The number of objects you can make with your 3D printer is limitless. Many objects, however, are really no more than trinkets. Don’t get me wrong, I do not have anything against using your 3D printer for printing out trinkets or figurines as they all have useful aspects to them if nothing more than conversation pieces.
For example, there is a very popular toy boat, the Benchy, that is used by countless 3D printing enthusiasts to test new materials and fine tune their printer settings. I would even argue that the Benchy has an important utility – a straightforward and common tool to test out your printer.
I, for one, did not shell out hundreds of bucks for my 3D printer to only print trinkets and would guess if you have a 3D printer or if you are considering buying one that you have similar sentiments.
It’s for these reasons that I wrote this post.
Below I highlight ten useful 3D printed objects that are not only cool but serve more utility than mere conversation pieces. I hope you find some of them print-worthy or are inspired to create your own useful designs.
Many of the items I’ve listed below can be found on Thingiverse – an on-line community created by MakerBot for 3D printing enthusiasts to showcase and share their printing expertise and models.
I have collected a number of tools over the years. My tool boxes are filled primarily with screw drivers, sockets and wrenches of various sizes. For all the tools I’ve garnered, I only have a couple of C-clamps, however, and only in two sizes – large and small. The large c-clamps have acquired some rust over the years and are therefore not ideal for indoor use.
I am not aware of any self-respecting tinkerer or do-it-yourselfer who would not love to have more c-clamps in their tool box.
3D printing to the rescue! Thank goodness a number of 3D printing enthusiasts have designed and shared their c-clamp models with the rest of us.
This particular c-clamp design was created by gamerbygone. What you’ll really like about gamerbygone’s design are the swivel clamping faces.
Staying with tools that immobilize and hold things in place, the next model I want to share is a tabletop vise.
This vise design was created and shared by Joe Straws. The design shown requires the base components to be glued together but Mr. Straws was thoughtful enough to include a separate file for an all-in-one base.
This vise will be a great tool to mount onto you printer’s work bench and will come in handy for securing your printed objects while removing support structures and ooze shields.
If you scale the model up and/or down you’ll be able to print 2 or 3 vises with different clamping capacities. You may also want to print some covers out of TPU for the clamping surfaces to protect more delicate objects from marring.
Peg Board Tool Holders
In my 3D printing workshop, my bench has a peg board for holding tools. Like most peg board set-ups, it came with a handful of standard tool holders. The problem, as I’m sure many of you have experienced, is that some of my tools do not fit or are not held with the standard tool holders provided.
A screw driver with a small handle is one example. If I don’t put the screw driver into the peg board tool holder just right, it slips right through and crashes onto my bench.
So I had the idea of 3D printing some custom peg board tool holders. At the time of this writing however, I do not have any models prepared nor have I found any on Thingiverse that meet my needs.
As you can probably imagine, the models would be pretty straightforward. The portions of the holders that engage the peg board will be the same for each unique tool holder. The portion that engages the tool will be customized from simple designs like different diameter ring-shaped holders to more complex designs like funnel-shaped holders.
Screw Driver Rubber Grip
The screw driver grip is a pretty simple design concept. At its most basic, it’s essentially a cylindrical shape with one end closed.
With a little creativity you’ll be able to add some contour to the outer wall and change up the grip pattern. For example a honeycomb or spiral pattern will reduce slippage.
You may need to experiment with different material types as TPU may be too flexible. A semi-flexible material like ColorFabb’s nGen FLEX might be more effective.
For those of you with dual extruder 3D printers, you’ll be able to combine materials to create a grip with both rigid and flexible materials to give you just the right amount of grip and structural support.
You can even expand the design to include cushioned grips for rake shovel handles and lawn mower handles.
If you are like me, you’ve got a box of batteries sitting on the shelf. Within the box is a bunch of AA batteries that are not really organized – forever running the risk of aligning at just the right positive-to-negative orientation to discharge the batteries and render them useless.
That’s why I included the battery holder in this list of useful 3D printed objects.
The stackable battery container was designed by Adoniram Sides.
You’ll note that Mr. Sides designed the containers such that one design can accommodate different battery sizes to simplify the print. With some easy tweaks to the model, you can change the size of the opening and curved lip to more closely match the diameter of the battery.
Not only are the battery containers stackable, they are assembled from separate pieces enabling you to get creative with your color choices.
