InStep Studio

InStep Studio

InStep Studio Help

InStep Studio, the successor to the popular InStep 2.3 application, has been re-written from the ground up and features a new interface with several new components. This help page is the main landing page for questions related to the use of the InStep Studio application and its interface with other applications.
In time, the application aims at being a more complete tool set for all mesh related functions in the process of converting from a mesh based format to a boundary representation.
Below you will find some quick pointers and in the side bar (to the right if you are viewing this from a full sized browser, otherwise at the bottom of the page) you will find links to all major components of the application.

Locations of status items

InStep Studio V3.0

The following Sections provide information about the InStep Studio Interface

The InStep Studio application has moved away from a license file/key system to one where the application receives information directly from our server to unlock it.
In order to do so, it is important that the user first create an account on this website. Login, Registering and retrieving a forgotten password are all done through this page.

Additionally, different license levels are available which can be selected from the User account, including two free levels (see license options for details).

In cases where the user accesses the internet via a Proxy server, the application will need to use the same proxy settings as are used for accessing the web. During log-in from the application side, a special option is available next to the 'Login' button (Define Proxy). From here, the user can enter a host address (with optional username and password) or alternatively a web address together with a port number. Settings defined here are stored for re-use by the application and can be cleared. If a Username and Passwords are provided, they are stored locally in an encrypted format.

The main InStep interface is shown below:

Main interface

InStep Studio V3.0 (Expert) Interface

The application is divided into a Menu Bar, a set of Tab Pages each with Tool buttons, a 3D Viewer area as well as status section at the bottom of the form.

Menu Bar

At the top is a standard menu bar. Here the standard File, Settings, View and Help options are available.
Each item contains a number of functions that are generally self-explanatory. In the File menu, in addition to Import, Export, Clear and Exit, is also a list of previously opened files for quick retrieval. The Settings provide access to application and license settings together with an option to restore the default settings as well as to select the desired User Interface. The View menu item relates to how data is to be viewed whereas the Help menu provides links to items related to providing help and to submit an error report. If requested by support staff, a HostID file can also be generated from here for licensing and diagnostic purposes.

In general, the application will store user settings wherever this is appropriate so that the next session uses the same parameters (such as import/export units and similar). The settings intended to be modified by the user are located in the Settings → Application Settings menu. In addition to interacting through these settings, the full list of items being stored can be manually edited (though it is strongly recommended not to do so) by editing the InStep.exe.config file in the "C:\Program Files\InStep\InStepStudio3\" folder (or wherever it was installed).
Beyond the Application Settings, all input from the user is being updated as the application is being used. Different tools will generally have inputs to provide necessary settings & values and those will be applied as they are entered (once basic validation has been done).
What should be mentioned in regard to the settings is that some tools (specifically the Thicken and Simplify tools) use a process whereby the values are first entered into the provided options and then the button clicked to apply those values.
For MeshLab functions, all options are pre-defined and as such there is no applicable 'entry' to be provided by the user.

Under Settings → Interface three different options are available: Simple, Guided and Expert together with their keyboard shortcuts:

User Interfaces

Different Interfaces

Each of the interfaces are briefly explained below and a link to their main help page is provided:

Simple Interface
The Simple interface is intended for users that have less experience dealing with some of the details involved in the process or just choose to use basic tools for the conversion. The interface consists of five buttons and should be progressed through from left to right with Modify/Fix and Feature conversion tools being optional.
Guided Interface
The Guided interface provides some additional options during the process but generally provides a more 'Wizard' like interface in that each step is briefly explained withe applicable options provided.
The Expert interface is the main and full interface that provides all available options for use. The topics in the Side-bar provide direct links to the different tools available. In general, the interface items are available on different tabs with a left-to-right process being recommended.

General Use information is provided in the following Sections:

Under the assumption that the Main (Expert) interface is being used (the others have a similar but far more abbreviated set of steps), the general workflow that should be adopted is one where the tools are processed in a left-to-right fashion for both the Tab Pages as well as individual tool buttons. The Import and Export tabs are the start and end points with the items in between being optional depending on the data being worked with.

Once a file has been imported and any scale applied (see the Resize option) it may be necessary to manually edit the data. This can be done before or after performing any automatic repairs from the Polygons tab page. During the Editing a process of change-accept-continue is generally being used as update of data is only performed once the 'Accept' button is pressed with changes in between being done to temporary memory only.
It is recommended that basic Editing be done either to correct known issues or once the Issue button on the Polygons page has been used to detect them. At that point automatic repairs may be used or, especially for complicated errors, manual options may be employed (additionally, using external applications to make corrections should never be ignored).
Whatever the approach, the application is intended to be used with fully corrected data only and shapes that do not form a coherent, water-tight body will usually not result in the appropriate end result. The exception to this is shapes that form 'Shells', otherwise correct surfaces that only represent things such as partial 3D scans of data or similar. For these items, the Thicken tool may be used to create a second set of surfaces that are offset from the first and therefore create a thin but solid body from an otherwise non-manifold surface.

