An iPhone case says a lot about a person, that is why there are so many on sale, one to match every type of personality, but what if there isn't one that matches you, either that or you just want a challenge, or just want to show off your amazingly cool iPhone case that you designed and is 3D printed to your mates, well READ ON...
The versatility of 3d printing is incredible and this instructable is going to show you how you can design your own customised 3D printed iPhone 4/4s case step by step simply and easily in less than 20 minutes.
This was something I struggled to do when I first decided to design an iPhone case, so I am sharing this knowledge with you to spare you the trouble and without the need of vast knowledge of designing programs.
The iPhone case you design can then be 3d printed by a company such as Shapeways (a 3d printing service) for about £20/$30 including shipping to the USA (excluding taxes) however a little bit more for shipping to other countries.
I also recently discovered 123D's Fabrication service (click on the 'Fabricate' tab), I am unsure if they are cheaper than Shapeways who provide the same service and I have no past experience with them.
This instructable is suitable for all levels of experience with CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs.
So far, using the method in this Instructable, I have successfully designed and manufactured 2 iphone cases:
Here is my newest 3d printed iphone case which has an integrated 3 in 1 flip out stand which I have called the TriStand, this design really stretched the limits of 3d printing as it contained hinges with pins of only 1mm in diameter, however it worked flawlessly. For more information about this design or to get this design 3d printed from Shapeways in a choice of colours, look Here!
This is my example for this instructable which I have printed and tested which is available from Shapeways, which i will personalise with your name and choice of colour Available Here or the version with moving cogs Available Here.
Here is a High Resolution Picture of the case.
"Simplicity, is the aim of this case, the back has been ripped off revealing that the iPhone is being powered by nothing more than simple clockwork, a great match for a device which is so simple to use."
Now... to make your own:
You will need some CAD software, some are available for free such as Google Sketchup which I recommend for those of you with little or no experience with CAD.
I used Autodesk Inventor for this tutorial.
Step 1: Creating the Case
The next 2 steps are optional and are aimed at those of you with more experience with CAD - if you are struggling to create the case or have no experience, I have uploaded the template in .3ds format for import with Google Sketchup and in .stp (STEP) format for import with other CAD programs such as Autodesk Inventor and Solidworks at the bottom of this step, make sure you download the file corresponding to your type of iPhone.
If you are using Google Sketchup and want to use the template file, go to 'File' >'Import' >'Options' >(tick) 'Merge Coplanar Faces', then import the template file, after importing the file, use the 'Pointer' tool and click on the case then go to 'Edit' >'Component' >'Explode' (do this twice, it's a weird bug), this will allow you to edit the case easily.
After you have imported this file into your CAD software you can skip to step 3.
But hey, wheres the fun in not trying?
First you will have to find all the relevant Technical Drawings for the intended iphone you want to make the case for available Here.
Now... Start up your Cad package and create a 2d sketch, on this sketch draw a simple rectangle with the exact length and width of the iphone and extrude it the exact depth of the iphone and then add fillets of radius 8.5mm round the 4 edges of the rectangular prism and fillets of radius 1.59mm around the top and bottom faces as shown in picture 2, this is essentily a basic copy of the iPhone.
Shell your solid OUTWARDS of a thickness of at least 1.5mm so it can be printed by shapeways and choose to remove the front face so the screen of your iPhone would be accessible as shown in picture 3.
Step 2: Creating Access to Buttons and Ports
All that is left is for you to create the necessary cut-outs for access to all the buttons and ports by referring again to the Technical Drawings before you can start getting creative!
Please note that the dimensions on the drawings are from the edge of the iphone not from the outside of the created case, so create the dimentions from the projected geometry of the inside of the case or just add the thickness of your case to the dimensions and dimension from the outside of the case.
Create a sketch on the left side of the case where the volume buttons are located on the iPhone and using the Technical Drawings create cutouts for the volume buttons and the silent switch as shown in picture 1. I would recommend taking more material away from around the buttons to allow your fingers easier access to press on the buttons unless you want to chamfer the sides around the buttons like I did in picture 2 to allow easier access.
Do the same for the headphone jack socket (at least 6mm diameter), power button, clearance for the camera, dock connector and speakers.
Cut away alot of material for the Dock connector and Speakers as this will allow flex in the case for easy fitting to the iPhone as shown in picture 3.
Now just add any other fillets you feel are necessary and you can start designing the back of your case.
Step 3: Designing the Back / Customizing
All that is left is for you to design the back of your case; create a simple 2D sketch on the back face of the case and get creative, cut out shapes, swirls or whatever takes you fancy as shown in the above picture, or extrude/emboss your name onto the case using the text tool!
Make sure the thickness is at least 0.7mm on the thinnest parts of your design to allow 3d printing by Shapeways, unless of coarse you want to create cut outs the entire depth of the iPhone case.
If your a newbie and your using Google Sketchup;
assuming you've imported the already designed template file, to design the back, simply choose a shape tool in the top left toolbar and draw the disired shapes on the back face of the iphone case (this may be easier if you are viewing the case from the top).
After drawing your shapes, choose the 'push/pull' tool in the toolbar and if the shapes are closed (there are no gaps in the shape), simply click on the shape and pull the shape in one direction or the other, pulling it away from the case will cause you too add material to the case but consider the more material added, the more the case will cost when you buy it. Pushing it through the case will cause you to cut away material from the case.
You can choose the amount of material that is added or cut away from the case by pulling the shape in the desired direction and typing a distance (1mm), and then tap the enter key, this sets the depth of the extrusion or cut out, if you want to make a cut out that is the entire depth of the iPhone case, type in 1.5mm after you've started pulling the shape through the case and then tap the enter key, this makes sure it is only 1.5mm deep (the thickness of the back of the case) and prevents excess material being created.
Alternitavly, view this section in the instruction manual which explains this again (ignore steps 1 and 2 on the first guide, obviously).
You can also add text to your design by clicking on the '3D Text' tool in the left toolbar, type in your text and choose the height and depth of the text, click ok then just place the text on the back of the iPhone case.
Once your happy with the final product, its time to get it printed.
Step 4: Getting It Printed
You can also try 123D's Fabrication Service (click on the 'Fabricate' tab) which offers the same flexible material as Shapeways (choose the 'Durable Plastic' material) which might turn out to cost slightly less, however I have not used this service before so I have no past experience with them.
Struggling to make your own or just prefer my designs? Get the TriStand Case here or the Clockwork Case here personalised with your name or choice of text.
Once it has arrived, simply fit to your iPhone and you have your own custom 3D printed iPhone Case that you designed. Cool or what?
I have created instructions on how to install and remove this type of 3d printed case to and from your iPhone which I have uploaded as a PDF at the bottom of this page.
As you can imagine, 3d printing was not created for the sole purpose of making iPhone cases, so these cases are slightly more difficult to install and remove on the iPhone than standard cases, however once installed, it is a very snug fit and works well.
Here is a HD video of the 3D printed TriStand Case I designed:
Here is a HD video of the 3D printed Clockwork Case I designed on a simple turntable:
Good Luck and be creative!