My Olympus E-PL6 shipped with a hand grip that proved to be quite disappointing. Its odd shape and small form factor made it difficult to grasp my camera comfortably with two hands, and wielding the camera with only one hand was out of the question. Clearly, the ergonomics of the PL6 desperately needed an upgrade, and I turned to online stores to scout for options. To my dismay, Amazon was selling a custom grip for my camera for ~$23, and eBay was not much cheaper.
Hence, this project was born, and I set out to learn about and design my own 3D printed camera grip. This Instructable will walk you through the research and design process, the basics of using 3D design software, the prep work needed before 3D printing, and some final tweaking of the custom camera grip.
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Step 1: Preliminary Research
The Amazon camera grip (here) has several key features.
- Rectangular opening to access the battery compartment
- Circular opening to attach a screw, connecting the grip and camera together
- An Arca Swiss mount, which is commonly used in quick-release tripod mechanisms
- L-plate design allows the camera to be tripod-mounted in portrait orientation
Before starting the project, I needed to lay out the particular goals and specific features that I wanted my camera grip to have, while also taking into consideration the shortcomings of 3D printing:
- ABS plastic, the printing material that 3D printers commonly use, is certainly not as strong as metal construction.
- The primary purpose I want my grip to have is for ergonomics while traveling, and the ability to hold my camera comfortably with one hand. Therefore, I didn't feel the need to design a similar Arca Swiss mount for my own grip, nor did I need portrait mounting availability.
- I still wanted easy access to the battery compartment.
With this in mind, I had a rough idea of what I wanted my camera grip to look like. The next step was to begin taking measurements of my camera's various dimensions.
Step 2: Measurements
The base and right side of the camera are the most important aspects of measurement. Starting with the base, I obtained its length and width. Carefully measuring the distance from the battery door compartment to the edges of the base, I was able to draw another rectangle marking the battery door location. I did the same for the tripod hole location, but made the resulting circle a little larger to ensure a good fit for a screw.
Taking a look at the right side of my camera, I noted the distance from the bottom to the flap covering the USB and mini-HDMI inputs. I also measured the distance from below the camera strap attachment to the bottom.
Finally, I sketched out the rough design of a grip. Wrapping my hand around the camera, I noted where my fingers were naturally placed, and designed accordingly.
Step 3: Familiarizing With Software
I used two different programs to make this camera grip. Sketchup Make is where I designed the 3D layout. It is a very precise program, allowing me to create exact geometric shapes with custom measurements. It is often used for architectural and engineering applications, but I find it to be quite robust for 3D modeling. Another bonus: it's also free. You can find the download link here.
However, some 3D printing hobbyists will swear by 123D Design, a program developed by Autodesk. While it is also a free 3D modeling program, its design process differs from Sketchup. Sketchup allows the user to define and edit individual dimensions, whereas 123D Design presents the user with pre-defined geometric blocks (cubes, pyramids, etc.) and allows the user to make edits to those blocks. Hence, 123D Design may often come across as easier for beginners. You can find 123D Design here.
Personally, I stand by Sketchup, and especially for this project where custom measurements were crucial.
The second program I used is Meshmixer, from Autodesk. Meshmixer is a 3D sculpting program, but one of its core features is its tools to prep 3D models for printing. These tools include the ability to generate printing supports, analyze strength, filling in and hollowing out structures, and much more. Its download link is here.
Step 4: Basic 3D Design
Once you've installed both Sketchup Make and Meshmixer, open up Sketchup Make. Click on Templates, and choose 3D Printing - millimeters. Then click Open Template.
You'll be greeted by a bounding box with the words Makerbot Replicator 2X. This is where you'll be designing the camera grip. On the bar at the top you'll find an assortment of tools. (My version will look slightly different since I have additional tools installed - more on that later.) Click on the Orbit tool and use your mouse to click and change the point of view. Click Pan to move the view vertically or horizontally.
