Introduction: 3D Printing an Ironman Helmet

Picture of 3D Printing an Ironman Helmet

Early last year, before The Avengers came out, I approached the rapid prototyping department at my company and asked if they would be able to help me produce a replica Ironman helmet. I had tried building the helmet with pepakura files produced by a member of the thereplicapropforum.com, but I found I did not have the time/patience/skill to sit and trim out hundreds of pieces of paper and reassemble them. This is my first instructable, but I wanted to share my process for anyone who has been interested in going this route. I took photos and screen caps along the way, but I may have missed a few steps that I'll just have to explain.

I've added separate zip files with OBJ and STL files of the Ironman helmet pieces for others to use. Please credit the Replica Prop Forum and I, if you use! As I outline in Step Two, the build envelope of the printer that was used to produce this helmet was 10" x 14" x 8", so I had scaled the pieces to fit that and it is sort of a happy accident that it worked out. :)

Step 1: Modeling

Picture of Modeling

As I mentioned, I had gotten the pepakura helmet file from the RPF forum. I had also purchased a copy of the Pepakura software. With a full version that allows you to create files rather than just view, I exported the pepakura file as an OBJ which I could would with in Maya. The conversion process was easy, but because the pep file is meant for paper usage, it was relatively low resolution and had no thickness.

The first step, while the poly count was low, was to extrude the model inward to give the helmet thickness. Thickness is important, it provides stability to the final product which can be brittle when it is printed too thin. Because I planned on wearing this, (and probably walking into walls/doors/people) I wanted it to be thick enough the handle a bit of abuse. The final helmet varies in thickness because while the outside has grooves and ridges, I wanted the inside to be smooth. That way, the sides and bottoms of the grooves would have extra material around then to prevent fractures. The overall helmet averages between .125" and .25" thick.

When I was done adjusting the silhouette of the low poly helmet, I subdivided the model to provide a smoother finished surface. As you'll see later, I could have gone even further with this step.

Step 2: Prepping the Model for the Printer

Picture of Prepping the Model for the Printer

The printer that this model would be created with was a Spectrum z510, which has a build area of 10" x 14" x 8". Knowing that, I could see that the helmet would not fit into the printer in a single piece, so I needed to divide the model into pieces I could then easily reassemble.

To make the breakdown correctly, I created a box in the same proportion as the build area. I chose to divide the helmet down the middle so I would have a single seam to cover.

Step 3: Printing the Model or Why Thickness Is Important

Picture of Printing the Model or Why Thickness Is Important

Unfortunately, I don't have and pictures of the helmet being printed. So I'll just have to explain this part.

When I was happy with the way the pieces fit within the box, I deleted the box shape, exported the stack as an STL file and sent it off the the prototyping group.

Several days later, I got a call that the pieces were finished but there was some damage. When the pieces were printed, they were coated with a hardener/epoxy resin then put into the oven to cure. Because the helmet pieces were too thin, they warped, buckled and cracked while in the oven. Because of the varied thickness, some parts hardened faster than others. You can see this in the uneven color of the helmet halves. The bottoms were thicker than the top which ended up distorting.

The faceplate was thick enough and didn't end up warping. As you can see in the second picture, you can still see some of the tessellation from modeling. If I had further subdivided the model, these blocky areas would have been less prevalent.

I went back to my original files and did some more thickening, bulking up the whole thing to the .125"-.25" I mentioned before. The second picture is what resulted from that printing. But I also requested that they skip the epoxy hardener since I would be sanding, fiberglassing, and using filler on the seams. Overall, it was a much better print.

Step 4: Assembling the Pieces

Picture of Assembling the Pieces

The first image is from a little later in the process, but I forgot to take a picture of the inside during first assembly. To connect the two halves of the helmet, I clamped the halves together, then laid down 3 layers of fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin. Once the inside hardened, I went through several rounds adding a thin layer of bondo to the outside and sanding to fill the gap on the exterior surface. The second and third versions show the results of bondo and sanding.

