The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Perfect 3D Configurator
Read up on what you need to know about configurators to make the right choice for your business.
1. What is a Product Configurator
A Product Configurator is an interactive design tool that allows users to customize their own unique products based on available configuration options like color, print, text, images, textures and more.
Wikipedia defines Configurators as “Choice boards, design systems, toolkits, or co-design platforms that are responsible for guiding the user through the configuration process.”
During your research, you probably have come across different names for a configurator. So have we, and you might be wondering what to call it. Is it a product configurator, product customizer, customization tool, customization software or any of the myriad names that you will find.
Based on BRIKL research, the word "configurator" is in fact the most common name. Runners up are Configuration System and Product Customizer. Other favorites are Product Configurator, 3D Product Configurator, Product Configurator Software, Product Editor and Customization Software. At BRIKL, we also like to refer to it as "Design Studio" or "Design Room".
2. What type of product configurators are there
Configurators are used both for B2B and B2C business applications. B2B configurators are used primarily by sales reps during the CPQ process to provide quotes. B2C configurators are used directly by the end-customer to co-design their own products. Each type of product customizer brings different advantages.
B2B configurators are a key part of what’s called CPQ software: configure, price, quote. CPQ software helps sales persons to provide quotes to prospects quickly and accurately. Key benefits of B2B configurators are:
Shorter sales cycle (and MORE sales)
Online access to up-to-date product information
Elimination of errors in the ordering process
Shorter learning curve for new sales
Excitement and engagement
B2C configurators are a key part of Ecommerce software. Customers increasingly want to buy products that are designed by them and gives them a sense of ownership.
3. What are the benefits of a Product Configurator
Since customers want to have their own design, companies need to think of a way to offer this in the most efficient and effective way. Traditionally, offering configurable products has required high manual involvement in the design and production process. With the advent of next-generation configuration software this process has been fully automated leading to more sales and higher engagement.
A brief history: Endless back-and-forth to design
Why it takes so much time and effort
At the start of the sales process, a salesperson will meet with the customer to understand their design needs. A series of designs will need to be created and a number of revisions will be required for each design.
Since salespersons own the communication with the customer, they need to communicate the design requirements back to the design team. As a result, it is hard to envision what the customer wants, which leads to endless going back-and-forth.
Some companies have therefore organized themselves in such a way that designers meet with the customer directly. The drawback is that companies that do this often can only service customers that are located in the vicinity of their company. This obviously limits the growth of companies, since far away teams are more difficult to be serviced.
Because of the effort that is needed to create a unique design and the expenses that come along with it, custom products have traditionally only been affordable for large orders.
Don’t forget the time it takes to make print ready files
A step that is often overlooked in creating custom products is the conversion of the design into a print and production ready file. Creating the technical files is either done by the same designers that worked on the original design together with the customer or by a separate team of designers in production.
Based on research from BRIKL, a designer can on average make 1 design per product per customer per day.
It’s clear that offering custom products in the traditional way is not scalable, because of the resources, time and effort required.
Taking a leap into the future: Next generation customization software
The question is then how to automate the customization process so that custom products can be designed, produced and sold online at mass scale.
Online product customizers are the answer to this question. In recent years, with more sophisticated technologies that have come to the forefront, customers can now quickly and easily customize products and see them in 3D real time. They can request a quote, or order and pay for them online. Designs can be converted into print ready files.
Online configurators also create the excitement and engagement that companies need. In today’s ecommerce world, shoppers have so much choice. Product configurators are a great way to get customers’ attention, to increase the conversion rates and to grow sales.
BRIKL has identified 7 key reasons for companies to get started with a product customizer and has listed the benefits both for customers and companies.
There are three types of configurations possible: personalization, customization and parametric configuration. People tend to use the terms personalization and customization interchangeably, but there is a clear difference.
Personalization is the process of adding a name, number, message of photo to a stock item or a finished design so that they are completely individual. Personalization is done on a print-to-order basis.
Customization is the process of allowing users to create a new design from a template using different colors, materials, prints, images, logos, text and other embellishments. Customization is done on a made-to-order basis.
Parametric configuration provides the user with the flexibility to change any design parameter of a product like width, height and dept. Parametric configuration is done on an engineering-to-order basis.
5. What kind of products can be customized
Configurators are a major trend in ecommerce. They can be used for a wide range of products like accessories, apparel, automobile, food, industrial goods, furniture, cards, bags and more.
The ultimate configurator to design cycling gear - COMING SOON
The ultimate configurator to design team wear - COMING SOON
The ultimate configurator to design promotional apparel - COMING SOON
The ultimate configurator to design packaging - COMING SOON
The ultimate configurator to design bikes - COMING SOON
6. Do you need a 3D Configurator or is a 2D Configurator just fine
Based on research from BRIKL (April 2019), almost twice as many companies that offer customization solutions online employ 2D configurators versus 3D configurators.
