Introduction: 3D Printed Zipper Pulls

Making your own 3D printed custom zipper pull is a great way to stand out from the crowd! You can personalize almost any zippered garment or bag/backpack with your name and/or any shape!

The finished product we'll be making is a 3D printed 'sleeve' that slides over an existing zipper pull and is secured in place with a tapered plug. Adding onto the existing pull takes advantage of the strength of the metal and keeps the tools needed to a minimum.

NOTE: The zipper pulls we'll be making in this instructable are also a great help for hands that would benefit from a larger object to grip than the traditional teeny tiny zipper pulls (ie: those with arthritis).

Step 1: Choose a Zipper to Customize

This project will work for any zipper that has a hole (square or round) in the pull tab. See the examples below:

But WILL NOT WORK for pulls WITHOUT HOLES like the zipper below.

So be sure to choose a zippered garment or bag that has a pull with a hole.

Step 2: 3D Printing Supplies

You can absolutely follow along with this project without actually 3D printing anything (i.e.: you can just do the 3D modeling part), but if you do want to end up with a physical version of your design that you print yourself, here are the tools and supplies you'll need in order to make it.

  • 3D Printer*
  • PLA filament that is the right size for your printer
  • Wide painter's tape
  • Credit card for smoothing out the tape on the print surface
  • Rubbing alcohol or an alcohol based lens cleaner (optional)
  • Sharp chisel (optional)

*To read a great overview of good quality hobby 3D printers – and to find info on where to have your pieces printed if you don't own, or want to own, a 3D printer – read through lesson 1 of JON-A-TRON's Easy 3D Printing Class!

NOTE: There are also several 3D printing service companies that will print your design for you (and mail it to you) for a very reasonable price, like Shapeways and Ponoko.

Which filament to choose:

Most 3D printing PLA (vegetable based plastic) filament is rigid, which will result in a rigid zipper pull (like my cactus example). If you'd prefer something more bendy and rubbery, try a Polyflex (pictured above) or Ninjaflex filament. There are fewer color options for these vs. the rigid PLA, but it can be worth that color option loss for their great 'hand feel'.

Step 3: Measure Your Zipper Pull

Now that you've decided what to customize, let's make a thing!

In order to achieve a proper fit of the 3D printed part, you need to measure the zipper pull that you plan on customizing.

You can use either a ruler or calipers as long as whatever you choose has a millimeters side/setting.

NOTE: Using calipers will produce a more accurate fit, but if you don't own any, a ruler will work just fine.

The reason for using metric units is that we'll be modeling our zipper pulls in Tinkercad, which has millimeters as a default setting.

Here are the dimensions you need to find before we head into Tinkercad and get started designing our custom pulls:

  • A) The LENGTH of the pull that will be inserted into the 3D printed pull.
  • B) The WIDTH of the pull.
  • C) The LENGTH of the cutout.
  • D) The WIDTH of the cutout.
  • E) The WIDTH of the grip nub.
  • F) The THICKNESS of the pull.
  • G) The THICKNESS of the grip nub.

To save some of you time, here are the dimensions of a standard YKK hoody zipper pull:

  • A) 15.5 mm
  • B) 7.75 mm
  • C) 5.2 mm
  • D) 5.0 mm
  • E) 2.91 mm
  • F) 1.58 mm
  • G) 2.44 mm

NOTE: If you're going to be making a custom design for a zipper that has an unusually shaped metal pull, like the one above, follow the same measurement rules EXCEPT measure the width at the widest point only and the thickness at the thickest point only (if there's no grip nub).

Step 4: Tinkercad Ho!

To design/model this project, I used Tinkercad– a FREE browser-based 3D modeling program by Autodesk – which is very simple to use, even if you're a complete newbie!

NOTE: I won't be covering Tinkercad navigation tools or program functions in this instructable. If you're completely new to the program and either don't know where to start, or are having trouble following along, have a quick read through Lesson 2 of my co-worker JON-A-TRON's Easy 3D Printing Class. It covers everything you need to know to get started from scratch in Tinkercad!

