Introduction: Build a Custom 3d Printed, Light-up Figure

About: Hi I'm Jason. I’m an artistically inclined engineer based in the Californa Bay Area. I currently work as a software tool developer and product designer for the TinkerPlay team at Autodesk. In my spare time, I …

Tinkerplay is an awesome mobile app that lets you design articulated creatures and make them on a 3D printer. It's a lot of fun to use on iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile and pretty much guarantees excellent results. The special thing about Tinkerplay parts is that they are carefully designed to print without the need of supports, and as a result, have special holes and tunnels designed into them which can be used to feed wires and mount LED's.

Along with that, many of the connectors are free to mix and edit through TinkerCAD, a free web based design app. I decided to give that a shot and design TinkerPlay compatible torso, head and thruster pieces to make the light-up figure you see above.

In this Instructable, I'll go over how I designed, printed and assembled the piece.

Step 1: 3d Printed Parts

Using the provided ball, socket and pelvis parts in TinkerCAD, I constructed this electronic backpack piece. Special attention was made to ensure that 3mm LED's would fit through the ball joints. I made cutouts to fit a 10 mm LED at the chest, and a slide switch on the bottom. I also designed a print-in-place battery door for ease of assembly, and pulled a stock head and thruster part from TinkerPlay and used TinkerCAD cut out holes to expose more light.

You can grab the parts below.

TIP: When making cutouts for fitting electronic components, allow at least 0.3 mm extra clearance to compensate for tolerances on your 3d printer.

The rest of the parts were simply pulled from TinkerPlay and printed at 100%.

IMPORTANT NOTE: TinkerPlay exports at 75% by default. Ensure that your parts print at 100%, or it will not fit the custom torso.

For my particular piece, I printed with Silver PLA on an Ultimaker 2 at 0.1 mm layer height. The green pieces were printed on a MakerBot Replicator 2 at 0.2 mm using Glow in the dark PLA.

Step 2: Electronics Parts

Parts List

  • 3d Printed torso and parts (see previous step)
  • Teensy 3.1 Board
  • 2 AAA battery holder and batteries
  • 20 mm wide Slide switch
  • 1 x 10 mm White Diffused LED
  • 1 x 5mm Blue LED
  • 2 x 5mm White LEDs
  • 2 x 3mm Blue LEDs
  • 1 x 3mm Yellow LED
  • 1 x 3mm Red LED
  • 6 x 100 Ohm Resistors
  • Black and Red Wire
  • Shrink Wrap (optional)

I decided to go with a more elaborate setup and use a micro controller to make the LED's pulsate. I used a Teensy 3.1 Arduino compatible board because it fit nicely into the torso. I went with mostly a blue and white color theme, as it made it a nice contrast with the silver and green PLA.

Step 3: Wiring and Arduino Code

To pulsate the lights, I used a simple Christmas tree script that I found here;,7060.0.htm...

To get a better sense of how it would look, I used 123D Circuits to make a wiring diagram and test out the code.

You can check out the sim here:

Note: Arduino Uno is being used in place of a Teensy since it does not exist in the Circuits library yet. The code and pin-out is the same as it is on the Teensy.

Once that looked good, I uploaded the code to my Teensy 3.1 board using the Arduino software and Teensyduino plugin. You can get those from here:

Step 4: Soldering LED's

To save space, I directly soldered the LED's and components to the microcontroller board.

  1. Cut 1.5 inch long wires, strip and tin both sides with solder.
  2. Cut LED leads down to half an inch and tin. A soldering aid with alligator clips made this process much easier.
  3. Align the wire and leads, then touch your soldering iron to both to join the solder.
  4. Apply additional solder to reinforce the joint.
  5. You can optionally use shrink wrap on one side to prevent shorts once the part is connected.
  6. On the anode side (in this case, the red wires), wrap and solder a 100 ohm resistor.

Note for the 3mm, LED's they must be joined first before a resistor is attached, as they will be using the same pin.

Solder the resulting anodes to pins 3, 4, 5 and 6. The remaining pins will be soldered later.

Step 5: Solder and Attach Switch

Solder wires to the switch and use hot glue to attach it to the bottom slot on the torso.

Step 6: Prepare Thrusters

Solder two 5mm LED's to wires then insert each LED into the thruster pieces. Feed the wires though the ball joints on the bottom of the backpack section. Finally, solder both Red wires together with a 100 ohm resistor.

Step 7: Assemble

Start by wiring all external LEDs. This includes the thrusters and the switch. Once that is ready, solder all black wires together and attach to the ground pin on the microcontroller. Feed all remaining LEDs to their slots in the torso. A set of tweezers may be helpful for this part.

Finally, solder the battery holder to the board. Solder the ground wire to the switch, and then solder the switch to the board to make a cutoff circuit.

Step 8: Prep the Head

Since the head just has simple cutouts on the eyes, I used a bit of foam to diffuse the light. Cut out a small piece and insert into the cavity using a tweezer. Bend the LED at the neck joint toward the eyes and snap on the head.

Step 9: Test Run

Power on the assembly and make sure that there are no shorts with the LED's. If there are, you may use some electrical tape or shrink wrap around the leads.

Step 10: Attach, Mix and Match

After that, you're done!

Attach the limbs and other TinkerPlay compatible parts to complete your build. The parts I linked are fully remixable, and many of the stock TinkerPlay parts have tunnels and holes that can be used for wiring up more electronic parts, so there's a lot of room for improvement.