3D Scene Setup

As you know Copper features an impressive 3D rendering mode that semi-automatically generates a 3D representation of your board, complete with tracks, textures and parts. The 3D viewer will let you set lights, different solder masks, camera positions and even depth of blur effects.

Purpose of a 3D PCB

You might ask yourself what you should do with this mode. Well, at first, it’s a lot of fun to see your PCB board alive, with all the parts. But beyond having fun playing around with your 3D board there are very important aspects:

  • It’s easer to see in 3D while rotating the board around if a connector is too close another big element which makes it problematic to put the connector in or out.
  • If you are hand soldering your board you will need to make sure that you reach all parts and footprints with your solder iron, that is also much easier seen in 3D than in an abstract 2D representation.
  • Most PCB manufacturers provide green solder mask but you have to pay (a bit) more for other colored solder masks like white, black or red. Copper simulates typical solder masks which makes it easier for you to decide if it’s worth the extra money.
  • Technical devices are often shown with a picture of what’s inside. Apple does that in each and every product video of and images of their devices. A lot of other companies do that, too. Why spending weeks creating a wonderful PCB layout when nobody ever sees it? Make it worth, show it to your customers. But getting good pictures of a small PCB is not that easy. You will need a good camera, lenses, lights, all that stuff. Look at the amazing images Adafruit has in their store. It’s much easier to set up your virtual photo studio in Copper, creating great images from your PCB which almost look real, but are just rendered in real time by your Graphics Card and Copper. And if you hire a photographer to create great images of your PCB you will be able to provide him with great Storyboards using Coppers 3D functionality.
  • You can export the 3D scenes you create in a COLLADA format. That is an industry standard file format for 3D scenes. COLLADA can be imported into most other 3D programs for rendering, you can also import it into mechanical CAD software like Inventor, Fusion 360 (our favorite) or Solidworks to create a housing that will fit your PCB. No strange and expensive IDF formats hat show off just boxes, you will be able to create a USB cutout with very fine precision.

These are just a few ideas of what you can do with a 3D representation of your board.

Navigating the 3D Viewer

You navigate the 3D Viewer with your mouse or trackpad. There are four basic movements that you can configure to your liking in the Copper Preferences:


In Orbit mode you rotate around a virtual target point. Double click on any item on the board, the PCB itself or any part and the point where your mouse pointer “hits” the 3D representation of the PCB is the new Orbit center. Double click a resistor and your camera will orbit around that resistor. This way it’s very easy to get great, dynamic camera perspectives.


Dolly will move the Orbit center of the camera in the viewing direction, it’s some kind of a walk action. Although it might look equal to Zoom, its totally different things. When you Dolly, the Field of View will stay that same, i.e. there will be no visible distortion. Also the Orbit radius will be the same as before.


In Zoom the camera is brought nearer (or farer away) from the orbit center. Orbiting around will keep the object of interest in the center of the screen, while it will not be when you Dolly the camera. Zoom will also change the Field of View which leads to distortion sometimes. If you do not want that, you can fix that with the Field of View setting of the camera in the Inspector (see below).


Pan moves the camera up or down and left or right relative to the viewing direction. If you are looking at your board from top, panning will move the board like it would in the 2D Viewer.

Please open the Preferences to set up your controls. We have chosen a default setup that works great on MacBooks with Trackpads and with the Magic Mouse. But if you’re using different devices or if you are used to a specific setup, please set up the system in Preferences.

Important: We want you to work efficiently with Copper. If the current Preferences don’t allow your specific setup please drop us a line and we’ll see how we can improve the system.

Positioning the camera at specific locations

In the top right corner you can see a small cube. Drag and rotate the cube and the 3D view will follow. Click on any of the cubes sides (i.e. Top, Bottom, Left, …) and the 3D view will position the camera. This way you can easily inspect/export your PCB from any standard angle.

At the top right corner of the editor view is a small “Home”-Icon. Click it and the 3D viewer will position the camera in an isometric style angle and will zoom out the camera so that the whole PCB is visible. If you have set up depth blur, the camera will also focus on the center of the board.  If you got lost, press this button and it will bring you back to your PCB.

Setting up a 3D scene

This text assumes you already have set up a 3D board. This requires just choosing a few 3D parts for your (own) footprints. Have a look at Adding 3D Parts if you have not done, yet.

Open the 3D Scene Inspector Tab by clicking on this icon in the top area of the Inspector: lightBulbIcon@2x. This will open the Scene Inspector where you set up your 3D scene, i.e. camera, lights, floor, and a lot of other settings. It’s as easy as dragging a few sliders and watching the result rendered in real time in the main editor view.

