Micro 3D Printing: Make a Micro Chess Set




Introduction: Micro 3D Printing: Make a Micro Chess Set

About: I believe that the purpose of life is to learn how to do our best and not give in to the weaker way.

Very small objects can be created with even an inexpensive extruded filament 3D printer. The Intro Pic shows a chess set next to a quarter that was printed in PLA.

I have provided .stl files if you want to print your own micro chess set. The files can easily be scaled up to larger sizes to create an easier to use chess set. With a little more hand work, they can even be scaled down.

Step 1: How It Works

The resolution of extruded filament 3D printers is really quite high. I used a Makerbot Replicator 2 to make this chessboard, but it should  be possible with most low end 3D printers.

I am mainly interested in using this process to make very small robots, so I thought making a small chessboard would be a good way to find out the lower size limits of extruder 3D printing.

You cannot simply print out a small object and get consistently good results. It requires modifications in the spacing, number of objects, and printer settings to get crisp 3d prints.

Step1 pic shows the largest chess piece, a king which is .43" high by .1" in diameter. The base and head of the piece is actually hollow.

Step 2: Materials

The main thing you will need is access to a 3D Printer. I used a Makerbot Replicator 2, but other printers that extrude PLA should work.

PLA in one or two colors. I used blue and natural. The natural has the advantage that it is translucent and glows nicely when lit with LEDs.

Step 3: Printing the Chess Board in Two Colors

The chess board is designed with every other square slightly raised higher than the adjoining squares. If your printer allows it, you can print in one color and then pause and change filaments to print the raised squares in another color. If your printer won't do that, you can print the board in one color and then hand paint the recessed squares in another color. Colored nail polish works well as a paint on PLA. You can sand off any spillover with sandpaper on a flat surface.

Printing Two Colors On A Replicator 2
It is easy to print one color on a Replicator 2 and then pause mid print and change to another color. In the case of this chess board, I printed for about 17 minutes and then as soon as it started to print the raised squares I pressed the left menu arrow and clicked on change filament. This removes the extruder head from the print and allows you to change filiment color.

After the filament has been changed you can click on resume build and it will go back to printing where it left off.

Replicator 2 Settings
Print at the highest quality with a raft.
Print at the standard settings at .1mm
Make sure you have the latest version of the Makerbot software. Earlier versions do not print small things quite as well.

Step 4: Printing the Chess Pieces

The pieces were created in 123D design, a free program. A 2d profile was drawn and then Revolved to create the pieces. Its like having a lathe and turning pieces. The pieces were designed to precisely fit in the shallow holes of the board with a friction fit. Even if the board is knocked about, the pieces will stay in place.

It turns out that you cannot simply print a very small object by itself and get consistently good results. PLA requires a certain amount of time between printed layers for the layers to set up enough that they will not be distorted as the next layer is printed. Printing a single chess piece ended up with blobs instead of details and the necks of the pieces would often detach.

I tried lowering the temperature setting and that worked to some degree, but it tended to eventually clog the extruder nozzle.

I found that the best prints came about if more than one object is printed at a time and the objects are spaced about 8mm apart. 3 objects worked very well and 5 fairly well. The more pieces you print at a time, the more the play in the guide rails becomes apparent. The creeping error in mechanical inaccuracies results in less detail and blobby artifacts.

Placing the smaller pieces in between the larger ones also helps. When the printer prints the end pieces, it will print two layers before it reverses direction. This can cause distortions on the smallest pieces.

So, you should use your 3D printer software to print 3 to 5 chess pieces at a time. I also reduced the extruder speed to 50% of normal.

Replicator 2 Settings
Print at the highest quality with a raft.
To make the chess pieces hollow I set the infill at 0%.
The shells were set at 1.
The extrusion thickness was .1mm.
Make sure you have the latest version of the Makerbot software. Earlier versions do not print small things as well.

Step 4 pic shows the printed pawn and knight on a quarter.

Second pic shows 5 pieces that were printed at one time.

Step 5: Making It Smaller

The step 5 pic shows a board that I printed that was 70% of the original size. While the pieces printed out fine, the raised squares on the board closed up the holes. If you are willing to hand drill out the raised holes, you could make a chess set about the size of a quarter.