Sign in to Tinkercad and Create New Design

Go to the Tinkercad website and sign in if you already have an account, or sign up if you don't.

Once you're signed in, click on create CREATE NEW DESIGN to generate a new project workplane.

The page will come already named with funny made up words. Highlight the name by clicking on the words and change it to something project related, like Hoody Zipper Pull. (The above image is from my LED Egg Night Light project!)

Now we're ready to model our project!

Step 5: Model a 'HOLE' of the Metal Pull

Now that we have the measurements for the existing metal pull tab that we'll be building around, we need to do one more thing to them before using them:

  • ADD 0.25 mm to each measurement EXCEPT A, C & D (the length and width of the cutout hole).
  • ADD 0.5 mm to A
  • SUBTRACT 0.25 mm from the C & D measurements.

NOTE: This step applies to any style of pull tab.

After applying the above adjustments, my new measurements (for a classic YKK hoody zipper pull) are as follows:

  • A) 16 mm - The LENGTH of the pull that will be inserted into the 3D printed pull.
  • B) 8.0 mm - The WIDTH of the pull.
  • C) 4.95 mm - The LENGTH of the cutout.
  • D) 4.75 mm - The WIDTH of the cutout.
  • E) 3.16 mm - The WIDTH of the grip nub.
  • F) 1.83 mm - The THICKNESS of the pull.
  • G) 2.69 mm - The THICKNESS of the grip nub.

We will be using these adjusted measurements (or your own if you're working with a different size/shape pull) to make a zipper pull shaped 'HOLE' in Tinkercad.

NOTE: A HOLE is a 'negative' shape that gets removed from another shape, creating negative space within the outer shape – in this case, the custom zipper pull. By using the adjusted measurements, we are allowing for the small amount of extra space needed for the metal pull tab to slide easily into the custom 3D printed shape.

GET TO MODELING!

In order to create a HOLE that is the correct size and shape to accommodate the metal pull tab, we will use shapes from the Tinkercad BASIC SHAPES menu.

You have the option of following along using the short videos or photos, OR BOTH!

  • Drag a box onto the workplane from the Basic Shapes menu.
  • Change the length, width, and height to the A, B, and F measurements you figured out above.

  • Drag a second box onto the workplane.
  • Change the length, width, and height to the A, E, and G measurements from above.


  • Select both boxes and ALIGN them by clicking on all three MIDDLE black dots.
  • Group the two shapes.


  • Drag a third box onto the workplane OR a cylinder if your zipper pull hole is round or ovular.
  • Change the length and height to the C & D measurements, and the height to 5.25 (I adjusted the height from 5 to 5.25 later in the ible, so save yourself a step and do it now!)

  • Select all three shapes and ALIGN them clicking only on the middle black dot on the left.


  • Make the blue rectangles TRANSPARENT by selecting them, clicking on SOLID, and checking the Transparent box in the lower right hand corner.
  • Make sure that the longer side of the 'almost' square (4.95 side) is parallel to the length of the rectangles.
  • Turn off 'Snap Grid' in the lower right hand corner of the workplane.
  • Select all three shapes and move them so that they line up with the grid, like pictured above.
  • Select the square and reposition it so that it's approximately equidistant from top, bottom, and right edges of the larger rectangles. Eyeballing it is fine.

  • Select all three shapes and ALIGN them using the center left dot only.

This is what you should have at this point (or a variation of this if you're using a different shaped pull).


  • Switch to a side + orthographic view.
  • Select the two long rectangles and raise them 2mm off the workplane.

If you made the height of your square 5.25mm right off the bat, you can skip this step. If you didn't, do that now.


  • Select the square box and lower it until it sits -0.25mm below the workplane. This ensures that when you add this HOLE to your pull design, you will end up with a hole on the bottom for the securing plug to go into.

Step 6: Model or Import Your Zipper Pull

In this step, you will have the choice of modeling your own zipper pull from scratch or using an imported shape that you find and download from Thingiverse.

Thingiverse is a website whose community has uploaded over 910,880 3D printable models, most of which can be downloaded and used/altered under a Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone can use or alter any design with this license listing – with attribution to the creator.

