Introduction: Customizable 3D Printable Boxes

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When my son and I first got our Printrbot Simple Metal, after assembly and a tedious calibration process, we emerged beaten down and enthusiastic, armed with hard-fought knowledge and a seriously optimized printer. We visited Yeggi and Thingiverse and looked for ever cooler models to try. We printed many, many models and so we were happy… for a time. Soon, we began to get the itch to design and print an original model. As we quickly found out, however, designing a printable model that doesn’t suck is easier said than done.

Boxification.com is our first serious attempt at using 3D modeling to create something new and interesting - specifically, you can highly customize, print, and assemble your own 3d printed boxes. As a software engineer, I am very interested in the software side of 3D printing, and this project was started with some goals in mind. We wanted to build an application that would:

  • Produce an easily printable box that did not require support.
  • Allow people to create unique and cool-looking boxes in nearly limitless ways using both the application and techniques outside of the application (forming the basis for this Instructable).
  • Combine traditional and interesting woodworking techniques (like secret mitered dovetailed joints) with tricks that only 3D printing can achieve, like Hank Dietz’ amazing one-piece assembled hinge.

This Instructable introduces you to Boxification and shows you how to create a Star Wars-themed box. You'll then be able to use techniques outlined to create unique boxes of your own.

Step 1: What You'll Need

Picture of What You'll Need

You will need the following:

  • A 3D printer and a program to load the STL file and send it to the printer.
  • A browser - Chrome or Firefox only, because they support WebGL and other HTML5 features needed to run the application. The steps in this Instructable will assume Chrome is the chosen browser, but they should work similarly for Firefox.
  • (optional) some sort of glue (E6000, epoxy, super glue, contact cement, even strong craft glues)

Navigate to www.boxification.com to get started.

Step 2: The Basics of Box Design

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Boxification comes with a set of 'themed' boxes to get you started. Try selecting different themes to get an idea of the kind of boxes you can create. Themes, however, are just the starting point. You alter the dimensions of the box and customize the look of each individual side. Use your mouse to rotate and move the box.

The first picture shows the 'General' tab, where you can change the box dimensions. The larger the number (millimeters), the longer or thicker the side (very self-explanatory).

The second picture shows the 'Left' tab as an example of how to configure an individual side. The options are as follows:

  1. Style - the basic 'look' of the side
  2. Design - the design to place on the side. You can choose one of the built-in designs or upload your own. We'll explore this option in a later step.
  3. Design Elevation - how to position the design on the side. 'Cutout' is when the pattern is removed and a hole is left in the shape, 'inset' is when there is an indent in the shape of the design, but the design does not cut through. The final option, 'outset', is when the silhouette of the design is pushed out from the side.
  4. Design Position - where to place the design on the side

You can redraw a side by clicking on the 'Play' button on each tab. You can also stop a side from rendering by clicking the 'Stop' button. Let's get started now creating our Star Wars themed box by customizing each side using different techniques.

Step 3: Use a Custom STL File As a Side Design

Picture of Use a Custom STL File As a Side Design

You can use any STL file as a side design. The ideal STL files are not overly complex (to keep rendering times down), and should be a uniform (or nearly uniform) height. We are going to use a Darth Vader and Yoda STL files from Thingiverse as the right and left sides of the box.

  1. Go to http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:354971 and download the Darth Vader STL (under Thing Files).
  2. In Boxification, click on the 'Right' tab.
  3. Set 'style' to 'paneled', 'design elevation' to 'outset', and 'design position' to 'center'.
  4. Set 'design' to 'custom'. Click on the 'Choose File' button and select your STL file.
  5. Click the 'play' button and you should see Darth Vader on the side.
  6. If you like, play around with the different 'design elevation' options to see how the STL is included on the side. Not all designs can be printed with all design elevation options.
  7. Repeat for Yoda on the left. Go to http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:507787/ and download the STL.
  8. In Boxification, click on the 'Left' tab.
  9. Set 'style' to 'paneled', 'design elevation' to 'outset', and 'design position' to 'center'.Set 'design' to 'custom'.
  10. Click on the 'Choose File' button and select your STL file.
  11. Click the 'play' button and you should see Yoda on the side.

Now, let's add a custom design to the top of the box.

Step 4: Use a Custom STL As a Top Design

Picture of Use a Custom STL As a Top Design

You can use any STL file as a top design. Top designs have some additional options as well that give you a lot of flexibility when choosing your design. We are going to place a R2D2 model on top of the box as a handle.

  1. Go to http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:485171 and download the R2D2 STL (under Thing Files).
  2. In Boxification, click on the 'Top' tab.
  3. Set 'style' to 'paneled' and 'design position' to 'center'.
  4. Set 'design elevation' to 'top'. Unlike the other values, 'top' will preserve the proportional height of the STL model uploaded.
  5. Set 'design rotation' to '90' to make sure R2D2 faces forward.
  6. Set 'design scale' to '50' to ensure R2D2 is not too large.
  7. Set 'design' to 'custom'. Click on the 'Choose File' button and select your STL file.
  8. Click the 'play' button and you should see R2D2 on the top.

Next, let's use a custom image as a design for one of our sides.

Step 5: Use an Image As a Side Design

Picture of Use an Image As a Side Design

You can also use an image of your choosing as a side design. We do that by 'extruding' a two-dimensional image into 3 dimensions using Tinkercad and then using that image to create a STL file.