Pic 2 shows a way to make even smaller chess pieces. Molds can be made which have a higher resolution than printed parts. The raised wall are .01" but the distance between them is much less.

Pic 3 shows a pawn that was cast in Oogoo. It is .138" high x .057" wide.

Step 6: Other Possibilities

The minimum width of a single wall is about .018". This limits the size of the smallest objects that can be printed. Step 6 pic shows a set of nesting boxes on a quarter. The smallest box is about .07" x .07" with an inside cavity about .027" x .027". The largest box is about .30" x .30".

However, even though the width of the minimum extruded wall is limited to about the width of the extruder nozzle, the distance between walls is not as limited. So smaller pieces can be cast in a printed mold than those that can be printed.

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18 Discussions

is this chess is playable ? concerning on how small it is ? just a joke :)


To me, low end means filament printers like the replicator 2 or less. These are 3D printers that cost $3000 or less. These are printers that at this time, are barely affordable by normal builders and experimenters.

High end would be the commercial printers like Objet that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

This is all temporary. Being able to print brackets, robots, cases, hinges, valves, business cards, toys, molds, containers, and things we have not even thought of--well, it is mind boggling. All of this is possible with "low end printers".

I think that 3D printers will evolve the way that 2D printers evolved, but at a slower pace. The price will slowly go down as the resolution and speed goes up. Multiple extruders or lasers or something else will make it faster and more precise.

I see what you mean, and I guess that was a joke to myself (if that makes sense at all)
I've spent the past year building a Reprap Prusa, and being 14, I've run into a lot of problems, including the resolution, dripping molten ABS everywhere, screeching motors and the like. I agree that everything is improving, and I have seen many improvements over the year that I have built mine.

I agree that RepRap is nowhere near the quality of an Object or a Stratasys, but as a 14 year old kid, this thing seems crazily high-end, as I've never been able to make things this quickly or with this much precision.

By the way, your Instructables is amazing, and I can really appreciate the amount of work and troubleshooting that went into this.

Its nice to know im not the only 14 year old that's into making. How much have you spent of your rep rap by the way

I've spent about $600-$650 on it so far. I used the cheapest stuff you can find, but did get a couple extra things, Heated print bed for example. I have an Instructable with some pics of it. You could probably make one for $500

If you are interested in making one, I could help you out.I am also working on a new design with a large print area that can be made with things from home depot.

Interdasting. Around £400 that s not bad at all. I've been thinking of building a CNC platform with changeable heads such as a router, 3D print extruder, CO2 laser, ECT. I know sloppiness is a major problem with homemade CNC machines and even 3D printers. After doing some research I discovered the Stuart platform which is renowned for having no play. I think this would be a first for 3D printing and would be a great winter project this year, I'll let you know.

Sloppiness in what sense? My printer has wires all over it, in crazy positions, and the molten plastic can be a bit of a mess, but other than that they are relatively clean. If you mean flimsiness or how much it can wobble, the Prusa Mendel design is very sturdy and secure, and i can apply quite a bit of pressure to it.

I'll look into the Stuart platform, it sounds interesting.

Yeah I was talking about wobble and flex in the guide bars and play in the leadscrew.

Hopefully prices will continue to be driven down with innovation and competition. Here's a kickstarter that offers some hope in this area if you haven't seen it already:


just a little hint, the queen goes on her own colour. this puts her opposite the opponents queen


Now, all you need now is to make tiny chess players.

Nice work, and thanks for running the numbers! I've been trying to print some very fine detail objects and am going to try you print multiple objects trick to give the layers more time to cool..

If you ever revisit this I'd like to request slightly deeper holes and a slot in the bottom for a Swiss army style set of tweezers... Ultimate travel chess set!

1 reply

Good idea.

Perhaps a lidded box that holds the board and keeps the pieces in place during transport would work.

The lid could contain built in 3d printed tweezers.

Sweet! It is amazing the quality you can get, I've gotten clean 0.004 inch layers before, but only in the z directions.