You'll be using the Select, Eraser, Line, and Shapes tool a lot. Try to get a feel for them by drawing some basic shapes with the Line and Shapes Tool. You can change the shape to draw by clicking on the drop-down arrow next to the Shape tool. When using the Line tool, you can customize the exact length by using the Entity Info panel on the right hand of the screen. After drawing a line, select it with the Select Tool, and then change its length to your desired measurement.
Finally, perhaps the most important tool for 3D design is the Push/Pull tool. This tool allows you to extend a shape upwards/downwards to give it depth. Try it out for yourself!
When you've gotten a hang for these tools, use them to carefully draw out your design that you created earlier. Push/Pull the 2D shapes until they've reached a height that you like. We'll learn how to make the design fancier in the next step.
Step 5: Getting Fancy With Extensions
Although you can design curves in Sketchup Make, it's really time-consuming and tedious to round out edges. Thankfully, there's an extension for that. You'll need to follow the following steps in order to install extensions into Sketchup:
- Go to Sketchucation and download their plugin. The video on their page shows you how to install it for Sketchup.
- In Sketchup, go to Extensions → SketchUcation → ExtensionStore
- Use the Search to find LibFredo6. Install this.
- Use Search again to find and install RoundCorner.
- Restart Sketchup to have the new tools appear in your toolbar!
The second extension you'll need will allow you to export your Sketchup file to an STL file, the most common 3D printing format. For this extension, go to Window → Extension Warehouse. Find and install SketchUp STL. You'll need this later.
Step 6: Using RoundCorner
Once RoundCorner is installed (and you have restarted SketchUp), you should then see 3 additional tools show up in your toolbar. To use RoundCorner, click on the yellow RoundCorner tool, and then select an edge. You'll see a lot of complex options to choose from, but don't worry, you'll only need 2 options. Under Rounding Parameters, Offset controls how far the curve extends into the edge. # Seg controls how smooth the curve is, but 10s (the default setting) is sufficient for our needs. By using RoundCorner, we can smooth out the edges on our camera grip, most importantly the part where we'll be holding the grip. When you're done rounding out an edge, press Enter, and voila!
Step 7: Exporting and Finalizing for 3D Printing!
When you're done designing your camera grip, select your entire design (Select Tool), and go to File → Export STL... Make sure the checkbox is checked, and choose the options Millimeters and Binary. The STL file will show up in the same folder where you saved the Sketchup file.
Navigate to this STL file, right-click, and choose Open With. Open the file as a Meshmixer application file. Use the right mouse button to orbit view, and the middle mouse button to pan. You'll notice that the object you opened in Meshmixer isn't centered. Click on Edit → Align → Accept.
What Sketchup creates is an external geometry. If you had zoomed into your object in Sketchup, you'll notice that your design was completely hollow. Meshmixer allows us to fix that by doing Edit → Make Solid. In order to increase resolution of your object (since Meshmixer will most likely seem to pixelate your model), change both your Solid Accuracy to 216 and Mesh Density to 216. These values worked well for me. Click Update, and then Accept. You're now ready to export your model for printing! Click on Export, choose a save location, and make sure your save file type is STL Binary Format (not ASCII).
As a university student, I have access to the school's 3D printers for free. If you have access to a 3D printer, this STL file is what the printer will recognize and print.
Step 8: Final Tweaks
Most, if not all, cameras have the same tripod screw thread -- 1/4" x 20. The 1/4" defines the diameter, and 20 defines the number of screw threads. I went to Home Depot and bought a 1/4" x 20 screw with length 3/4".
Additionally, I added a piece of foam to the top of the top and bottom of the grip. This adds a little more depth for the screw to fully tighten. Finally, as the front of the camera was not fully flat, I ended up with some excess spacing between the hand grip portion and the camera--again, I fixed this with a little bit of foam.
And that's all! Have fun 3D designing and 3D printing, and thanks for reading!