Poor Man´s " 3D Printing " Alternatives Guide




Introduction: Poor Man´s " 3D Printing " Alternatives Guide

About: I´m that Guy of MAYER MAKES You can find my projects on Youtube ,Facebook and now also on Instructables. Subscribe to my Channel to stay tuned

Hi it´s that Guy from MAYER MAKES

3D Printing is one of the greatest achievements for Makers in recent times, but there are some issues with it.

Not everybody (myself included) can afford a 3D printer. The price tags come down every year but it´s still a very big investment.

Building a 3d Printer from scratch requires heavy development tasks to create a reliable 3D printer,which can add up to the cost of a retail model.

Kits deliver sure performance for lower price, but are still quite expensive.

In general 3D printing is a prototyping method that currently replaces older manual methodes in the maker movement.

3D printing is a process that consumes time to construct the Image-files (.stl) on a pc and printing itself consumes also a lot of time. For most projects, you have to do multiple prints to figure out slop thickness, mounting etc.

Sometimes its just quicker to do one or more mock-ups test them and correct your 3D drawings accordingly, and then have them print via an online print service.

Basic parts(f.e. Geometric shapes, spacers, lids) which can be created with 3d printing or CNC-machines can also be built with other manual techniques,that every maker can do on a very low budget.

Read the following steps to learn some usefull methodes which can substitute the all mighty 3D printer until you can afford one yourself.

This is the Poor Man´s "3d Printing" Alternatives Guide --> Head on to the next step!

Step 1: Materials

I´ve first tried to stick funky foam and scrap plastic together using different solvents, but that only works well with ABS and its solvent ACETONE.

( use the mighty interweb to find different plastics and their matching solvents)

Funky foam seems to be pretty inert to solvents but there are a lot of other materials, that can fit our needs, in combination with each other.

Materials used in the following steps:

Wood glue



Funky foam

Foamboard (EPS and XPS)

Adhesive Tape

Biodegradable plastic

Sealing mass / Silicone and Acrylat


Scrap ABS plastic


fine plastic and metal meshes

Head on to the next step! The first usefull technique is just a klick away!

Step 2: Cardboard-paper-planar-parts

The first method is mostly usefull for planar shapes like lids, cases,and just any geometrical shape.


It is ideal for mock-ups to check the general dimensions of a part in relation to the real project, but can also be used for mechanical prototyping.

How to:

You can use your computer drawings, print out the shape on paper with your normal printer.

Glue the paper to the cardboard and add cardboard/paper until you reached the desired thickness of your part. Cut out the shape with scissors or a sharp blade and add differently formed layers to create raised/lowered portions.

  • In clear words you are basically doing the same thing most 3d Printers do, add layer on layer until the desired shape is reached.

You can drill, angle-cut and scorecut your Workpiece to bend it and give it different angles.

Reinforce any bend with tape on the inside of every bow and tape on the edges for more robust pieces.

+ Very cheap

+Great for big parts


- Not very fast with complicated shapes

- Can't do very tiny stuff with it

Step 3: Silicone-sealing-strength

Silicone, Sealing mass ,Acrylat and other Sealing materials can be optained very cheap to free if you search for items with expired best-before-dates. If the stuff became solid inside the tube, its not an issue for you, as you will learn in a later Step.


This technique is mostly used for prototyping, flexible, rubbery parts, and requires a mold or a carrier material. It's great for parts that not jet have a finished shape f.e. you can bend them while fiting them onto your project, to see how different angles would look.

How to:


In a lot of projects, you will come across a point, where you need custom sized standoffs or shock absorbing parts.

Do not buy various sizes, just make them yourself!

Get some foamboard (I prefer XPS)and cut it in your desired shape or just get an object that nearly fits the desired size of your standoff and press it into sculpting clay (it doesnt need to be the oven-hardening supercool type).

This will create your mold.

Pour/press silikon or sealing mass in your mold and let it dry (this can take up to 24(maybe more) hours depending on the mass you have used. In general masses that need longer time to harden, make more rigid parts in the end.

When your cast has hardened remove it from the mold and use sharp wood drillbits to put holes in it

and shape it with a very sharp blade. You can even press nuts and bolts in your cast to create threaded standoffs.

Positioning trick:

Screw your nut onto a matching screw place it in the right spot and fixate the screw by either pressing it deeper into the mold (sticks in the sculpting clay) or let it stick out of the top and secure it with some tape.


You can use those masses to reinforce other materials like funky foam, paper or fine plastic or metal meshes. shape your Carrier Material first according to the methods you learned/ will learn in this instructable and then cover your workpiece with a layer of sealing mass or silicone. If you use Acrylat or fully hardening sealing mass, the outcome can be laquered.

Applying tipp:

if you hit your workpiece with rubbing alcohol prior to the mass, it will stick much better on the surface, also sanding always helps.