Remember to wear rubber gloves, long sleeves, breathing mask and eye protection throughout this process. Fiberglass dust can be very irritating to your skin and painful in your eyes!

Step 5: Hinges & Connectors

Picture of Hinges & Connectors

Hinges
As you could see in the last step, I've used cabinet top hinges to control the opening and closing of the face plate. As you can see from the sanded patch behind it's location, positioning these correctly was pretty tricky. First I hot glued the top piece to the top edge of the interior face of the faceplate. I then put the helmet on to find out where about my temples were and marked a point a bit forward and up from that point. I attached the body of the hinge to this point and spent quite a bit of time opening and closing to find the correct distance and angle to allow the faceplate to rest just above the eye line. I will show later how I kept the faceplate open once it is up there.

Connectors
Since the neck opening is not large enough to get my head through, I added center release buckles to each side, with half on the jaw and half on the helmet. Once I was happy with the placement, I traced off the position of the buckle, removed it and added a small amount of gorilla glue. Then carefully placed the buckle back while preventing the glue to seep into the space between the helmet and jaw, OR onto the release button for the buckle. I added weight and let it sit overnight.

Step 6: Padding the Helmet

Picture of Padding the Helmet

Once the hinges and jaw connetors were worked out, I added a layer of padding to make the helmet snug and keep it from jostling around when I moved my head. This was simple, I simply cut several 1" wide strips of foam and attached them to the back with a dab of hot glue. The two wide horizontal pieces prevent my neck from sliding too far back and bring my eyes closer to the holes in the mask. Adding the padding made it much easier to turn my head and made it much more comfortable than having the hard plastic pressing against my skin.

Step 7: Lighting the Eyes

Picture of Lighting the Eyes

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a lot of photos during this phase. I was doing a lot of trial and error to get the right combination of angles and lights. What I did end up with is a .375" wide circuit board, with 5 superbright white LEDs inside a container made from an index card and electrical tape.

This was my first experience working with LEDs or any sort of circuits so to be safe (because the battery is less than an inch from my face, I wanted no overheating or exploding) I have the split into two groups two LEDs connected to 1 capacitor and the other three connected to another capacitor. It does dim the light output noticably but it protects my eyes, the battery, and the LEDs and it still remains pretty bright.

As you can see from picture 4. I had to do a bit of work sealing off the light from leaking through the surrounding plastic. Several layers of black primer on the interior and 2 layers of grey primer on the exterior as well as better enclosing the light casing, and I was able to solve the light leaking.

Finally, under the decorative screwhead on the right side of the mask, I placed an on off switch that I pulled out of a tap light from the dollar store. This allow me to turn the lights off while wearing the mask without having a visible switch.


Picture 1: Test photo when under construction.
Picture 2: Shows piece I cut from eye as template
Picture 3: Completed "eyes", wiring and battery holder.
Picture 4: Test fitting lights
Picture 5: Eye light on/off button

Step 8: Priming

Picture of Priming

Not much secret to show here. Just several layers of primer and lots of sanding sanding to smooth the surface. As you can see on the forehead, just below the widow's peak, the tessellation of my model is still showing through a bit. I used a sandable primer so that I could work out a few of the divots that had made it through to this point. Because the faceplate is the most prominent feature of the helmet, I ended up sanding it down to nearly bare plastic several times to get the smoothness I wanted.

Remember your Spray Painting 101 lessons: Only paint in a well ventilated space. The primer I was dry to the touch in 15 min and sandable within 30. Volatile chemicals make for fancy paints but bad lungs.

Step 9: Painting & Sanding

Picture of Painting & Sanding

For the painting, the colors were both Duplicolor Perfect Match colors: the Red was Medium Garnet Red Metallic and the Gold was Sunburst Gold Metallic. I put 4-5 thin coats of paint on with a very light sanding between each coat.

Again, remember to wear breathing protection in a well ventilated area for this step. Automotive paints are brutal to your lungs.

Step 10: Keeping the Faceplate Up OR Magnets: How Do They Work?

Picture of Keeping the Faceplate Up OR Magnets: How Do They Work?