Let’s be clear. With today’s advancements in technology, 2D configurators are outdated, slow and don’t create the excitement or engagement that you need. So if you are considering offering or upgrading customization tools to your customer, go with a 3D Configurator.
7. What features does a Product Configurator need
When evaluating the right type of product configurator software for your business, it is important to understand the requirements.
BRIKL has compiled a list of business requirement for you to make the right decision. You can download the checklist for free.
3D models are digital representations of the product that you can view in the configurator.
Feature 1.1 - 3D Interactive experience
Customers can see a live 3D model of their customizable products that they can zoom in on, rotate and interact with.
Interaction can be direct so that a customer can click or tap anywhere on the 3D model. By clicking or tapping a specific zone, the customer is able to make customization changes.
Interaction can be indirect via a control panel where the customer can select a specific zone on the 3D model from a drop down box.
IMPORTANT: Make sure your customization software supports direct interaction as well as indirect interaction with the 3D model. Older configurator software typically only supports indirect interaction via a control panel/drop down. From a user experience, to make the software as intuitive as possible, both types of interactions are necessary.
Feature 1.2 - Realtime 3D view
Customers that make customization changes on a 3D model must be able to view them in real time.
IMPORTANT: Make sure there is no noticeable lag time when applying customization changes to a 3D model. Customization must be done in real time.
Feature 1.3 -3D model rotate
Customers can rotate the product by doing a 360 degree spin to see the product from all angles and in all three dimensions. Rotation must be smooth and easy.
Feature 1.4 - 3D Scale
Customers can zoom in and zoom out on the product to see the details of the model like textures, seaming, stitching and more or to see the details of the objects on the model like images or text that got added.
Feature 1.4 - 2D pattern view
While 2D configurators are a thing of the past (or so one would think), it sometimes is useful to have a 2D pattern view for certain products alongside a 3D Model. 2D pattern views make it possible for customers to add sophisticated all-over prints.
An example is packaging, where you can upload a package template (also called a dieline) onto a 2D pattern which will then render real time in 3D. The 2D pattern shows all the cutting lines and folds of a package.
Another example is garments, where you can upload a design template which is laid over a 2D pattern to then render in 3D real time. Design templates are used for sophisticated designs that may not be possible from the available design templates.
IMPORTANT: 2D pattern views are used extensively and almost exclusively by professional designers. It is therefore important for you as a business to consider who your target customer is and whether you need to have this option and want to make it available.
Feature 1.5 - Textures and lighting
In order to render 3D models with an accurate simulation of photorealism, you can add textures with the right flow of light. This is also what’s known in computer graphics as Physically based rendering (PBR). Sophisticated configurator software nowadays allows you to set the lightings for different environments like indoors, outdoors, sunshine and more. The software must also allow you to upload different materials for a product and manage the settings for the texture, like scale and opacity.
Feature 1.6 - 3D model library
Easy-to-use and easy-to-get-started-with configurator software must provide a library of 3D models that you can view, buy and download. Customization software should no longer require long implementation times. It must be an out-of-the box solution that allows you to get started immediately selling custom products online.
Feature 1.7 - Private 3D model
Next-generation product customization software allows you to upload your own 3D models with a simple drag and drop. No coding or technical experience is required. While you can continue to outsource the creation of 3D models to a 3rd party, uploading your own models gives you the freedom to create your unique models at your own pace, and experiment with the different settings of the configurator software. Make sure to check what type of 3D file formats the configurator software supports, like OBJ file format. OBJ 3D models can be created with software like AUTOCAD, Cinema4D, Blender, Maya, 3DS MAX, or Fusion 360 files.
2) Design templates : Business requirement
Design templates are UV maps that are layered on top of a 3D model and that can be customized by changing their colors and prints.
Feature 2.1 - Add your own design template
You can create custom design templates in 2D with your design software of your choice like Illustrator or CorelDraw. You can add a new design template to the configurator with a simple drag and drop into the system. No coding or technical experience is required.
Feature 2.2 - Pre-made design templates
You can select from a library of pre-made templates to add to a 3D model. Pre-made templates allow you to quickly get started with new configurator software or to learn about the latest trends and fashions.
Feature 2.3 - Auto-design templates
Auto-design feature is a much looked after feature when designing a set of products. For example, a shirt and and a short, or a bike and a jersey. With auto-design, the design of a single product can be copied to other products. What took your designers a day to do will take a fraction of the time for your customers to do themselves.
3) Color Customization - Business requirements
Feature 3.1 - Color library
You can create color libraries for your customers to choose from in the configurator software. A color can be used for any text, vector or shape.
