prepare a file is very similar to that used for a desktop 3d printer. Instead of a nozzle laying down melted plastic layer-by-layer,  a very similar setup guides the tool mounted in the router to cut material away layer by layer.  

Initial Testing

For initial testing of the machine,  and until we got to grips with basic operation, we took the safe option by mounting a Sharpie pen to the machine and had it drawing out our logo on paper.  

Ooznest Worker Bee CNC

However,  the first order of business for the new machine was to make myself some hardwood hold-downs to securely hold material on the machine bed.


The main software tools we use for creating designs for 3d printing are Blender for mesh modelling and Autodesk Fusion 360 for CAD models.  The 3d model files output by both can be used for CNC machining.  

Fusion 360 includes functionality for CAM (computer assisted manufacturing).  Once you have the design (created in Fusion 360 or an imported mesh created in Blender) Fusion 306 can generate the toolpath files to send to the CNC machine.   There is a bit of set-up to ensure Fusion 360 has accurate information about the tools you have but there is a lot of information available online on how to set this up.    We found this straightforward although there is a bit of a learning curve, and Fusion 360 includes a simulation mode where you can preview how the tool will cut out your part before you commit the job. 

The CNC machine needs a PC to stream the toolpath commands to it during operation.  The toolpath commands are in a language, G-Code, which is the same language our 3d printer uses.  

To avoid having to take a laptop into the workshop every time, for convenience, we added a Raspberry Pi running bCNC which is permanently mounted next to the CNC.  bCNC is a lightweight G-Code sender that works well on a Raspberry Pi.  We tried getting the Java based “Universal G-Code Sender” to work,  but for the Raspberry Pi we would have had to compile our own build from source code and, frankly, life is too short for that hassle.

Future Possibilities

It will be interesting to see how we can use our existing digital designs (created for 3d printing) with the CNC and how we can incorporate different combinations of materials made possible with this new capability.

We are already getting some excellent results with engraving that are sharper and better defined than we managed in the past with laser engraving,  we have also experimented with machining some of our Clan Crest designs from wood with impressive results.  

CNC engraving