Introduction: 3D Printed House in a Frame

About: Software Engineer & Maker

I originally made this as a gift for my dad's 60th birthday. It's his house 3D printed, painted, and displayed in 3 pieces inside of a lighted shadow box frame. It makes a good gift for someone interested in architecture, mockups, models, or just proud of their own house :)

In this Instructable, I will show how I've completed this project using:

  • SketchUp
  • Slicer Software
  • 3D Printer
  • Dremel Rotary Tool
  • Primer
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Lighted Shadow Box Frame

Step 1: SketchUp

I used SketchUp to design the 3D Model based on just a couple of pictures I had of the house.

This YouTube tutorial is great at explaining how to model a building from a photo match.

The SketchUp plugin Solid Inspector² is really useful to find common 3D errors in your model that would make the slicing difficult for printing.

I would suggest to go iteratively (walls, windows, doors, roof), and after each increment running this plugin to fix recent errors such as holes in the mesh, internal faces, reversed faces, etc.

Also, really try to minimize the number of overhangs or straight angles less than 45 degrees, so that you don't need to generate lots of supports for those parts to hold in place during printing. If you do need to generate supports, I usually recommend Meshmixer for that task.

When the mesh is clean, I use this STL file Exporter plugin to export as a STL file to the slicing software for my printer.

It might seem tedious to model a whole house, but once done, you have the file to print it from many different angles, and can use the model for previewing renovations, decoration, or real estate purposes :)

Step 2: Slicer Software

Use the slicer software for your 3D Printer to convert the 3D Model (OBJ, STL, etc) into the file format that your particular printer understands.

Spend some time in the slicer looking at the preview of the printed layers to spot bugs in your model (overhangs, holes, etc). You can go back fix them in SketchUp or Meshmixer. Making sure all your layers are sound before printing will save you lots of time and filament cost!

The settings I used for this project are typical for high resolution FDM printing:

  • Layer Height: 0.15mm
  • First Layer Height: 0.25
  • Number of Shells: 3
  • Infill: 35%
  • Build Speed: 80mm/s

As you can see on the screenshots, printing those little houses (2-3inch) on a typical FDM printer will take multiple hours and several meters of filament.

I've attached the STL files for this particular house if you want print it.

Step 3: 3D Printer

For this project, I used my Dremel Idea Builder 3D Printer using white PLA filament.

This step will vary according to the printer and technology you are using.

Techniques I've picked up:

  • Always level the build platform before printing, to make sure the first layer sticks to it.
  • If it doesn't, try hair spray! Vaporize a small amount on the platform before printing, outside of the printer so the rods don't jam.
  • Check periodically on the printer to make sure there's no entanglement on the spool.
  • Be patient.

Step 4: Rotary Tool

After printing, I use the Micro Rotary Tool to remove all the imperfections due to overhangs or droopings. This is great to burr through unwanted specks and strings of plastic on the model. It is cordless and has various rotation speeds. You can buy a separate set of Diamond Points of all shapes and length for precision work when polishing your model.

Step 5: Primer

After cleaning with the rotary tool, I spray some aerosol primer for the plastic parts that I want to paint with acrylics. I use the Krylon Gloss White Primer to add a gloss finish to the piece. If you don't add primer to a 3D printed piece, the paint will sink through the layer cracks and will magnify them. Also, the process will require more paint than needed for the same coloring.

Step 6: Acrylic Painting

I've used the Liquitex BASICS Acrylic Paint Tube 48-Piece Set for a good selection of colors. I mix them with gloss and mat white to reach the wanted coloration and shading.

Step 7: Lighted Shadow Box Frame

I've used a glue gun to stick the pieces at the bottom of a Lighted Shadow Box Frame

Make sure your frame has at least a depth of 1-2.5 inch so that your piece fit inside, with the glass door closed.

The shadow box frame I use has LED lighting, with a switch on the side, and a timer if you want to keep it lit during evenings. It requires 2 AAA batteries. LEDs cast interesting landscape shadows on a piece like this one.

Voilà! Have fun :)