As I said before, here's how I finally figured out how to keep the faceplate up. I created a slight recess in the upper rim of the face opening and glued a .1875" round rare earth magnet in the opening. Then I had to get a little creative on how to attach the magnets to the hinge arm. I ended up cutting a short length of wire that would span the width of the arm and would be more area to attach the magnet to. On one side, I need to add a second magnet because the first wasn't making contact. (I inset the helmet magnet a bit too far)

Step 11: Final Touches and Finished Helmet

Picture of Final Touches and Finished Helmet

And here's the final results!

I was told to lightly wet sand the surface with 2000 grit when I was finished painting, but I haven't yet as I like the mild diffusion that the surface has.

Also, for a bit more ear comfort, I added black felt to both sides of the helmet. If I haven't mentioned it before, raw prints feel a bit like sandpaper and the tips of my big ears don't appreciate the feeling after a short while.

Hope this has been helpful! Let me know if there are any questions!

Comments

ehudwill (author)2012-03-17

Great work. Wish I had access to a 3D printer now more than ever.

jacobgilder (author)ehudwill2015-11-10

You could run the files through pepakura and create a cardstock version.

desertsniper (author)2012-03-16

best use for a 3D printer yet! great work, now i want a 3D printer even more, thanks alot!

rogeliotorlao (author)2016-09-29

what software did you use to make that one?

aarony17 (author)2016-08-11

would there be a way to fit it in 270*210*200mm and be wearable

FelicianoTech (author)2016-05-18

Hi love the work and just HVE one question I'd like to purchase a 3D printer soon and wanted to know what printer would be good for a beginner but would also be powerful enough and large enough to print armor pieces I'm a HUGE iron man and comic book fan and plan on spending 99% of my materials and time printing armors than anything else and wanted to know what printer would suffice for such work thanks and have a great day

3D Printing Ninja (author)2015-11-11

Congratulations! You have been featured as one of the Top Halloween models for the year! To see your model and other Halloween models http://3dprintingninja.blogspot.com/2015/10/top-10-3d-printed-models-for-halloween.html

ydeardorff (author)2015-10-29

Ive ran the models through an STL viewer, but the scale for the face mask is small enough to be a pencil eraser topper. Can you offer this in proper scale
(slightly oversized)?

samohtep (author)ydeardorff2015-10-29

I have sadly lost the original files for this, so what is available is it. :(
Though as I said in the steps, I had originally only scaled it to fit within the build envelope of the machine that was being used. It was basically by accident that it ended up fitting my head and just barely at that...(tips of my ears are rather sore after wearing it for short periods.

Someone else in the comments had mentioned to try switching the STL from MM to inches. That might work for you.

JamesGannon (author)2015-10-04

I freaking hate Iron man but this.... this is sooo awesome! Many Kudos to you good sir!

samohtep (author)JamesGannon2015-10-29

Thanks!

MrinalV (author)2015-10-19

Could you explain a bit more how the light shining out of the eyes effect works. I have a plastic store bought helmet that i'd like to try this on.

samohtep (author)MrinalV2015-10-29

I sort of cobbled those pieces together. I cut a small piece of circuit board and soldered several LEDs to it, then with some index cards and tape, I shaped an enclosure to mount the LEDs. Once I was satisfied with the shape and size, I cut a thin piece of frosted plastic. If I remember correctly, it was from a tupperware container. I then heavily wrapped the sides and top edge in electrical tape to prevent any light leakage from behind. Not a super elegant solution, but it worked.

Tyler Clinard (author)2015-10-26

IMPOSSIBRU ( Translation: awesomeness....)

mstange (author)2015-07-15

What application did you use?

guysmilez (author)2015-01-02

is it possible to get editable source files so i can cut the pices up for my printer?

ThomasS6 (author)guysmilez2015-05-18

I use Sketchup, and import the STL... Then you can slice and dice to your hearts content.

ocarnes (author)2015-04-04

I have a Dremel 3D printer, and when i load the file provided on to the software for the printer, each piece is microscopic. What is the scale I should use to make the helmet fit my head?

