From Sketch to Metal with a Computer’s Help

Fourth of a Four Part Series: Designing for Metal Clay

In my series so far, I’ve talked about calculating metal clay shrinkage and enlargement, and then using those calculations to create templates from your sketches. You trace your sketches and enlarge, then cut the templates. These templates are used to cut metal clay and construct your pieces.
The other way I design jewelry and make templates is with my computer.
I don’t use CAD software (used in the industry to create 2 and 3D drawings and models of jewelry designs). My computer-aided jewelry design is much more simple and crude than that. But it works for me and at times I find it extremely useful.
If you are interested in trying this technique, you will need some type of vector drawing software. I use Adobe Illustrator.
To begin with, I usually still start with a sketch on paper. In this case it helps me to get a direction and there’s something about the immediacy of pen to paper that helps my imagination flow freely. Sometimes, I come into the project with such a clear idea that I go directly to the computer to draw it out. Or, if I love my pen-to-paper sketch as it is, I can scan the drawing and trace parts of it if it is necessary to be more accurate than simply tracing the drawing on tracing paper.

My sketch


Once I am ready to plan my piece I use the various drawing tools in Illustrator to draw my piece at actual size. I don’t usually get into a lot of elaborate shading or illustration techniques. In this case I am working out scale, proportion, shapes and construction. Sometimes I only need to draw simple boxes or circles, sometimes it’s a bit more resolved—maybe a little shading just so I can visualize what I’ve got going on.
Another thing I find useful is to place scans, for example a scan of a stone, and trace it with my drawing program. Then I use this traced shape to design a setting for the stone.
I print my drawings often, sometimes cutting things out so I can “hold” the actual piece in my hand or try it on.
Once I’m satisfied that I have the design the way I like it, I make a copy of the drawing. I always keep my original as a reference, and make as many copies of it as I will need. This way I never lose my reference point.
I take the copy and enlarge it to the percentage I need for my clay of choice. This may be all I need to do. I print out the enlargement, cut it out and use it as a template. Usually, though, there are several layers or components to my piece so I need to make another copy—this time of the enlarged drawing—and then I pull the enlarged drawing apart. I place each part separately on the page.

An example of a layout using Illustrator

The finished bracelet.

Now I have all of my shapes, enlarged to the proper size, ready to print and cut out for a template sheet. As I mentioned in my last post, I print on card stock and put packing tape over the back. When cut out, this makes a nice solid template to use with a needle tool for cutting metal clay.
Also, this method can be adapted for making photopolymer plates of artwork, or to send artwork out for being made into a rubber stamp, etc. Remember to use your enlarged version for these purposes. And if your artwork contains lettering or anything that needs to be “right reading”, you will need to flop it over so that your lettering does not come out backward on your final piece.


About Evelyn

I'm a metal clay artist who is learning something new every day. My goal in my work is to make things that are well crafted and distinctively from my own hands, like the work of a good tailor. My jewelry can be found at


From Sketch to Metal with a Computer’s Help — 6 Comments

  1. Wonderful article. I think I’m going to have to improve my computer skills and learn how to use these programs! Great info. Thanks!

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