Of course it would be possible to allow for more settings to be changed. For example it’s not possible to change the color of the light. But if we would expose every setting Copper would get more and more complicated. Just drop us a line at support@copper-app.com if you really need a specific feature or setting and we’ll look into that.


The top area of the Scene Inspector is dedicated to Presets. With Presets you can save specific settings under a name and by clicking on a Preset it will be activated and rendered in the main editor view immediately.

Clicking on one of the direction buttons will activate the next or previous Preset. Transitions from one Preset to next will be nicely animated. This allows for nice camera paths or detail shots of your PCB, very nice during presentations for example.

Once a Preset is created and activated, you can modify it anytime by setting new values. But don’t forget to click the “Update preset with current settings”. If you don’t do that, your Preset will not be modified. If you want to restore the viewport with the Preset, just click on “Restore Preset” to set it back and start over.

At anytime you may click on the small “+” button at the top right corner of this Inspector section to create a new Preset. Don’t forget to set a name, as multiple “Untitled” Presets don’t make your life easier. If you want to get rid of a Preset, select it, and click the small “-” button to remove it. You may reorder Presets by dragging them to a new position inside the Table and dropping it there.

Adjusting lights

Every Copper 3D scene is composed of two light sources: Top and Bottom. As their names imply, one light source is coming from above, the other from below the PCB. Bot light sources are “Spot-Lights”. To make your life easier, you will only have to concentrate on the position of the light. Copper will automatically adjust the size and position of the spotlights target to fully light the PCB.

Each lights position is adjusted with only three settings: Pitch, Yaw and Intensity. The light sources are placed around the PCB like satellites around the earth. Using Pitch you can set the vertical position of the light around the orbit. The value you set is an angle. Yaw will be the horizontal position of the light. It’s hard to explain, but easy to use. Just drag the sliders and you will set up lights in a few seconds.

As you can position both lights above or below the PCB you can create amazing light effects. If you activated the floor the bottom side of the PCB will never be seen. So you can bring the bottom light above the PCB and use it as a secondary, ambient type light source, while the other light source is bright and creates awesome shadows. Just play around with the settings, it makes fun and you’ll get results quickly.

Shininess of Solder Mask

Solder masks reflect the light, but the intensity varies. Using this setting you can set the solder mask shininess. Again, just play around to see the effect of different settings.

Board Rotation

Not every PCB looks best when lying on the floor. Using these controls you can rotate your board. Notice: This only makes sense if you have activated the floor as you can see the board in any angle using camera controls.


The floor gives your 3D PCB depth and profile. But you can deactivate the floor at any time. You can place the floor vertically in relation to your PCB by adjusting the floor position. You can make the floor reflective and set how blurry this reflection will be.

We have created a few floor materials like dark, white and wooden floors. We’ll add more floor materials with each update of the software. Perhaps we allow custom setup of floor textures and material settings in the future, but in this first release our main goal has been ease of use and quick, nice results.

The background color adjusts the background color of the scene. Most of the time this color will be hidden by an activated floor, but if you are watching your board from the side you’ll see the “sky” above the horizon and using this setting you can set the skies color.

Camera settings

Please use the navigation controls described above to set the position of the camera. With these settings you control various camera settings like Field of View, Aperture and Depth Blur. I’ll described these settings in detail as playing around with these settings not always gets you quick results without knowing how all of these settings relate to the other.

Field of View

The FOV setting sets the focal length of the camera. The smaller the value, the smaller the area the camera can capture. Think of a real camera. Using a wide angle (large FOV value) allows you to capture a whole building when standing in front of it, but distorts it. If you zoom in with your camera, the picture will get more “flat” and in the end you will only see the house number of the door lock with your camera. In this case the FOV value would be very slow. Setting FOV is nearly the same as zooming the camera, but there are differences in distortion. You’ll have to play around with this setting to really understand it.

Focal Blur Radius

You certainly know these images where just a small part is sharp and the rest looks blurry. This is called depth of blur. Even your eye cannot get everything sharp, only a small portion. And it depends how far away the object you are focussing is. Any Blur Radius value above 0 will activate depth blur rendering. And the larger this value, the more blurry areas out of focus will become.

Focal Distance

This setting sets the distance of the sharp area of the image, i.e. the focal point is relation to the camera. You will have to play around with this value after setting the blur radius. Sometimes, changing the value does not have any effect. Then you will have to increase the value until you see an effect.

Focal Size

The area of sharpness is set using this setting. If it’s very small, only a very small line will be sharp. Increase it in order to get more parts of your image sharp. Play around with this setting in combination with the focal distance. Both settings relate on the other.


How smooth the transition between sharp and out of focus areas are rendered is set with the Aperture. Have a very small value will render a “break” between sharp and blurry while larger values create a nice transition.