Feature 3.2 - Color coding
You can define colors both in RGB (or HEX) and CMYK. If your printer needs CMYK files, you need to be able to define CMYK. If you want to show the colors on a screen but don’t need printing support, it might be easier to simply define your colors in RGB. You must also be able to provide a Pantone reference.
Feature 3.3 - Material colors
You can assign colors to different materials to create color palettes. For instance, a lycra fabric may have a different color palette from a jersey fabric. Because a product can have multiple materials or fabrics, it therefore can also have multiple color palettes.
4) Print Customization - Business requirements
Feature 4.1 - Print uploads
Customers can upload their own prints or artwork to customize products by simply dragging and dropping them into the system. Prints are imported preferably as SVG so they are customizable.
Feature 4.2 - Print library
You can create print libraries for your customers. Not all customers may have readily available prints or know what a good print looks like, so creating a library for them will be seen as a major advantage. Prints are made available preferably in an SVG format.
Feature 4.3 - Print rotation
Customers can change the orientation of the prints that they have added to a product.
Feature 4.4 - Print scaling
Customers can resize the prints on the product.
Feature 4.5 - Print resolution
When customers upload a print as a PNG or JPG they will get a warning if the resolution is too low. This helps them to resize or upload a higher quality image.
Feature 4.6 - Print positioning
Customers can move the prints horizontally and vertically.
Feature 4.7 - Print placement holders
Customers can fill a placement holder with a print like a flag or a design pattern.
5) Image Customization - Business requirements
Feature 5.1 - Image uploads
Customers can upload their own images in the product customizer to create their own unique library that they can add to products. Uploads can be done as simple drag and drops.
Feature 5.2 - Image library
Customers may not always know what they want. Therefore, it is important that you can upload a catalog of pre-selected images to let them explore and choose from.
Feature 5.3 - File formats
Customers can upload images in various formats. Vector formats like AI, PDF and SVG are certainly preferred. Some customers, however, may not be familiar with differences in formats and it is therefore important to also support raster files like JPG, PNG or EPS.
Feature 5.4 - Low resolution warning
When customers upload a PNG or JPG file it is important to give them guidance on the resolution. After all a low resolution means poor quality images which may lead to issues in printing and production later on. Low resolution also means that proof checking by a designer will be needed. A low resolution warning can help customers by suggesting them to resize the image or to upload a higher quality image.
Resolution is typically defined in terms of DPI (although it really should be called PPI). A good resolution is defined as higher than 300 DPI. Low resolution is between 150 and 300 DPI and a very low resolution is considered as anything below 150 DPI.
Feature 5.5 - HD images
Customization software must be able to support high quality and high resolution images uploads.
Feature 5.6 - Image position
Once the customer has added an image to the product, they can easily change the position again of the image.
Feature 5.7 - Image rotation
Customers can change the orientation of the image.
Feature 5.8 - Image scaling
Customers can change the size of the image.
Feature 5.9 - Image editing
Customization software needs to provide your customer with some of the key editing features like cropping an image, background removal (masking), adjusting exposure and contrast, adjusting vibrance and saturation, and filtering like grayscale, sepia, invert and blur.
Feature 5.10 - Image placeholders
Customers can add an image or logo to a placement holder and have it resized automatically to fit the space within.
Feature 5.11 - Image layering
When your customers are adding multiple images, it is important to have the possibility to sort them into different layers.
Feature 5.12 - Printing technique
You may offer multiple printing techniques like screen printing, heat transfer, digital printing and more that you customers can choose from. It is important to keep in mind that this feature makes more sense for a B2B configurator since it will be used by trained salespersons. Consumers may not always be aware of the different printing techniques available.
Feature 5.13 - Variable pricing
Variable pricing or live pricing shows customers what they will pay for based on the customization options that they have selected. When customers complete the design and proceed to checkout, they will know exactly what the overall price will be.
Pricing control is typically based on the size of the image and the number of images added. Advanced pricing controls including controls that allow you to set specific rules for printing techniques, setup costs and more.
6) Text Customization - Business requirements
Feature 6.1 - Add text
Customers can add different text (names, numbers or phrases) to the custom product. Text can be normal or curved.
Feature 6.2 - Text color
Customers can change the color of the text from the color palette that you make available.
Feature 6.3 - Text font
Customers can select from a list of fonts that you make available for them.
Feature 6.4 - Text outline
Customers can add an outline to the text and select the color of the outline.
Feature 6.5 - Text spacing
The text characters can be spaced out.
Feature 6.6 - Text positioning
Text can be dragged and dropped into a different position.
Feature 6.7 - Text rotation
Customers can change the orientation of the text.
Feature 6.8 - Text scaling
Customers can change the size of the text.
Feature 6.9 - Text layering
When your customers are adding multiple images or text, it is important to have the possibility to sort them into different layers.
Feature 6.10 - Text printing technique
You may offer multiple printing techniques like screen printing, heat transfer, digital printing and more that you customers can choose from.
