Creating Custom 3D Printed Lego Parts With Injection Molding Look

Eight years ago I started my journey in 3D printing with the first custom Lego part made by a 3D printer. The starting point of this trial was a combination of a discussion in a Lego forum about a rare part and my interest in the Napoleonic times.

The target I set for this project was bringing parts to market at a price range of below 2 EUR per piece, using colors & different materials and creating over 100 new models of historical hats (compatible with Lego Minifigures).

To reach that goal I had to solve several development challenges. I started with a free Linux 3D program (K3d) and switched to Blender later on. Blender allows additional support, like creating bearers. This is now a self developed add-on in Blender. Some conversion scripts resulted in an expansion of the lviewer code where I’ve added an STL exporter, now available in the public. My 3D models are now also importable in the Lego render POV-ray creating great quality images of Minifigures wearing the new items.

Even the standard workflow for the development of a new item is straight forward. It usually starts with an idea, which I can get from a blog, television or a follower request. The design is made using my Linux workplace (as shown in the picture above) and ends in a zipped STL file. This file is then uploaded to the Shapeways store and the items are online within minutes.

Thus from a request via mail to a first prototype including render, it may take less then a hour to answer to a follower: “Hey, take a look at your requested model”:

But it always came down to a crucial point in production. Because of the limitations in materials I could use (to ensure low pricing), the models show a grainy surface. This would be fine for me as a 3D enthousiast but obviously would not be accepted by a Lego fan.


Using 3D Printing Services

As you can see in this picture the surface doesn’t look satisfying compared to conventional Lego pieces.
The announcement of beta programs being launched by both Sculpteo and Shapeways, became the solution to my problem.

Sculpteo announced their smoothing modifier added as finish to WSF (Nylon based) items claiming a smooth and glossy surface in white.

Shapeways introduced their new material Acrylate in black color which claims to look and feel like it is injection molded.

After a few weeks I now have both results which really show a dramatic improvement in quality of the surface and the look and feel of the parts.

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The above picture shows the result by Shapeways (black hats) and Sculpteo (white hats). Here you can clearly see there is a great improvement in look and surface.
Also the price range is coming nearby the target price. With my method of connecting items via bearer you can reach a price range between EUR 2 and EUR 3.

This is a very promising result and I’m looking forward to offer these materials to the public.

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