All of the above shapes – with the exception of the peach rectangle on the right – where Thingiverse finds. I was able to use the lego block and gummy bears as is, but had to alter the cactus to accommodate the height of the metal zipper pull 'HOLE'.

**Click on file name links for shape attribution.

DESIGN YOUR OWN ZIPPER PULL IN TINKERCAD

The above video shows you how to design a basic rectangular pull, customized with your name.

I'm not going to go over this step-by-step, as I'm assuming you have a basic level of Tinkercad skill and will want to come up with your own shape anyway.

These are the few key points to remember regardless of what shape you decide to make:

  • Making your design/shape TRANSPARENT makes it easier to see how the metal zipper pull HOLE sits within your design.

  • Where the metal zipper pull HOLE sits is important, because the end of the rectangle and bottom of the square (or circle/oval) MUST each stick out of the shape 0.25mm (like pictured above - NOTE: this view is from the underside of the piece).

This way when you group the HOLE and the design/shape, openings will be created where the HOLE was sticking through/out of the design/shape. These openings are where the metal zipper pull and securing plug (the next step) will slide in.

  • If you're adding text or a relief pattern, make sure that it doesn't interfere with the metal zipper pull HOLE.

  • Be sure to select all and ALIGN everything, clicking on the center horizontal plane dot only – like pictured.

Once you've finished your design:

  • Make any recessed pattern shapes and the metal pull tab shape HOLES.
  • Make a copy of the metal pull tab HOLE and move it off the workplane. We'll be using it in the next step.
  • Select all.
  • Click on GROUP.

Ta da! You now have your finished custom zipper pull file. SELECT and EXPORT the file as an STL.

FIND AND IMPORT A SHAPE FILE FROM THINGIVERSE

Almost all the same rules apply for this process, with the exception of how the design/shape is created. Instead of making your own from the Shapes menus within Tinkercad, you're going to browse on Thingiverse for a shape that you like, download its STL file, and then import it into Tinkercad to be paired with the metal zipper pull HOLE.

Watch the above video for a quick overview of how to find a shape and file on Thingiverse.

Once you've found a shape you want to use for your zipper pull, click the DOWNLOAD ALL FILES button. This will add the shape's STL file to your downloads folder. Then head back to Tinkercad and your workplane that contains your metal zipper pull HOLE.

Watch the above video for a quick overview of importing and resizing the STL file.

Once your Thingiverse shape has been imported onto your workplane, apply the steps I outlined for 'designing your own zipper pull' above and export your design!

Step 7: Plug STL File

Step 8: Size the Plug

The plug is the part that will go up into the hole on the bottom of the 3D printed pull – and through the hole in the metal pull – securing the new printed pull in place.

Download the YKK Hoody STL file I provided above for you to adjust to your needs, OR to use as-is, if you're following along with me for a YKK hoody zipper pull customization.

  • Move the copy of your metal zipper pull HOLE onto the workplane and your finished custom zipper pull off.
  • Import the plug STL file onto the workplane.

  • ALIGN the two pieces lengthwise.
  • Hold down SHIFT and move the plug into the HOLE.
  • Change the Snap Grid in the lower right hand corner to 'off' or '0.1 mm'.
  • Use the arrow keys to center plug on the cutout part of the HOLE. Eyeballing it is fine.

  • If you're making your own custom metal zipper pull HOLE, resize the plug so that slightly more than half of the plug is sticking out of the cutout part of the HOLE, like pictured above.

FOR ROUND OR OVULAR CUOUTS

If you're working with a pull that has a round or ovular cutout, follow the same steps as above, and add the following step:

  • From a top down, orthographic view, adjust the shape of the plug so that it sits within the cutout shape, with a bit of the corners sticking out.

And that's it for the plug! Once you're done customizing it, export it as an STL.

Step 9: 3D Print Your Parts

Now it's time to 3D print your parts!

Print the zipper pulls at: 100% fill and no raft or supports and the plugs* at: 100% fillwith a raft and no supports.