Repairing Data in Polygon files is a fairly hot topic, especially when it comes to 3D printing (aka. Additive Manufacturing). InStep provides tools to do so, but the old adage 'garbage in, garbage out' should be kept in mind. Just because there are some tools that can perform some repair to minor issues does not mean that this is a replacement for careful consideration of the underlying issues and a perhaps more manual approach to repairing data.
The Editing tools above are generally quite capable of making changes to the data but the process can be slow. The automatic repair options on the other hand can be a quick way of fixing issues, but they are based on assumptions about what the issue may be and how they are best addressed. The assumptions can be wrong and lead to shapes that are less useable than they were in the first place.
Thanks to the MeshLab application, InStep has a powerful option to perform some of the repairs in an aggressive mode whereby the topology is used only as a reference and a completely new mesh generated around it. This effectively removes the original data and replaces it - but this option is a sort of 'last resort' for cases where data is completely unusable but needs to be somehow recovered. In any case, study of the available tools (see side bar) is recommended in order to get an appreciation for what they do and more importantly how they do it.

The Bodies tab contains a small number of tools for working with imported data that can better be thought of as consisting of multiple, separate shapes. The Split and Merge buttons do the same as those on the Polygon tab but are duplicated for the purpose of making them clearly available in both places. The Merge button is simply the reverse of the Split button which searches through the available facet data and groups that data based on which faces are connected. These are not to be confused with 'Boolean' operations, there is no modification of the facet data underlying the shapes, only a filtering of what is connected. Merging provides the opposite and places otherwise separate data into the same body, something that can become necessary if Overlaps are repaired (see the main Polygon page).
Future versions of the application will expand on the available options under the Bodies tab.

Detection of geometric features from faceted data is a complex problem that involves search and filter operations to identify shapes within a set of otherwise unordered triangles. This reverse-engineering of the data can, in some cases, lead to a marked improvement of the data and a reduced output file (for STEP only). The options available within InStep, specifically those located on the Features tab are automatic and only require simple tolerance values to be defined. The default values generally work well but may be changed if necessary. Not all features will be detected in all cases and if the original data has a lot of noise (usually the case with 3D scan data) then the detection will likely not be successful. More information is provided on the Features page.

InStep Studio can export data to two types of formats: Polygon and B-Rep.
The polygon formats are essentially all that are not the STEP format. If the target output file is one of point cloud or similar, then InStep will first convert the data to OBJ format and then have MeshLab perform the conversion and formatting of that data.
During export of a polygon file, all faces are converted (or kept as) triangles and any conversion to Feature based information will be ignored. The different format options are available through the extension-filter on the Save dialog option.
For STEP files, the boundary representation is obtained from the data and individual entities are generated during export. Generally, the file should contain few features as very large files (usually above about 10,000 features) can cause issues for CAD applications. Files exceeding 1,000,000 faces have been tested, but performed poorly if at all. Keeping the number of features (or simply facets/faces if the data has not been converted to feature based output) small is beneficial in keeping performance of both the InStep as well as target CAD application at an optimum.

Additional information about Terms and Underlying Ideas are described here

The language can be tricky when dealing with different file formats which are all involved in the world of Computer Aided Design (CAD). Some of the items frequently discussed have different meaning to different people and thus some confusion is to be expected. While we do not claim to be the authority in this matter, there are a few terms that should be defined, at least in the context of how they are used here:

Mesh (Files)
Mesh files and file formats are those that represent a shape by means of defining locations in a 3D space (using x, y and z coordinates within a cartesian coordinate system) and to then define basic geometric shapes (such as triangles, quadrilaterals/quads and higher complexity polygonal surfaces but also volumetric elements such as tetrahedral, pyramid, etc.) that use those locations, often by reference to an ID value assigned to each location. These formats share or re-use locations by only defining them once and then referencing them in their surface/volume definition. The advantage of this is that the data is more compact and, more importantly, that there is continuity across shapes: if two shapes use the same two locations then they must in some way be neighboring each other.
Facet (-ed) geometry
Here, faceted shapes are those that have a surface that is otherwise considered smooth (such as a round hole) broken up into smaller, flat shapes. This approximation is often required in order to make graphical display possible (graphics cards are good at working with triangles, not so much with circles) and makes the underlying representation easier for things such as intersections, point-line definitions and similar. The downside is that many more straight sections are needed to closely represent a curved surface.
Boundary Representation (aka. B-Rep) formats are different from mesh/facet formats in that they do contain definitions that can involve curves and similar, smooth surfaces. The approach is to fully define the perimeter surfaces of a body by means of a hierarchy of shapes (starting at points that are used to define edges & curves which are used to define the perimeters of surfaces). As a whole, these surfaces enclose a volume. Fundamentally, there is a direct link between simple surfaces that fully define a volume and bounding surfaces that enclose a volume: this is what InStep is built on.
STL files are likely the most common format for representing facet data for use in 3D printing and similar items. There are several file formats that are just as if not more capable of defining the same data, but the STL (considered short for 'STereo-Lithography' or sometimes also 'Standard Triangle Library') has an entrenched position due to its long history and ease of use.
One of the major downsides to the STL format is its lack of more advanced information about the content (such as lack of color and units). Several other formats have stepped in to provide more information, one capable format is the Alias Wavefront OBJ format though it is more of a Mesh format than a facet format.
The STEP (extension .STP or sometimes .STEP) is defined in ISO 10303-21 with several Application Protocols further defining details of it (such as AP 214 which is what InStep uses). STEP is an older though very capable format and (here anyway) defines a B-Rep body or bodies with limited color information. The content of the file is plain-text (ascii) and somewhat verbose (i.e. lots of information that isn't really needed). Due to its structure, it can be greatly compressed into ZIP or other compressed formats.
Most major CAD applications support STEP and that is what makes this format important to the InStep application (and why it got its name). Although the STEP format has several shortcomings, it is still a highly valuable format as no other format can be considered as well supported by CAD applications.