Faceted Modeling and NURBS

Modern CAD systems and CAD packages enable designers to model objects and retrieve them in their formats. Some formats are interchangeable while some enforce restrictions, upon which, it becomes difficult to transfer an object model from one form to another.

This article describes some of the most used CAD formats in the industry. But before we look into various CAD formats, it is essential to understand the concept of Faceted geometry and Analytic geometry (NURBS).


Faceted geometry, also known as discrete geometry, are models which consist of groups of polygons which is often triangles.

Most Computer-Aided Design (CAD) systems typically use continuous surface and edge definitions based on NURBS. CAE simulations break down this NURBS representation into facets by a process known as meshing. The faceted models are quite appealing to engineering marketing, as such simulations are less bothered with exact physical reality and tend to emphasize on creating eye-catching visuals, such as airflow over a car, which can be incorporated into a marketing brochure. File formats typically used for faceted models are: .3ds, .dxf, .obj, .stl (Stereolithography).

Almost all the faceted formats, except for STL, reflect material properties such as glass and metal by providing groupings of facets. However, such groupings are inadequate for a CAE simulation.


NURBS or Non-uniform rational basis spline describes curves and surfaces with mathematical functions, and form the most common analytic geometry representations. The NURBS geometry has unlimited resolution. The NURBS definition defines the location of the boundary points and uses control points with slope definition to determine the internal shape of curves and surfaces, thereby enabling a great deal of flexibility. NURBS geometry is typically produced in CAD systems such as CATIA, Pro/Engineer, Solidworks, NX, etc. A significant drawback of NURBS geometry is that they are generally specific to the CAD packages that created them, and interchanging formats can be error-prone and inaccurate.



Faceted geometry

NURBS geometry

Facets are always guaranteed to comply with the original definition

In NURBS geometry, different levels of model detail are created without losing fidelity

Faceted geometry describes a shape as a mesh, points usually connected by triangles

Analytic geometry defines curves and surfaces with mathematical functions

Faceted geometry has limited resolution

NURBS geometry has unlimited resolution

Evaluating  a faceted surface, one can get a shape defined by linear interpolation between known discrete points

One can assess a NURBS surface anywhere and get coordinates lying on the surface

Simple definition

Includes topology


Cons of Faceted geometry

Cons of NURBS geometry

Fixed resolution

More computing intense

No topology

High data exchange


Although faceted geometry has its use, NURBS geometry is superior for design and manufacturing processes. Due to the high demands on geometric precision, NURBS geometry finds its place in CAE applications. But if the modeling requirements ask for stunning visuals, faceted models are worth giving a try.