Introduction: Making 3D Printed Trophies

About: Educator, designer, maker of things

Everyone loves a trophy, and at some point or another, everyone deserves a one too. Recognizing hard work, accomplishing great challenges, or acknowledging immense skill and commitment is important and really goes a long way. Everyone should recognize these things by letting someone know that you're a big fan of what they achieved. But no one likes a paper certificate, and ordering trophies can be pricey, boring, and takes time.

As a teacher, we constantly look to recognize student achievement and find ways to continue to motivate our students to do the best they can and participate. One of the best ways to do this is to surprise them with a totally awesome trophy that recognizes what they achieved. However, as mentioned above, getting a trophy made quickly can be difficult or expensive and a piece of paper never has the same effect.

Fortunately, I am a technology, engineering, and design teacher who has access to an army of 3D printers in our maker space. Because of this, I can make a trophy within a couple of hours for whatever the reason may be. Over the years I've made some good trophies, and some bad ones. Now, I thought it's about time for me to pass on the tips, tricks, and methods I've learned. I hope you enjoy!

Step 1: Why?

Why not? Everyone loves a trophy! Maybe its for most efficient prototype, tallest tower, most moving spontaneous speech, best performance, best haircut, coolest dad, or whatever else comes to mind.

With 3D printing, essentially any shape or model can be created in order to design an awesome trophy that is designed uniquely for a specific purpose or person. Depending on the printer and size of the trophy, it could be designed, manufactured, assembled, and ready to be presented in the matter of hours. Or from a teacher's point of view, before the dismissal bell.

Step 2: Choosing the Right Filament

Choosing the right filament is one of the most crucial components of a 3D printed trophy. No matter what, it will still be a cheap plastic trophy, but so are the ones you buy at the dollar store. Here's the filament I prefer for the best appearance with minimal to no finishing work required.

Metallic Appearance:

For the metal-like parts of the trophy, I like CC3D Metallic Silk PLA Filament. They offer it in Gold, Antique Gold, Silver, and Bronze. It costs about $22 per roll, and is offered in 1.75mm and 3mm diameters. I am endlessly impressed with the finish of this filament, it blends the layers nicely and really does have an awesome metallic shine.

Shiny Black:

I often contrast the metallic parts of the trophy with a shiny black base. For this, I typically use eSun PETg filament. I find that PETg has a more glossy shine than most PLA brands and contrasts well with the metallic silk filament.


As an added feature to some of my trophies, I add LED lights. I used to print translucent sections with T-Glase filament, though I recently switched to Natural PLA. The PLA is not quite as clear as T-Glase, but it is far cheaper and prints and bonds with greater ease.

Step 3: Choosing the Right Software

There are tons of great Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs out there that can be used to design an awesome trophy. In my classes, I teach Tinkercad to my 6th and 7th grade students and Onshape to my 8th grade students.

For designing trophies, Tinkercad is my program of choice. I find that Tinkercad is one of the easiest programs to use when combining multiple models together, manipulating scale, and adding vector images. I like to use Tinkercad to combine existing models too like in the rock, paper, and scissors trophy shown below. Sometimes I'll use Onshape to design a more detailed base with a chamfer, taper, or fillet feature, then import that model into Tinkercad to incorporate it with the rest of the design.

If you're looking for more guidance with these programs, I have an extensive collection of Tinkercad tutorials and Onshape tutorials on my digital classroom channel that are all designed to be to the point, easy to follow, and student friendly. I also made a CAD Instructable a few years back that mentions many different programs for various applications.

Step 4: Incorporating 2D Vector Images and Fonts

Vector images are 2D images in a CAD-based format. Unlike raster images (images constructed of dots and pixels like photographs), vector image files contain lines, points, and curves that CAD programs can interpret and manipulate.

Drawing custom designs in Tinkercad, or Onshape even, can be really challenging. Unlike graphic design programs, these 3D modeling apps don't really allow for smooth curves and multi-layer sketching. Tinkercad does however let you import vector designs which can then be transformed into 3D models. Check out the tutorial video included in this step to see what I'm on about.