  1. First, choose an image. The ideal images have minimal colors and thick, simple outlines. We will be using a Star Wars logo image - https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5231/14137284401_4f...
  2. Convert the image into an SVG format. You can use this converter: http://image.online-convert.com/convert-to-svg.
  3. Upload the image using the converter and click 'Convert file'. This will create an SVG file and download it to your computer.
  4. If you do not have an Tinkercad account, register for one (www.tinkercad.com). Tinkercad is an easy-to-use 3D modeling tool that makes it very easy to build printable 3D models. We will use it to turn our SVG file into an STL file.
  5. After signing in, create a new Tinkercad model by clicking 'Create new design'.
  6. Rename your model to 'star wars' by clicking on the 'Design' menu and then selecting 'Properties'.
  7. In the right Import panel, click on 'Choose File' and then select your download SVG file. Then click 'Import'.
  8. It will prompt you to set the scale to '70%'. Do this and try the import again.
  9. Click on 'Design' and then 'Download for 3D printing' to save an STL file on your computer. We will use this file as a side design.
  10. In Boxification, click on the 'Front' tab.
  11. Set 'style' to 'flat', 'design elevation' to 'outset', and 'design position' to 'center'.
  12. Set 'design' to 'custom'. Click on the 'Choose File' button and select your STL file.
  13. Click on the 'Play' button on the right to redraw the side.

You should now have a side with the Star Wars logo on it. You can use this technique to use any image as the design for a side.

Step 6: Write a Text Message on a Side

Picture of Write a Text Message on a Side

Next, we are going to write a custom message in a custom font on a side. 3D rendering of fonts can be complicated, but these steps show you one simple way to create a 3D model from text.

  1. Select a font to use for your message. If you have a font installed that you like, then you can ignore the next few steps. For our Star Wars box, we are going to use this font: http://www.dafont.com/star-jedi.font. You will need to download and install this font on your machine. Installation can vary according to operating system, so if this is something you don't know how to do, google something like 'install font mac' or 'install font windows' for instructions.
  2. Install the Star Wars font.
  3. Open your favorite text editor and select the font.
  4. Type in your message ('Happy Birthday, Jamie! May the force be with you.') in a large font size. I had to use 96 pt in order to get Tinkercad to properly import it (see below).
  5. You will probably want to center the text and have it span multiple lines in order to have it display optimally on your box side.
  6. Take a screenshot (cropped) of your text. Again, how you do this depends on your operating system.
    1. For Windows users: http://www.7tutorials.com/4-ways-take-screenshots-...
    2. For Mac users: http://www.imore.com/how-take-screenshot-mac-os-x
  7. Use the techniques described in Step 5 to create an STL file from your screenshot image.

  8. In Boxification, click on the 'Back' tab. Set 'style' to ‘flat’, 'design elevation' to ‘outset’, and 'design position' to 'center'.

  9. Set 'design' to 'custom'. Click on the 'Choose File' button and select your STL file.

  10. Click on the 'Play' button on the right to redraw the side.

You should see your text message written on the side. You can use this technique to write any message on a side as a design.

Step 7: Print Your Box

Picture of Print Your Box

Let’s generate STL files for printing.

  1. Select the "print box" tab.
  2. ‘Bed width’ specifies the width of the print bed (in millimeters). The program will fit all the pieces the best that it can.
  3. Check which sides you would like to have in the generation of the STL file. You can print all sides at once if there is room, or divide the sides into multiple STL files.
  4. Click the ‘play’ button and the 3D model will be generated so you can see the layout.
  5. Finally, click the "Download STL" button to download the STL file for printing.

Please be patient with the generation of the print version of the 3D model. It may take up to several minutes depending on the number of sides and the complexity of the models.

Next, we will assemble our printed sides into a finished box.

Step 8: Assemble Your Box

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These boxes will easily snap together because of the dovetails. However, some sort of glue (E6000, epoxy, superglue, even strong craft glues) is recommended to hold the box together if it is not going to be taken apart again. This process improves rigidity and stability. Follow the following steps to completely assemble the box.

As shown in the printing, there are 5 different parts to the box. Notice the long gaps on the bottom of all the 4 vertical sides. These gaps are meant to hold the bottom.

  1. Begin with putting the bottom in the gap of one of the sides. Keep in mind that the bottom should be flush with the bottom of the sides. If it is not, flip the bottom around.
  2. Add the other sides, being careful to keep the bottom tightly in the gaps of the sides.
  3. Close the lid and the box is finished!
  4. (optional) If you choose to glue the box together, there are a few tips. First, if printing in ABS, be careful of what kinds of epoxy you use, as some of them will melt the plastic :( . Second, do some research on what type of glue will hold your plastic together the best. Superglue is a great glue to use for any plastic, but E6000 and epoxy are stronger and both can be used to fill in gaps in between sides. Lastly, be careful with any industrial adhesives, and use a respirator just to be careful (not including for superglue and craft glues).

Step 9: Expert Tips

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Now that you've made your first box, we hope you'll play around with the application and make some interesting and unique boxes. Here are some expert tips:

  1. Use simple, low-poly STL files where possible. OpenJSCad, the library used to render the box, does all of the work locally in the browser and it can take a very long time to render complex models. Some models do not render at all.
  2. Occasionally, the STL generated for a side is not manifold and you may experience problems printing. We encountered this when working with a few complex models, particularly when using the 'stretch' design position. We recommend that you eyeball the preview of the generated STL file in your 3D printing software of choice before starting your print.

Thanks for trying out this Instructable and we can't wait to see all of the boxes you make! This is a work in progress and we'll keep evolving it. Please post pictures and comments and share this Instructable and boxification.com.

Comments

The Explorer (author)2016-06-07

The boxifaction link that you linked over 9,000 times!!!!!! doesn't work!!!!!!!

YALibrarianMPK (author)2016-02-18

Hi. I am really interested in this program but it doesn't seem to exist anymore. Is there an alternative?

aka smallz made it! (author)2015-07-02

lov this so much

aka smallz (author)2015-07-02

I don't understand

seamster (author)2015-06-16

Very cool! Thank you for sharing this info. That box in the intro is so cool!

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