Introduction: Lighthouse Planter (TinkerCAD)

About: I enjoy designing models in CAD and 3D printing them. I also love photography and graphic design, which I utilize in my Instructables.

I've always been a fan of 3D printed planters - they offer so much potential for creativity and allow you to maintain a garden, even if you don't have a green thumb or the backyard space to host one. While my Ferris Wheel Planter and Castle Planter Projects were fairly easy, this Lighthouse Planter has a much more complex design that poses more of a challenge.

Combining the classical architecture of lighthouses with urban design, this model has been in the making for months as I've worked hard to design something that is both visually appealing and practical.

Step 1: Materials Needed

These are the resources needed for this project:

1. Access to a 3D Printer - You need a printer to print this design. There are many cheap 3D printers available on Amazon, but you can also find them anywhere from a maker space to your local library. I ordered this 3D print through Shapeways, an online 3D-printing company that delivers high quality prints.

2. 3D-Printing Material - If you plan on printing this design yourself, you will need 3D-printing material for your printer - whether that is filament or resin.

3. Paint / Paintbrushes - If you want to paint this model, make sure to get non-toxic paints and potentially a sealant to customize this planter.

These are the softwares needed for this project:

1. TinkerCAD - TinkerCAD is an online, free software by Autodesk that you can use to design 3D objects to print. It is very simple to use and has intuitive controls that you can pick up quickly.

2. A Slicer - This software converts 3D designs into a format readable by a 3D printer. This is needed if you are going to print this lighthouse yourself. I use Ultimaker Cura to slice my designs.

3. Meshmixer [optional]- I used Autodesk Meshmixer to hollow out my lighthouse planter to reduce printing costs through Shapeways. This step is not needed unless you plan on printing on an SLA printer.

Step 2: Brainstorming

When making complex 3D models, you shouldn't just start designing. No matter how good your memory is, you should always gather a few reference images to work off of. I wanted my lighthouse to be simple yet urban; instead of the traditional, conical lighthouse, I designed mine like an urban building, including porches, balconies, windows, and separate floors to differentiate my lighthouse.

To get a feel for how the end result would look, I built a test model using LEGOs. Even though my design ended up changing throughout the process, it stayed roughly similar to my initial visions for the model.

Step 3: Design: Lighthouse

This model is fairly complicated; it took me around 3 hours to design in TinkerCAD even after brainstorming the initial design. In this step I will run through the main sequence of designing this lighthouse planter.

First Floor

The first thing we need to do is create a window template. We will copy-paste this throughout the design to quickly get an indented window shape.

Next, place a rectangular prism and create the entrance using a rectangular prism hole.

We can now add some basic furnishings. I put two doors in the entrance, some window overhangs on either side, and a nice patio in the back.

I finished up the first floor by copy-pasting the window shape and cutting away an overhang over the entrance.

Second Floor

The second floor's design is trickier. I used roofs, wedges, and quarters of pyramids to construct an interesting exterior. I also added a balcony using a rectangular prism and cylinders.

The back wall of the second floor was looking boring, so I used rectangular prism holes to create columns.

I then used the window template again to add windows to the second floor.

Third Floor

The third floor was relatively simple. I used wedges, pyramids, and a rectangular prism to slope inwards towards the lighthouse portion of the building.

I then used smaller windows to decorate the third floor.

I also added window overhangs to two of the windows in the front.

I added doors and windows to the wall facing the balcony and added a railing to the balcony. This railing also allows you to add soil and grow micro greens in the balcony itself.

Beacon (Fourth Floor)

For the beacon, I added a rectangular prism topped by a roof.

I then cut away the inside of the beacon to create the four distinctive pillars on the four corners.


Most importantly of all, I cut away holes in the patio and beacon for plants and holes in the roofs of both for sunlight to enter through. This step is crucial if you plan on using this design as a planter.

Step 4: Design: Terrain + Gazebo

Foundation of Lighthouse

We need to extend the lighthouse downwards so that when we add the terrain, none of the doors, windows, etc end up embedded in the landscape. To do this, I simply added rectangles below the lighthouse.


To create the rough terrain, I used the asteroid shape generator. I simply grouped many of them together and changed their sizes and locations to create a mountainous landscape.

I cut away the bottom of the asteroids to create hills and cut away the areas where the staircases will go using holes.

The staircases were trickier to design. I rotated rectangles for the railings and used smaller rectangles for the steps. I ended up creating a simple staircase template and copy-pasting it over and over to create the longer staircases seen below.

Once I finished the terrain, I moved the lighthouse on top of the landscape and fitted the staircases so that they were in the right positions.


To create the gazebo, I cut away a portion of the terrain to the left of the lighthouse.

I then copied the beacon from the lighthouse and used it to create the gazebo. Finally, I cut away a hole in the gazebo for plants and a hole in the roof for sunlight to enter through.

Step 5: Design: Overview

Overall, the design of the lighthouse was very well suited to TinkerCAD and I was able to design it fairly quickly considering the complexity of the model.

I would encourage you to try to follow the design process outlined in the previous 2 steps and create your own lighthouse.

However, you can find it on TinkerCAD here to customize or remix it or download the file directly through this step.

Step 6: Hollow Your Model

If you want to hollow your model (not recommended for 3D printers that use filaments), load your file into Autodesk Meshmixer.

Autodesk Meshmixer will try to smooth the surfaces of your model, which we don't want. To fix this, go to Edit -> Generate Face Groups and adjust the settings until your model is back to normal.

To hollow out your model, go to Edit -> Hollow and Increase the Offset (AKA wall thickness) to max. Then click "Update Hollow" and click "Generate Holes." These holes will allow the resin to drain out of your model instead of getting stuck inside.

To export, click File -> Export, change the file type to a .obj, and click "Export."

The purpose of hollowing out your model is to reduce material costs when using an SLA printer and printing using resin. If you are printing on a filament - based printer, do not hollow out your model and instead just decrease the infill density. Since FDM printers place filament layers on top of each other, your model won't be able to print if it is hollow since filament can't be placed on top of air.

Step 7: Slicing and Printing Your Model

Once you are ready to print your model, import it into Ultimaker Cura. In Cura, you can adjust the size of your model, fine-tune the print settings, and eventually export your model for printing.

You can adjust the quality of your print by changing the layer height. You should preferably print using as thin of a layer as your printer can handle for the highest quality, though it will take longer to print. The walls and the top / bottom should be thick enough that they won't crack, and the infill density should be high enough that the model will stay strong.

For this model, you need to enable support for it to be able to print.

Keep in mind that Cura is for FDM printers. If you are hollowing out your model to print on an SLS or SLA printer, you will need to find an alternative. I didn't need to slice my model because I ordered it from Shapeways.

Once you have sliced your design, simply print it on a 3D printer. Alternatively, you could also forego using a slicing software and order your print from an online 3D printing company like Shapeways.

Step 8: Painting Your Model [optional]

I would recommend painting your model after it is printed. I wanted my lighthouse to have a vintage color scheme, so I painted it copper, gold, and gray. Make sure to paint carefully - you might want to use painter's tape to paint the fine details without colors mixing.

Try not to paint the inside of the pots that the plants are going to be in. You might want to consider using some sort of waterproof, non-toxic sealant to prevent your model from wearing over time and to keep the paint from mixing with the water / soil.

However, you can always choose to keep your model in a single, solid color if you don't want to paint it; it should look great either way.

Step 9: Finish!

Congrats! If you have followed this Instructable, you designed, sliced, printed, and painted your very own lighthouse planter. The only step left is to add soil, plant some microgreens, and enjoy your new planter.

If you have any questions regarding the design process of this build, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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