ThomasS6 (author)ocarnes2015-05-18

Usually when this happens it is because the printer is expecting mm as the unit of measurement, but the stl is using inches... I usually bring it into sketchup (importing it with the options of inches) to ensure this is correct, and then re-export it in mm...

ThomasS6 (author)ThomasS62015-05-18

what I meant to say is that the printer software is expecting it in mm... Same overall meaning, but trying to avoid confusion.

davyponte. (author)2015-05-06

Hi, but the size of helmet is it ok for every size of head or i should edit the helmet size in its file?

zandeelio (author)2015-04-03

also what material did you use?

zandeelio (author)2015-04-03

Hi! Wow, excellent job, may I ask what kind of 3-D printer you used for this? I am in the market for one and could use something that keeps detail real well

readmeone (author)2015-03-31

can I buy this?

samohtep (author)readmeone2015-04-02

Sorry, not for sale.

elbrujo1966 (author)2015-02-27

Very nice. I just bought a makerbot z18 (after returning the other 5th gen replicator I purchased when they first launched a year or so ago) and it has been nothing but incredible. The first one I sent back due to constant clogging of the extruder. But this is great.. I have printed 5 things so far and 4 of them are 50 hours plus. I just finished the SPACE NEEDLE which was a 72 hour print w/o a single issue...so now I want to print this helmet. You did an awesome job on. Oh, once I put it on the platform it is really tiny....what size is full scale?

jasbury iii (author)2014-11-23

What companies will do this?

paul.r.leblanc.7 (author)2014-11-05

Think.Print 3D can print a helmet our printer can print 16x14x16.

bkasun (author)2014-10-05

I notice that the STL files you provided are not to scale (they are very small). Can you provide dimensions of the helmet so I can scale the STL files properly? I have a FlashForge Dreamer and I don't think it will fit all in one shot. Therefore, Ill need to cut the STL's in to a couple peices and glue together.

cedrik.blanchard (author)2014-09-27

I tried to print your files but they aren't scaled in mm or in inch.

astral_mage (author)2014-09-14

also use a good fan with a hepa filter on it to suck the dust away from you as well.

afenrir (author)2014-04-24

how much time it took to 3D print it!!!!!

JoeyP2 (author)afenrir2014-08-22

it takes about 3-6 hours

sebastian.mere (author)2014-08-14

Please upload the zip file

saul.ferrero.7 (author)2014-07-27

Hi man!!

Where is the zip for download?

saul.ferrero.7 (author)2014-07-27

Hi, where is the zip?

Da3da1u5 (author)2014-04-07

Is it possible for you to share the files, or do you sell this commercially? :)

Da3da1u5 (author)2014-04-07

Is it possible for you to share the files, or do you sell this commercially? :)

hugo romero (author)2014-02-20

woooa genial quiero hacer uno

GRIDLOCK1371 (author)2013-06-25

please help me, i can't open the file

Gridlock, you have to use Makerware (search it up) or 123D print.

lgchinadragon (author)2013-10-30

when I downloaded the stl file, the objects were tiny. Can you tell me what your dimensions of it were? Also, do you think it will fit on a Makerbot Replicator 2? Thank you!

Robine007hawk (author)2013-10-12

is your back part removable or not??

Rance (author)2013-10-10

I hope to see you print the rest of the armor in the near future.

therealtonystark (author)2013-09-25

could you modify the obj files in Autodesk Inventor and do the same thing you did in Maya? I was thinking about doing this with the Mark 42

DanK1138 (author)2013-08-15

what material is it made of?

samern (author)2013-07-27

Do you have any recommendations to 'cut' the helmet to fit an 8x8x8" build cube? Thanks!

GRIDLOCK1371 (author)2013-06-25

i need an application that can open the files

GRIDLOCK1371 (author)2013-06-25

what application did you use?

samohtep (author)2012-03-16

Thanks all! It was a lot of work, but very fun. Glad to see others appreciate the work that went into it. I can't believe that it's gotten so many views in such a short time.