3D Printable Microscope for Home or Lab




About: father, researcher, engineer, cyclist, and 3D printing enthusiast. I live in beautiful Vancouver, Canada and work at UBC. Many of my hobby projects are also available on thingiverse: http://www.thingiverse....

The following instructable describes a 3D printable microscope that you can make at home using low cost 3D printing. Almost every part on this microscope is 3D printable with the exception of the lenses, which you can get from disposable cameras. I got my lenses from a local photography shop and they were very kind to give me a bag full. Since I had so many, I designed it to work with them all. I have also upgraded it with a focus lock and a smartphone adapter so that you can take digital photos of your specimens. The quality of the image is not yet sufficient for scientific work but it is still an excellent educational tool or and can be quite useful around the workshop. You can also find this model and some nice user remixes for high end lenses on thingiverse: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:77450

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Step 1: Get Lenses From Disposible Cameras

You need to locate 4 copies of a disposable camera. The best place to go is a local photography shop or wherever you can get them developed. Ask nicely and people are probably going to be very willing to help.

(CAUTION there is a significant shock hazard if you plan to open a flash camera from the capacitor!)

You will need to print out a different optical tube for the Kodak lenses vs the Fujifilm lenses, STLs for both are attached in the next step. I have tested this design with the following camera models:

Fujifilm QuickSnap Outdoor
Fujifilm QuickSnap Flash
Fujifilm Flash

Kodak FunSaver Flash
Kodak unaned
Kodak Max Outdoor

Use some pliers or otherwise to remove the faceplate on the camera and remove the objective lens. Once again, if you plan to get it from a flash camera, be really careful with the capacitor. Non-flash cameras are trivial. Take good care not to scratch the lenses.

Step 2: 3D Print All the Necessary Components

You will need to print out all the components. This should work with a variety of printers and settings. I printed it on a Makerbot Replicator 2 using black, silver, and white PLA. For the optical tube, rack, knobs, pinion, stage, and head I used 0.1mm, 15% fill and high setting. For the post and stand I used medium settings, 0.27mm, 2.5% fill. It should have enough tolerance for medium settings everywhere. STLs can be found in the attached zip file.

Note: if you plan to use the smartphone adapter or even to prevent loss of focus, you can print the attached focus lock upgrade described later on. If you decide to do that, do not print the head included here in this zip file, use the one from the focus lock.

The light source shown in the photo is a low cost LED wall light from some box store.

Step 3: Install Lenses and Assemble Optical Tube

Use the attached photos as a guide for installing the lenses and assembling the optical tube and rack. There is a different optical tube that you have to print for the Fujifilm lenses (11.9mm outer diameter) vs. the Kodak lenses (13.2mm outer diameter). Others may work as well if they have these dimensions and 35 mm focal length. You should not need to put any glue anywhere on the optical tube assembly.

Step 4: Assemble the Head and Stand

Assembly is very straight forward. You may want to add some glue to hold the post, head, stage, and stand together as I found this improves stability. You can also add some glue to hold the focus knobs to the pinion gear inside the head. Be careful to go get glue such that the gear is accidentally bonded to the head.

Step 5: Optional Step - Focus Lock Upgrade

I designed an upgrade to the original model that allows you to lock the focus, this is particularly useful if you use the smartphone adapter. I printed all the parts for this upgrade using the MakerWare high setting, 0.1mm layers and 15% fill on a MakerBot Replicator 2. Once printed, install the nut from the inside of the head and thread the screw. You should then be able to install the remaining parts from the zip file included in previous steps.

Step 6: Optional Step - Smartphone Adapter

If you want to take some digital photos using your phone camera you can also print out this smartphone adapter. I printed all the parts using the MakerWare medium settings and 0.27mm layer thickness. For the two clamps, I printed with a higher infill (30%) for strength and 15% for the body. You will also need a rubber band, I am sure many different kinds will work just fine.