+ rubbery parts

+ flexible and rigid

+ threaded parts makeable

- not for mechanical parts

- long hardening time

Step 4: Foamboard-fast-figure

This is the top technique for volumetric parts.


Strong, mechanical parts, cases, lightweigth applications (Aerial builds) and much more can be done in a short period of time.

EPS= the white grainy stuff->lighter + cheaper

XPS= the coloured solid stuff -> robust + more expensive

How to:

The process is similar to the Cardboard method mentioned earlier.

You can use your computer drawings again , print out the shape on paper with your normal printer.

Glue the paper to the foamboard (ATTENTION: some glues destroy the foam) and add layers of foamboard until you reach the desired thickness of your part. Cut out the shape with a sharp blade and add differently formed layers to create raised/lowered portions. you can use sandpaper, drills and rotating tools (Dre**el/ Pr*xx*n) to shape the foamboard

You can angle-cut and scorecut your Workpiece to bend it and give it different angles.

Reinforce any bend with Duck tape on the inside of every bow for more robust pieces.

SHAPEING TIPP: Cut your board about 1mm larger than you need it, and then sand it to the desired shape to ensure exact measurements. Use prints of the layers/sideviews as template to match the shape to your drawings

TOOL TIP: Hot-Wire-Cutters are a great tool for shapeing foamboard

Don't buy any overpriced cutter just search for an Instructable to build your own Hot-Wire Cutter (there are a lot great Instructables on that topic)

+ lightweigth prototyping (perfect for Aerial-projects)

+very fast

+ nearly every shape is possible

- foamboard costs money (EPS not so much but XPS is expensive)

(- there will be waste.....but we will get rid of that in the end of this Instructable)

Step 5: Plastic-waste-reusage

Every Tinkerer / Maker has ripped apart old electronics in search for reusable parts. Not only the guts of the machines are of value also the housings.


In some cases it's just convenient to adapt or reshape existing plastic parts to fit your needs

most consumer electronics are mounted in housings made of ABS-plastic and as I mentioned before

ABS + Acetone = Awesome!

How to:

Look at scrap ABS-Parts and check if there are any matching proportions or shapes with your design

If you have found something that matches the basic attributes of your desired parts cut it out shape it and use acetone to combine it with other ABS parts.

SAFETY TIPP: Be aware of acetone fumes, they are likely to burn just ignited by tiny sparks (maybe from your tools!!). And of Course do not breathe them in!

CHAEPO TIPP: If you don have acetone handy just steal your sisters nail-polisch-remover . Check the ingredients-list on the back of the bottle, they mostly include acetone and work OK.

+ Super cheap

+Waste reducing


- Acetone Fumes

- restriction in possible shapes

Step 6: Plywood-plastering

Plywood is the first choice for mechanical parts and very sturdy prototyping.


You can shape and cut it with all mentioned techniques,but keep in mind that its not easy (or very hard) to make rounded complicated shapes, and impossible to make flexible parts (at least without combining different methods).

How to:
The process is similar to the Cardboard method mentioned earlier.

You can use your computer drawings again, and print out the shape on paper with your normal printer as mentioned in the Cardboard-methode.

Glue the paper to the plywood and add layers of plywood and paper until you reach the desired thickness of your part. Cut out the shape with a hacksaw and add differently formed layers to create raised/lowered portions. you can use sandpaper, drills and rotating tools (Dre**el/ Pr*xx*n)to shape the plywood.

You can angle-cut your Workpiece to give it different angles. Reinforce any angles with hot glue on the inside of every bow for more robust pieces.

SHAPEING TIPP: Cut your board about 1mm larger than you need it, and then sand it to the desired shape to ensure exact measurements. Use prints of the layers / sideviews as template to match the shape to your drawings.

You can also use different woodworking techniques to shape your plywood prototype.

(search for Instructables on woodworking for more information)

+ Very sturdy

+ Great for mechanical parts

- Plywood costs money

(- You may get into woodworking and forgett about your wish for a 3D printer)

- Rounded and complicated shapes require a lot of work.

Step 7: BIO Plastics

Biodegradable plastics are made mostly from starch and there is still a lot to discover by altering the ingredients and the production process.

Feel free to experiment.


Great for creating foils, thin layers, "green prototyping", castings and sculpting

How to:





Corn starch

(or any other starch, I've heard thatTapioca starch produces the best results, but it is not available in my Area)

Optional: Colour pigments (food colouring prefered)

Mix following amounts of the Ingredients:

1 tablespoon corn starch

4 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon glycerine

1 teaspoon vinegar

(optional Colour pigments)

Mix these Substances as good as possible ,slowly heat up the mixture

and constantly stir it in the pot!

You will recognize the distinctive smell of vinegar.

(you can use a microwave, but I achieved better results on a stove)

If you heat it on the stove stir it the whole time, until the mixture turns into a clear (can be a foggy) gel.

Turn off your Stove and pour the gel onto a non sticking surface like a backing mat and spread it evenly, to form plates or foils.

