Tutorial designs 3D printed cases for your projects


[Landon Cox] recently finished up a 3-part tutorial on designing project enclosures for 3D printing. The series is great if you have not yet tried your hand at this realm of the 3D printing universe, but there’s a lot to take away about design and modeling even if you don’t plan to print your creations.

He starts off part one of the tutorial by explaining the need for 3D printed cases. He believes it’s the natural progression after you’ve made it far enough to have your own PCB manufactured. Why not add a well designed and fabricated case to compliment your meticulously laid out circuitry? In part two he gets the design ball rolling by modeling the top and bottom portions of the case seen above in blue. The final step is to design a face plate that matches the needs of your circuit; in this case it’s DB9 and RJ45 connectors.

It’s not all smooth sailing along the way. [Landon] does actually print the case and the faceplate is just a bit too big for the the rest of the enclosure. But better too big than too small as shaving away a bit of the edges fixes it right up.

[via Adafruit]


  1. Hack Man says:

    Somebody PLEASE automate enclosure creation.

  2. BlueBot says:

    Well that didn’t take long to crash his site.

  3. a1cypher says:
  4. dmattox10 says:

    I hope the links work again soon. I was literally searching all day yesterday for a guide for an enclosure for my latest project!

  5. Hack Man says:
  6. casainho says:

    I use FreeCAD and I already shared some enclosures on ThingIverse: http://free-cad.sourceforge.net/

  7. georgegraves says:

    I wonder what the cost is of a printed enclosure after you take into account the electricity and filament used? Anyone care to take a guess?

    • Bradley says:

      Very little. Even less if you make your own filament. Your time costs far more.

    • jpa says:

      If you don’t have your own 3D printer but go with Shapeways instead, a typical small box will cost about $50.

    • Viadd says:

      A 2″ x 3″ x 4″ (5 x 7.5 x 10 cm) box with 1 mm thick walls is ~22 cm^3 of material–call it 30 grams @ $45/kg ~ $1.50 for materials.

      Call it an hour to print running 100 Watts so that’s a penny for the power.

      You get it wrong the first time, so you’re up to $3.

      (Yeah, maybe you can order something from Digikey in that price range, plus $5 S&H and get it in a week, and then it’s the wrong size and you have to re-order and then nibble the holes in the faceplate for the connectors. And the bareboard has been running for a couple of weeks when you finally have the box, and you accidentally zapped it when you touched the circuitry so that was a few hours to fix.)

      Basically, you can’t use up the cost of consumables with a typical printer faster than you can use up the value of your time.

  8. James says:

    Easy to use CAD software is imho THE biggest problem with wider scale adoption of 3d printers. Maybe it’s just me (I don’t think I’m a complete dullard, but…), but it’s just too damn hard to get into easily. Even sketchup (which people proclaim as easy) is to my mind, imprecise and awkward, or maybe just unintuitive.

    I’ve also tried various open source packages, FreeCAD probably was the best, but damn, it’s so hard.

    I know what I want, but actually achieving that…

    That said, the software used by this guy (ViaCAD 2d/3d) seems quite nice, shame it’s not open source.

    • kernelcode says:

      I use a combination of QCAD and OpenSCAD all the time – works really well if you know how to code.
      Draw out the complicated, mm-critical parts (faceplate?) in QCAD, then import the .dxf into OpenSCAD and extrude it. After that you can subtract a cuboid to make a cavity in the middle and you’re done more or less.

      I’m wondering if you could also use a 3D render of your board in OpenSCAD? If you can get an .stl file of it somehow, you can subtract that from a solid block and have a case that fits like a glove :-D

  9. julian says:

    I, too, found sketchup to be very hard to get into. It’s ok if you get used to the strange UI, but even blender was easier for me to learn than sketchup (although not that intuitive as well)

    Prices for 3d printed cases would interest me as well.

    • daid303 says:

      Prices highly depend on if you print it yourself or order it.

      If you order it from shapeways, you are talking about 16 euros for a case. http://www.shapeways.com/model/590790/case-for-rpi-with-openlogo-and-legofeet.html?li=productBox-search

      Printing about the same case in PLA, on an Ultimaker. Then the electricity can be ignored (we calculated, it’s in the cents range for very long prints). As for PLA, it’s 40 euros per kilo of quality material. 0.75kg is about 100 meters of material. The case I printed for a friend used about 10 meters of material. So that’s about 3 euros. But then you do need a 1200 euro machine. So 1200/13 = 92 cases needed before you break even!

      Cheers (Daid, from Ultimaker)

    • lwatcdr says:

      Solidworks is actually very easy to use too bad it costs as much as a motorcycle or a used car. Good 3D CAD software is an area where FOSS has produced nothing great and really could make a huge difference in the world.

  10. pcf11 says:

    I think I’ll stick to making my project enclosures out of wood or metal. Plastic is kind of chintzy.

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