Introduction: Glowing 3D Printed Flowers

About: Making and sharing are my two biggest passions! In total I've published hundreds of tutorials about everything from microcontrollers to knitting. I'm a New York City motorcyclist and unrepentant dog mom. My wo…

Create a fun light-up flower using 3D printing and Tinkercad! Optionally add some needle felting to diffuse the light from the LED at the center of the flower. The special Glow circuit assembly in Tinkercad makes it easy to put an LED and battery circuit into your 3D prints. Read on to learn how.

If you'd like to make the exact flower shown, you can download the attached STL files and get printing. You can modify the base model by clicking the "edit in 3D" button on the embedded Tinkercad model above (free Tinkercad account/login required). Or model your own unique flower in a new Tinkercad workplane using the tips in this Instructable.

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Step 1: Gather Supplies

You'll need a 3D printer and filament to build this project. If you're new to 3D printing, check out Jonathan Odom's excellent free Instructables Easy 3D Printing Class to get you up to speed.

Supplies and tools list:

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IMPORTANT: Coin cell batteries can cause serious injury if swallowed. Keep coin cell batteries out of reach of small children!

Step 2: Create Your Own Flower Model (Optional)

To model your own flower from scratch in Tinkercad, start with a fresh workplane and navigate to Circuit > Assemblies in the dropdown menu above the shapes panel. Drag a Glow module onto the workplane. This shape is a fixed size and shape designed to hold a CR2032 coincell battery and 10mm LED. For more guidance on incorporating the Glow Cutout into your Tinkercad designs, check out Paige Russell's free 3D Printing with Circuits Class.

Disclosure: at the time of this writing, I'm an employee of Autodesk, which makes Tinkercad.

Using the dropdown menu, navigate to the featured shape generators panel. Drag a new rounded windmill to the workplane and adjust the number of blades to suit your taste-- I chose five. Navigate back to the basic shapes and drag a cylindrical hole object to the workplane. Click on its white corner anchors to pull up the dimensions, and adjust them to make a 11.5mm-diameter cylinder. Line up the hole with your windmill (make sure it's big enough that the center is larger than the cylinder), and group the objects to punch an LED-sized hole in the middle of the windmill. Lift it up from the workplane and align it with the Glow module before joining the two to create a solid flower base.

To create simple flower pedals, head back to the Shape Generator panel and drag a new flower object onto the workplane. Adjust the number of pedals and bottom and top dimensions to your liking, then punch a 10.6mm hole in the middle to accomodate for the 10mm LED (plus a little space for tolerance).

To create more complex flower pedals, duplicate and lift a flower shape and turn the inner one into a hole, effectively shelling the shape. Punch one 10.6mm hole in the middle, and a few smaller holes around it to help hold the felted wool roving in position without the need for glue.

Step 3: 3D Print Your Parts

I used Autodesk Print Studio to prepare the printer files, and set it to 100% infill, default supports, and no raft for the base. The pedals were printed at 20% infill with a concentric fill pattern, no raft, and no supports. My unheated build plate is covered in blue painter's tape and then a thin layer of glue stick to get good adhesion.

Step 4: Prepare the LED

Trim the LED legs shorter so they fit flush in the 3D printed base. First trim the shorter leg, then the longer leg (to best keep track of which one is which). Hold onto your clippings to prevent them from flying, and consider wearing eye protection to prevent injury. To learn more about LEDs, check out Randy Sarafan's free Instructables LEDs and Lighting Class!

Step 5: Insert the Battery

The Glow assembly has + (plus) sign on one side of it. Insert the battery through the bottom of the flower base, with the positive side of the battery facing the + indicator on your 3D print. Think of coincell batteries like birthday cakes: the positive terminal is the icing (and marked with a +), and the negative terminal is the part of the cake that touches the plate. Since the Glow assembly is designed to help the battery from falling out the bottom, you'll have to give it a little extra push to get it all the way inside the flower base. Use your fingernail, wire snips or another small object to push it in the last little bit.

Step 6: Complete the LED Circuit

The longer leg of the LED is positive, so line it up with the positive (+) side of the flower base/battery. Insert the LED into the 3D printed part so that they sandwich the LED and rest in the small channels at the center of top opening. The LED should light up! If it doesn't, your LED legs are likely crossing, or backwards. Check to make sure each leg is touching a different side of the battery (and not each other), and that it's in the right way around. You may have to press the battery in from the bottom while you press the LED in from the top.

Step 7: Attach Flower Pedals

If you printed the simple pedals, just slide the piece over your LED and enjoy your 3D printed electronic flower! if you want to step it up with a needle felted diffuser, keep reading...

Step 8: Needle Felted Diffuser

Needle felting is the process of matting natural fiber with a barbed needle. Wool roving (and any natural fiber, especially animal fibers) has scales along its lengths and the barbed needle helps push them through the textile mass to get interlocked with one another, strengthening the material. For more info about getting started with needle felting, check out my friend Moxie's book, I Felt Awesome. We also made a needle felting tutorial video together that goes over the basics.

Basically, you use tiny pokes to tangle up the fiber. A foam backing pad is necessary to support your work. To create the small 3D cup-shaped diffuser for your LED, start with a small amount of yellow fiber tangled up by rubbing between your palms. Begin making shallow pokes to further tangle up your fiber, lifting it and flipping it over frequently to prevent it from sticking to your foam pad. Shape it as you go into a circle, tucking in the loose edges and securing them with more tiny pokes.

Be careful to avoid stabbing yourself when working with felting needles. However, this accident is inevitable if you needle felt enough. You can reduce the frequency of injury by always looking at what you are working on (don't felt and watch TV, or felt while tired), and reduce the severity of injury (and muscle strain) by making very light shallow pokes.

Once your circle is dense enough and flat, it's time to shape it into a bowl. You can use the LED as a form if you want, wrapping the fiber around it and poking the folds around the sides together to join. And/or poke against your foam pad from the inside out to cinch up the overlaps created by doming the circle.

Continue to poke poke poke anywhere that seems loose/big or thin-- anywhere you poke will get smaller and denser. Periodically test your dome to make sure it still fits over your LED.

Then attach the dome to your flower pedal 3D printed piece by stabbing through the fiber and small holes, which forces fiber through to the back. Flip the plastic piece over and poke sidewise, parallel to the bottom of the flower pedal piece, to bridge fiber from the small holes to their neighbors. Add a bit more wool roving to make the connection, if necessary. Place the pedal assembly on the LED/flower base to complete the felted flower.

Step 9: Enjoy!

Some ideas for this project:

  • Print a few and place them on a tray with breakfast in bed for Mother's Day
  • Use them in a diorama or doll house
  • Scenery in a stop-motion animation
  • Desk flair

Thanks for reading my Instructable! Please leave your flower versions, questions, and comments below.

If you like this project, you may be interested in some of my others:

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