Design and Print a Tripod-Mountable Smartphone Case

Introduction: Design and Print a Tripod-Mountable Smartphone Case

Over the years, I've collected a few devices that allow you to attach a camera using a standard mounting mechanism: tripods, monopods, steady-cams, etc. As the cameras in smartphone continue to increase in quality and functionality, it can become desirable to use smartphones on a tripod or steady-cam. This Instructable will describe how to design a custom phone holder that is able to use the same standard mounts as normal cameras. You can even it design it so that you can leave your phone in its protective case!

My example will use an iPhone, but any smartphone should work with a few modifications. The 3D model will be created in Autodesk's 123D Design software, and the case will be printed at Shapeways. I made a few mistakes, but I will point out what went wrong, and how those problems can be avoided. Learn from my mistakes!

Step 1: Creating the Design: Making Measurements

First you'll want to take the measurements of your device. I used a set of calipers, but a ruler will also work. Measure the length, width, and thickness of the device, and record the results. You'll also want to make note of how far the camera is from the edges of the device.

Step 2: Creating the Design: Creating the Holder, Part 1

123D Design is a free piece of software from Autodesk that allows you to create 3D models of pretty much anything you can imagine! There is a downloadable version, as well as an in-browser live version that does not require any installation to use. I'm using the downloadable version, but feel free to use any version you want.

The basic idea behind this case is that the phone will fully rest inside a slotted rectangular holder, with part of the holder cut away for the camera. We'll want to start off with a solid rectangular block that is slightly larger than the measurements you made of your device. 

Step 3: Creating the Design: Creating the Holder, Part 2

Now we will want to cut a slot in the block to hold the phone. Click on the block, and then click on the gear icon that pops up. From this menu, click on the "Shell" button. Set the thickness to 2.0 millimeters (or thicker, if you want a sturdier case). And set the direction to "outside". 

Tyler's Mistake Number 1: I set the direction to "Inside" which meant that the case a little too small to accommodate my phone. Make sure you choose "Outside"

Step 4: Creating the Design: Exposing the Camera

You now have a slot that will hold your phone, but the camera is going to be blocked by the walls of the holder! We will want to cut out a part of the holder to allow the camera to see. Add a "Sketch" object to the side of holder where the camera will be. I used a circle, but again, use whatever shape suits you. Then, use that circle to cut through the holder by clicking the circle, clicking the gear button, and choosing the "Extrude" option. Extrude/Cutout all the way through the case.

Step 5: Creating the Design: Adding the Mount, Part 1

Now that we have a piece that holds the phone and exposes the camera, we need to add the piece that will mount to the tripod or other equipment. A tripod uses a standard 1/4-inch bolt, so we'll be using a method called a "captive nut" on the receiving end. A hex-shaped hole will hold onto a 1/4-inch nut for the bolt to screw in to.

Start by adding a Polygon Sketch object to the bottom of the holder. The polygon should have six sides and a radius of 6.35 millimeters.

Tyler's Mistake Number 2: The diameter of a 1/4-inch nut is 12.7 millimeters, and I accidentally used that number when setting the radius of the polygon. When I received the holder, the hex piece was too large for the nut!

Step 6: Creating the Design: Adding the Mount, Part 2

Next, extrude the hexagon outward by about 11.0 millimeters. Extrusion works the same way as when we cut the camera-hole, except in the direction away from the material, instead toward it. Then, we will use the Shell feature again on the hexagonal solid with a thickness of 3.0 millimeters on the outside.

Step 7: Creating the Design: Finishing Touches

I also added a few more aesthetic tweaks and modifications to give the case a more professional feel to it, but these are not necessary.

Step 8: Prepare for Printing

When you're finished with your design, click on the 123D Design menu, and select "Export STL". This is the file format that we will upload to Shapeways for printing. Follow the instructions on Shapeways website for uploading and submitting your design for printing.

Step 9: Assemble the Hardware

Once you have received your print from Shapeways, the next step is to attach the captive nut. You'll need around three or four 1/4-inch nuts (depending on how deep your hex cut-out was) and some super glue, both of which you can find at Home Depot or Lowe's. Simply glue the nuts into place inside the hexagonal extrusion and let it dry. If you have a 1/4-inch bolt handy, you can use it to test it out. Since I made the size mistake earlier, I had to use more nuts to fill the space, but it still works alright! Sometimes you just have to adapt!

Step 10: Try It Out!

Once the glue has dried, you should be ready to go! Try it out on a tripod, monopod, DIY steady-cam (like I have done in the picture), or anything that you can thread a 1/4-inch bolt through; be creative! If you have any questions, ideas, suggestions, or comments, feel free to leave them below! If you make your own design show us some pictures or videos; we'd love to see what you come up with!

You can find my final design here, but don't forget that the hex piece at the bottom is not the correct size!

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