You can also form the mass by Hand as long as it is warm. Additional dry strach on your Hands prevents the mass from sticking to your skin.

Now it is time to play the awesome waiting game until the gel has cooled down and hardened.

Don't try to speed up the process by cooling it down, this will only cause the gel to get cracks.

It is possible to pour the mixture into a mold but, the recipe needs some improvement for this kind of tasks.

Cooling is even more critical to avoid cracks in the casting.

The Bio-plastic is dissolvable in water , if you make a mess, just clean it up with water.

Watch the Attached Video to see how it works.


+very thin layers possible

+ easy colouring

+ Sculpting by hand possible

- long cooling times

- currently not very good for volumetric parts

- needs additional research for better recipes

- currently not strong enough for mechanical parts

Step 8: Getting Rid of the Waste

As I mentioned before there will be waste with these rapid prototyping techniques.

That is just because all mentioned methodes ( besides the sealing/Silicone mold) are reductive ways of creating an object.

3D printing is an additive process that (in theory) does not produces waste, the truth is you have a lot of waste when prints fail.

You can reuse failed prints by dissolveing them in Acetone and use the outcome to cover your printers bed to help the first layer to stick better to the surface.

With those Poor Man's "3D printing" methodes its a simmilar thing.

Paper and Cardboard:

Just recycle the waste or make paper mache out of it.

PAPER + METHYLAN (wallpaper glue) + WATER = PAPER MACHE --> basic modeling

Foamboard + Plywood:

Crush the materials a small as possible (Sawdust is fine enough ;-) ) and mix it with scrap ABS and Acetone to create a mass for textureing surfaces in modelmaking and propmaking.

Sealing mass / Silicone:

There should be not much waste but if it hardens in the tube.


When its completely hardened cut of the top lid of the tube press it out and shape it with a knife to make flexible puffers, standoffs, figurines and much more.


Bioplastic is Biodegradable so you don have to worry about the waste.

Read on...there is more!

Step 9: Combining the Techniques and Limitations

You can combine any of the mentioned techniques in every way possible, just use your imagination and try it out.

Foamboard with threads?

Just drill a hole and glue a nut inside it.

Plywood with bends?

Cut the plywood in strips and and use ducktape to interconnect them, or just extend the plywood with funky foam or cardboard.

If you've got any idea just go ahead and try it...there are no limits...except..there are limits:

All these methodes are limited in very small scales, but in that case you can use sculpting clay and do sculpting the oldschool way.

There is not much you can´t do with your hands, but there are a some things a 3D printer can do better and easier.

If you liked what you have read in this instructable please give me your Vote in the 3D printing contest, to help me one step towards my dream of owning a 3D printer someday.

Thanks for Reading and keep on Hacking

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    7 years ago on Step 9

    One of the best instructables I have see in a long time - - I too do not have the money for a 3D printer, plus I kinda like making by hand.

    Great job.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks darrenhall!

    I knew I´m not the only one!


    6 years ago

    Hi I'm new here I would like to ask that, will using this be like using a 3d printer bought at the store? Will it need cad programs? and how am I exactly going to print it or connect my laptop to the alternative 3d printer? If it's not to much trouble please answer my question.


    Reply 6 years ago

    Hi Bianca

    Thank you for subscribing to my channel, and thank you for your

    I think you have not read the instructable completely, because
    it is not about an alternative 3d printer, but about alternatives
    to 3d printing.

    The instructable explains how you can easily mock up prototypes
    etc. without using a 3d printer. The cheap alternative
    to 3d printing is making it by hand.

    every step of the instructable I published explains a different
    method of making physical prototypes by hand.

    Or you could explain different types of 3d printers the main two
    variants are FDM (fused deposition modelling--> the one with
    the plastic strings) and UV-Resin printers.

    Google for "FDM", "Cartesian 3d Printer", "UV-Resin" , "Reprap",
    "Kossel Rostock" to get more information on the different types.

    I f you want to do your school project about 3d printing you
    could demonstrate these techniques in class to show that you
    don't need an expensive 3d printer to be a maker.

    The most software for 3D printing is in fact free to download
    (mostly for Linux Operating system) but the machine itself is
    not cheap.

    Nowadays its cheaper to buy a working 3dPrinter or a kit than
    making it yourself.

    Hope I helped you a little bit.

    Keep on making

    Best regards

    Clemens Mayer




    7 years ago on Introduction

    We are using our next tax return to buy a 3d printer but for most makers it is a someday goal and meanwhile we still have stuff to make. Thank you for a great Instructable. You got my vote.


    7 years ago

    I really liked that. Got my brain ticking with some new techniques. good job. Seems I can't vote yet


    7 years ago on Introduction

    And to think that I threw out all those printer bodies.



    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    me to ...acheide...me to...but now those housings don´t have to go to waste anymore!


    7 years ago

    I've used this technique with prints glued on red oak strips ty for sharing with everyone.