Tiny 3D Printed Models




Introduction: Tiny 3D Printed Models

About: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through understanding, and strives to inspire others to lear...

My 5-year-old daughter and I have been having fun designing and 3D printing her creations from Tinkerplay, formerly known as Modio. She's able to design something and feel ownership over it. This gives the printed toy more of a story for her, and thus a much longer half-life in her attention.

The Tinkerplay parts are really well designed and snap together with ball and socket joints. In the app, the default size is a ball with a diameter of approximately 10 mm, with the ability to scale up or down to 125% or 75%. I was curious if the ball and sockets would work at much smaller sizes, so printed a selection of Tinkerplay parts using the Autodesk Ember 3D printer, a digital light processing 3D printer.

Here, I've printed and assembled Tinkerplay parts as small as 20% of their normal size -- ball joints of 2 mm diameter. Smaller parts are probably possible. I was actually having trouble losing parts during the cleaning step where the parts are immersed in a liquid!

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Step 1: Create in Modio, Scale and Orient in Meshmixer, 3D Print

All the creatures were created in Tinkerplay. Tinkerplay outputs an STL of the parts, which I scaled to the smaller sizes in Meshmixer. Each part is designed to print on an FDM 3D printer without supports or rafts. I rolled the dice and assumed they would print similarly well on Ember, so did not generate supports. All the parts I tried were able to print. All three of the prints shown were printed in Ember's standard prototyping resin at 25 um layers.

Note that while my daughter plays with the creatures she creates and we together print with FDM, these smaller Tinkerplay creatures printed with Ember were my own experiments. They're too small to really be fun, and don't make suitable toys.

Step 2: 50% - 5 Mm Diameter Balls

Here's a bulbous crab printed at 50% scale. It snaps together easily, all the joints move, and it's easy to pose and make it stand.

Step 3: 25% - 2.5 Mm Balls

Here's a propellor-headed 4-legged critter printed at 25% scale. Similar to 50%, it snaps together and poses easily.

Step 4: 20% - 2 Mm Diameter Balls

This is the half-snake half-scorpion from the included creatures in Tinkerplay. Printed at 20%, the ball joints are approximately 2 mm. There's a quarter in the images to show the scale. Assembling them, particularly this many, was tricky and required tweezers. A few of the sockets broke during assembly. Once assembled, they move and pose, and for their size, are remarkably robust -- I can carry the creature around without it coming apart. I haven't tried printing anything smaller because of the few broken joints, and the likelihood of losing the parts during the cleaning step after they're printed.

Step 5: Close-up Images of the 2 Mm Balls and Sockets

Here are some close-up images of the 2 mm ball and socket joints and the geometry as seen from within Tinkerplay. In one of the images, a graduated scale with 100 um lines is visible behind the ball.

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9 Discussions


4 years ago

tinker play is awesome, truely, i couldn't resist but to "hack" it for my stormstrooper project


5 years ago on Introduction

Very cool! Does the resin used by this printer require a post cure? I'm hoping there will be a castable resin available for this printer as it would be perfect for my jewelry work.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Hi Honus. Post-curing is not required for Ember prints, although exposure to sunlight (or any UV light source) can improve the surface finish (by eliminating any tackiness). [Post-processing by rinsing the completed print in IPA is an important part of the finishing process.]

As for an investment casting resin, there are several third-party IC resins that already exist, with which we've produced 3D prints on Ember that have burned out cleanly to create beautiful silver jewelry. We're currently characterizing these IC resins for use with Ember. We'll report when they're ready. Stay tuned! And LMK if you have any other questions.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Thanks! I've signed up for updates so I'll keep an eye out. We're currently looking at a few SLA printers for my work and this may fit the bill nicely.


5 years ago

For such an expensive printer, and being a UV resin based type, there are some odd printing defects in the ball joints. Is that it was intended to look?