It is important to keep in mind that this feature makes more sense for a B2B configurator since it will be used by trained salespersons and not by consumers who may not be familiar with the different techniques.
Feature 6.11 - Text variable pricing
Variable pricing or live pricing shows customers what they will pay for based on the customization options that they have used. When customers complete the design and proceed to checkout, they will know exactly what the overall price will be.
Pricing control is typically based on the size of the image and the number of images added. Advanced pricing controls includes controls that allow you to set specific rules for printing techniques, setup costs and more.
Feature 6.12 - Name & number module
Customers can create a single design and add the names and numbers of their team members to create a bulk order.
Feature 6.13 - Text placement holders
Customers can enter their names or numbers into defined areas and have them resized.
7) Save & Versioning - Business requirements
Not all customers are able to finish their customized products and complete the process of checkout. Some customers will want to save and re-use later. Or, they might want to reorder again at a later date.
8) Configurator Modularity - Business requirements
With the advancement of configurator technology, a wide variety of customization options are available. Not all the options may apply to each product every time. Therefore, it is important that you can configure the product configurator software. You can decide which customization feature that you would like to make available for each of your products.
9) Configurator Branding - Business requirements
As the popularity of product configurators increases, being able to brand your configurator and make it unique is essential. Similar to how you can change a website template, you must also be able to configure the layout and design of the configurator software. Branding options include the styling of the buttons and panels, fonts and colors. It also includes the option to upload your own custom backgrounds.
10) Configurator Ecommerce - Business requirements
Feature 10.1 - Multi-lingual
The product customizer software must be able support multiple languages.
Feature 10.2 -Multi-currency
Your configurator must be able to handle multiple currencies.
Feature 10.3 -Discounts
Your can add discounts for higher volumes
Feature 10.3 - Upcharges
Your can add upcharges for lower volumes
Feature 10.3 -Checkout
Your can add checkout tools to the configurator
Feature 10.3 -Payments
Your can add payment methods to the configurator
11) Product Configurator Integration
Sometimes it is necessary to integrate your configurator with your internal ERP or accounting system. Like with any integration the key questions to ask yourself are what data needs to be exchanged and how the connection will be made.
12) Product Configurator Ease of Use
The configurator must be easy to set-up and maintain for you as an administrator. A configurator should be an out-of-the box solution that you can fully configure yourself. You shouldn't need to know any coding or have any technical expertise. Key things to look into are for example the ease of adding design templates or defining placement holders.
13) Print-ready files - Business requirements
In order to fully automate the process from design to production, you need to be able to convert the 3D designs into 2D print ready files. The software must also be able to support different formats like PDF, PNG and SVG.
In addition you must be able to download all the images, prints and artwork that were uploaded by your customers.
14) Other - Business requirements
Some configurators are branded, while others are white labeled. You must have the option to either go with the branded version of the software or have it white labeled at perhaps a small premium.
Naturally, the software must support multiple devices including mobile and tablet. The configurator must be fully responsive, fast and intuitive so you will never lose a sale because the customer couldn’t complete the purchase online.
8. Build, outsource or buy
So you have decided your business needs a Product Configurator. Should you develop one internally, outsource or go for an existing software.
Build it in-house
A decade ago, if you had a dedicated IT team in-house, then it was certainly worth exploring to create the customization software yourself. The requirements were less sophisticated and customer expectations were less.
There are clear advantages working with your in-house team who understands your business and that allows you to communicate faster and have more flexibility.
However, with today’s advancements in technology, and the expert software that’s needed, building customization tools in house, is costly and time consuming and frankly, mostly impossible. It means hiring more people, building up expertise, retaining talent, maintaining the software, while making sure your core business continues to be supported.
Outsource to developers
No matter the industry, a common way to cut costs seems to outsource some or all to an external software development team. There are a lot of companies that offer outsourcing services at an affordable price. The disadvantage is that they may be based in another country, which makes the communication harder and slows down the project.
Likewise with in-house developments, the biggest hurdle though for outsourcing the development of new customization software, is the fact that the technology has become an expert area, that outsourced teams are not equipped to handle.
Buy a software license
Configurators have become sophisticated software, much like CRM solutions that are readily available as SaaS (Software as a Service). With SaaS you can get the service for a monthly fee and select the functions and support that your business needs. The scope of the functionality that is offered by SaaS software is no longer an issue, and the software industry for customization has become a mature industry.
Yet, when choosing a SaaS company, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:
Is customer support available and always ready to help
Is the pricing clear and transparent
Is the software updated regularly
Is the software platform based on the latest technology
What features does the software offer
Is data protection ensured
What other customers are supported
Is it easy for your customers to use?
Is it easy to manage the configurator in the back-end
Is it a plug in or an end-to-end solution, or both