As an example, for a tournament or design challenge trophy, I'll import the same vector image that I was using on the posters or design briefs to make a matching trophy, like the robot trophy shown in this step. Using vector images also allows you to use more unique fonts than whats included in typical 3D CAD programs. You can pick from thousands of fonts, write your message, export as a vector (.svg) file, then import it into Tinkercad to include in your 3D design. For pre-made images, SVG Repo is an awesome site to get free vector files.

There's also lots of great vector design programs out there that would let you create your own vector images. Adobe Illustrator is the professional and industry standard, but it is not free and can be challenging to get started with as a beginner. Gravit Designer is free, comes with an extensive clipart and font library, and shares many of the same fundamental tools that Illustrator has. Gravit was recently purchased by Corel, Adobe's biggest industry-standard competitor and another powerful vector program. Gravit is also is web-based so it works on every device and allows for google sign in which is awesome for the classroom.

If you're looking for more guidance with Gravit, I have an extensive collection of Gravit Designer tutorials on my digital classroom that are all designed to be to the point, easy to follow, and student friendly. I also made a Graphic Design Software Instructable a few years back that compares vector and raster file types, as well as the various applications for each.

Step 5: Avoid Supports

One general challenge of 3D printing is designing your models in such a way that the machines are able to produce them. 3D printers can't print every geometric shape, but with the use of support material and fine tuning nearly any shape is possible to produce one way or another.

However, using support material may take away from the appearance and effectiveness of your trophies for a few reasons. First, printing with support adds time so stay away if you're in need of a quick trophy. Second, it can sometimes be difficult to remove support material and leave a nice smooth finish. To do this, you may need to sand your parts and that will be noticeable if only part of the trophy is sanded. So then you should really sand the whole thing, then paint it, and now we are hours into post-production prep for a silly trophy.

The CC3D silk filament actually does really well with removing support material with minimum defects if you set the support fill density down to 15% or so. But in general, re-orienting your designs or in printing multiple parts may give you a quicker and better looking result by avoiding supports all together.

If you happen to have a dual-head 3D printer, you can utilize PVA or other types of dissolvable support material to avoid leaving marks and create really high detailed models. However, this typically adds an extra 24 hours to the total production time when you take added time to print, time to dissolve, and time to dry all into account.

Step 6: Create Multi-Part Designs

As mentioned in the last step, multi-part designs may allow you to avoid needing support material which will cut down in time, cost, and provide better overall appearance. It also allows you to incorporate multiple colors with ease which could further enhance your trophy presentation. I love combining the shiny CC3D metallic filaments with glossy black PETg bases for a sharp appearance with minimal effort and time needed. When designing parts that need to nest or fit together, you need to consider shrinkage during the printing process. In general, PLA and PETg filament shrinks by about 0.25% during printing. When making the name plaques that snap into the bases, I make the plaques smaller than their pocket by about 1%, or by shaving 1/32" off the outer dimensions. Each printer, printing conditions, filament brand, model orientation, and model volume will vary this slightly.

To adhere parts together, I typically use Loctite Super Glue Professional Liquid. It sets in a minute or so, then cures to be incredibly strong within the hour. If I am in a time crunch, I use hot glue (obviously) but this isn't nearly as effective or nice. I also cut a 1/16" pocket out for parts to fit nested together rather than just surface mounted for added strength and nicer appearances. If you happen to have a multi-head 3D printer, you can print multiple colors in one go and avoid needing to bond parts together. However, this can make combining multiple filament types difficult and usually adds a significant amount of print time.

I occasionally engrave name plaques on my laser using Rowmark LaserMark instead of 3D printing them. This usually takes less time than 3D printing and also provides a different appearance or level of functionality. Many mass-produced trophies use laser engraved or CNC milled metallic Rowmark-like products for name plates, so if you have access to these production methods you can add a new level of professional appearance to your own trophies!

I use glue to attach the engraved plaques if it's a one time use. Or in the case of my Rock, Paper, Scissors, Champ trophy, I used an old soldering iron to press in threaded knurled nuts into printed pilot holes so the plaque could be taken on and off to engrave a new champion's name each year.

Step 7: Congratulations!

Did you learn something new? How about make a trophy design of your own? Great job! If I could, I would present you with this instructable trophy because you've earned it!

In all seriousness, I hope this instructable provided you with some new ideas and inspiration in making your own trophies! Thanks for reading and happy making!

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