Step 7: Have Fun!

If you like this project, I hope you will vote for it. This was also inspired by some other nice projects:
Wood DIY microscope and great theory section : http://www.funsci.com/fun3_en/ucomp1/ucomp1.htm
Laser cut version by ZombieCat: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:31632

Looking forward to any feedback as well.

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    31 Discussions


    3 months ago

    What is the Field of View of this microscope?


    1 year ago

    I'm printing it now! The optical assembly is done and the image is amazing! This will be a gift for my granddaughter.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    A truly amazing project! It is fascinating what you can make a reality with 3d printers! I am planning to one day get one for my own uses, but currently I am thinking about getting something cheaper and simpler like a 3d printing pen. Anyways, this project is awesome, and you have taken some really cool pictures!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice design!

    3D printing is excellent for those one up needs. Unlike injection molding where cycle times and multiple cavity molds greatly reduce part costs, 3D printing is the exact opposite.

    Since printing times are an issue, time could be reduced by thinning cross sections or even lightening holes where the stress in the structure is quite low. This, unfortunately, creates another problem. That is material flow would then be a step function (start-stop of material flow in most of the layers).
    Material stoppage is not a “nice” situation with an extrusion process which needs to be continuous. Or is that a problem, since most objects I have observed must have many interruptions in material flow in filling a particular layer?

    In this project, for example, there are several areas in this project where material could be reduced. One being the vertical support. It appears that it might be a solid. The material in the center is not needed since in the working stresses are near zero. Another is hollowing of the base. This has possibly been done, but since there is no view of the bottom I cannot verify that. Neither have the knobs have not been hollowed out.

    I am in no way criticizing this project (I voted for it). I am just asking if these suggestions would be feasible where an organizations needs are for large quantities. It requires more CAD time, but this might be an attribute since, in the case of a classroom scenario, it would teach students the intricacies of product design.

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the feedback (and the vote!), its wonderful to get such a great response in general to this project.

    I can certainly see ways to improve printing time, including as you suggested removing sections that are low stress. However, you have to keep in mind that most fused filament fabrication printers allow the user to set an "infill" percentage, and for many of the parts here, that can be very low, essentially leaving a shell with some infill for basic support. As a result the build time does not scale linearly with volume. In some cases, for example the vertical support post, hollowing out the central volume, would not save a huge amount of time, and may actually increase the build time as the printer would be forced to implement the inner surfaces and any infill structure between them. I did not experiment with a range of infill options, but that would be something very useful. I was hoping that we could do that as a community.

    Thank you again for the feedback, I will consider some options for reducing build time as this is not the first time that this has been suggested. I hope you will also have a chance to build one and let me know how it goes.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I was unaware of the infill capability. I understand what you mean. I was concerned about that but forgot to mention it. Printing on air is rather difficult proposition "lol". If the vertical support post was made from two channel cross sections would be a solution.

    Isn't this fun. Designing with a concern for cost, which is a function of material costs and manufacturing time will always be a challenge.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Nice project! You should really look into lenses from Surplus Shed. They're cheap but good quality for the price.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I agree totally. I have always been keen to develop useful tools that reuse other disposable objects. One of my objectives here was to do something innovative but also contribute in some way to sustainability and reuse. Having said that, an optional upgrade for better optics is definitely of interest. You can find one example of that here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:94315


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Truly amazing project, it has very good magnification level! But I am just wondering if you can get better lenses buying them from internet in order to increasing still more the power of this unit. Thanks, I really like this kind of projects.

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I'll also vote for Surplus Shed as a good source for lenses. That is what I used for my iPhone macro lens instructable:


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you, I am definitely looking into some higher end lenses. Clearly there are ways to improve the quality of the image, including an upgrade to handle a standard objective. My goal was to make this model something that anyone with a 3D printer could make with minimal work and additional costs. Building on this base, I have been working on some upgrades, and better optics is definitely on the horizon.