*The plugs are easiest to remove if you print them in a flexible filament.

NOTE: If your having poor results printing the teeny plugs, even with a raft, try building a thin wall around them that is just a smidge higher than than the top of the plug. To learn why this works and see an example, check out Step 12 of my LED Egg Night Lightinstructable.

If you've never 3D printed before, read through Lessons 3 & 4 of my co-worker JON-A-TRON's free Easy 3D Printing class. He takes you step-by-step through the process of slicing and printing.

Step 10: Assemble Your New Zipper Pull!

Now that you have printed your custom pull and the plug that will secure it in place, it's time to add it to your chosen garment or bag!!

  • Hold the 3D printed pull so that it's front is facing up.
  • Slide it onto the metal zipper pull until it's on as far as it can go.

If you did your modeling correctly, the bottom hole of the printed pull should line up exactly with the hole in the metal pull tab. (Yay!)

  • Place the plug, tapered end first, into the bottom hole.
  • Push it in until the bottom of the plug is flush with the bottom of the printed pull.

  • Give it a pull to make sure that it's securely in place.

And... TA DA!!!! You are now ready to hit the streets and stand out in that crowd!!

If you'd like to swap out or remove your printed pull, use a thick needle or one shear of a small, sharp, pair of scissors to gently pry it out – alternating sides with each pry until it comes out.

Step 11: Thanks for Making!

Thanks for taking the time to check out, and maybe even make, my project!!!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section below. And if you make your own custom zipper pull, please post photos below so I can type you a high five you!

Happy making everyone!!

- Paige

Pssst.... I've attached the cactus zipper pulland corresponding plug STL files below. This one will fit on the classic YKK hoody zipper pull. :D

Comments

JON-A-TRON (author)2017-10-16

This is awesome!

Paige Russell (author)JON-A-TRON2017-10-17

Hehe, thanks Jonathan!

Donald Bell (author)2017-10-16

Such a great, fun project, Paige!

Thanks Donald! :D

smartrem (author)2017-10-16

The idea of the "plug" so the pull doesn't slip out of the zipper is simply brilliant!. Voted!

Paige Russell (author)smartrem2017-10-16

Thanks smartrem! :D

WVANCURA (author)2017-10-15

Interesting project and well presented. I would think a cantilevered wedge would make the project in one piece and eliminate the plug. Just slip the finished item onto the metal pull until it clicks. It too would be removable. The wedge would snap into the same hole the plug uses. It may work better with rigid materials.

Paige Russell (author)WVANCURA2017-10-16

That could definitely work. If you try it, let me know how it turns out!

funtogether (author)2017-10-15

Wow! This is an incredible idea! I wish I'd thought of it. :-)

Aw, thanks funtogether. :)

korinM (author)2017-10-15

bravo, j'adore l'idée. Je vote pour vous.

Paige Russell (author)korinM2017-10-16

Merci beaucoup!

Kane Measham-Pywell (author)2017-10-15

Great idea. All of these projects make me want a good 3D printer

Thanks Kane! I'm having fun thinking of ways to make my 3D printer useful. :D

Phoenix830 (author)2017-10-15

Great Instructable, thank you for including the files.

Not sure why, but only the main image is available on the android app. This maybe an issue with the apps image compatibility as it applies to all your other Instructables as well. - android

Thanks for the high five and the heads up about the Android app! I'll mention it to our developers.

Ana Camila (author)2017-10-14

it's a great idea :)

Paige Russell (author)Ana Camila2017-10-16

Thanks Ana!

mrwonton (author)2017-10-13

i love it!

Paige Russell (author)mrwonton2017-10-16

Thanks mrwonton! :)

JamesA41 (author)2017-10-15

Great novel project and thoroughly detailed also. I've never seen anything like this. I personally like suede pulls and the suede chin guards... especially on cold weather articles. I'd be nervous about washing such a solid piece if sharper corners that would catch material. However, you did a great job on having an easy way to remove if needed. Interesting, idea below regarding a wedge that may be easier for removing. Keep it up!

About This Instructable

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Bio: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a BFA in product design ... More »
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