I love gadgets but I sometimes feel like gadgets and accessories are designed for and by men, and women's needs are almost completely ignored. For example when I had my first iPod and wanted an arm band to wear to the gym, I realized I would have to modify the one I bought because the velcro didn't extend far enough to wrap around my small arms (either that or I needed to work out A LOT more... I chose to modify it ;). So when I was looking for something to carry my iPhone earbuds in I figured I would try to design something that matched my own personal needs but could also work for other women.
What I was looking for in an earbud holder (and what I wasn't really finding) was something that was large enough to completely protect the earbuds when I tossed it in my purse, but was also lightweight and compact enough that it wasn't a hassle to carry it around with me. Compact was kind of the key word-- I realized the makeup compacts that most women carry around in their makeup bag might be a good starting point for my design. And that's where the idea for the Earbuds Compact came from.
Step 1: How to Make an Earbud Compact- Create 2 Halves
I created my model in Sketchup though you can use any 3D software you prefer. Just be sure that you can measure dimensions with some precision (this will be important later) and that you can export it into a format that can be printed (.stl is usually best).
You can make a compact as simple or as complex as you like. The first thing you want to do is create 2 symmetrical halves for the compact. They don't have to remain the same but the edges that come together should line up. And the bottom half should have a relatively flat surface on the underside.
Step 2: Add a Hinge and a Clasp
Once you have a shape you're happy with you'll want to add a hinge and clasp. The great thing about 3D printing is that you can model these items in place and if you print via a high quality printer (i.e. companies like Shapeways that have industrial quality printers) you'll end up with a single piece that works without any modifications .
The hinge is essentially 3 parts-- the bottom tubes, the top tubes and the rod that goes through them (I'm sure there's a more correct way of referring to the parts of the hinge but I'm not engineer so... ;).
For the hinge be sure to leave enough clearance so that the moving parts are not fused together as one. I believe for Shapeways it needs to have a .5mm clearance (this is where being able to precisely measure dimensions in the model becomes really important).
For the clasp you can take a look at a compact you have or anything that operates in the same way to get an idea of how to model it (I looked at a floss container). Mine was basically a flap on the top half that was flexible enough to pass over the bump on the bottom and stay in place.
Make sure that any details you create are large enough so that they don't get worn away. The little bump on the bottom half didn't show up in my final print from Shapeways-- I'm guessing it disappeared during the polishing process so I will make it more substantial the next time.
Step 3: [Optional] Add Your Earbud Holder/Winder
This is an optional part of the design but it makes it much easier to store your earbuds in your compact if you have something to wind the cord around. I tried a bunch of different ideas but in the end I needed something that could first hold the actual buds securely in place then bring the two cables together as one (see the photo) to make wrapping easier.
Step 4: Testing Your Design So Far
If you're not ready to send your design away to have it professionally printed you can test out your compact by printing it in separate pieces on your home 3D printer. I test printed some on my Printrbot Simple. They didn't look great but they gave me an idea of scale and what needed fixing. And while I couldn't print all the parts as one piece I was still able to make sure the hinge and other parts actually worked without having to spend lots of $$. If that's not an option then I would do a mini prototype since something at the scale of a compact can get pricey when you're still working out your design.
Step 5: Make Sure It Fits
Lastly just make sure you leave a generous amount of room in your design so that the compact can close properly when your earbuds are all wrapped up (I scaled mine up a few times to make sure it worked).
And then you're done! You have your own gadget accessory to protect your earbuds that looks way cooler than any store bought mass-manufactured accessory you could find.