You’ll love this design for its simplicity, sleek looks and functionality.
I’ve used calipers on the job to measure a number of things over my career but I never did buy my own for home use. I usually just get by with a normal ruler or tape measure and accept the marginal accuracy of my measurements.
Thanks to Jeff Kerr, who designed a complete 3D printed caliper, we can now measure inside and outside diameters more accurately. Mr. Kerr provides us with a metric caliper having a range of 100 mm and resolution to 0.1 mm and an imperial caliper with a range of 4″ and resolution to 0.001″. The accuracy of the 0.1 mm and 0.001″ secondary scales are, of course, limited by the precision of your 3D printer and are more likely to be on the order of +/-0.3mm and +/-0.01″, respectively
If you need to accurately measure something down to 0.1 mm or 0.001″ it is advised that you purchase a high end caliper and have it calibrated regularly. For most of us, measurement accuracy to 0.01″ is good enough.
Many of the 3D printed caliper designs are sliding teeth that slip onto a conventional ruler. These caliper designs are just fine for quick measurements of inside and outside diameters.
What sets Mr. Kerr’s design apart is that his caliper includes a secondary scale to provide fine resolution for your important measurements that demand higher accuracy.
Push Release Buckle
I chose the Push Release Buckle design provided by Denise Lee for its ease of use. There are a few 3D printed releasable buckle designs out there that incorporate the standard side release levers that you squeeze with your fingers. These designs are perfectly fine and fully functional but I sometimes have a hard time fully compressing the release levers to unclasp the buckle.
Denise’s design uses a clever button configuration that you push down on to unclasp and release the buckle. Ms. Lee has also included two belt receiver designs in the model. A single loop design in which the end of the belt is inserted through the loop and stitched to itself for a permanent connection and a double loop design where the belt is ‘woven’ through the loops and held by friction for a temporary connection.
You may want to modify the double loop design to include angled or ‘toothed’ belt loops for extra holding power.
“5” Drawer Organizer
So multi-drawer organizers are nothing really new and pretty straightforward to print – for the most typical designs.
The “5” drawer organizer design, provided by Lowell Epp, however, is not a typical design. It actually has 6 drawers and the number “5” comes from the shape of the organizer’s outer frame. I’ve also seen similar organizers in the shapes of different numbers and letters.
With separate models for the frame and drawers you can get creative with the color scheme. You may want the frame in one color and the drawers in another color like the image here or you may want different colors for each drawer.
You’ll love this project for younger 3D printing enthusiasts as well as grade schools or public libraries with 3D printing facilities. How fun would it be for a grade school art class to have a bunch of these organizers for housing various supplies.
Container Lid Organizer
I had to include the plastic container lid organizer on this list because I think it is one of the most useful things you can print. I personally need one of these as my lids are either stacked to the side or underneath the containers so it’s always a challenge to find the right lid.
When I need to find a lid for one of my food storage containers, the experience is not unlike Fibber McGee’s Closet :).
Sure, you can purchase similar lid containers that are injection molded but then you would not be able to brag about how you made one with your 3D printer.
With this organizer, you can modify the shape, size and color. You may want to print 3 or more different sizes – one for each size of lid in your ‘collection’. The design, provided by Y Lin, is pretty straightforward so making modifications to size and general shape will not be difficult.
Of course, this organizer is not limited for use with food storage container lids. You can use this design to hold all sorts of things from mittens to magazines to or even bags of potato chips in your pantry.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Why did ‘art’ make it onto a listing of useful 3D printed objects.
Well, I believe art serves a few useful purposes.
It provides an outlet for your creative energy and a means to express yourself.
Art also provides aesthetic value that can bring joy to others or send a message that could spark discussion or even action. If this were not so, then why do we all decorate our walls with pictures and paintings and why are our coffee tables often times cluttered with statuettes and stylized bowls?
One of the cool sculptures I found on Thingiverse was designed by Tom Lacey. The sculpture is titled Floating Cup and features a coffee cup floating in air and pouring out its contents. The splashing coffee forms the base of the sculpture and the stream of pouring coffee provides support for the floating mug.
The model is comprised of separate components that could be printed out of different color filaments to give your version of the Floating Cup whatever color twist you desire.
So there you have it. A short list of some cool and useful things you can make with your 3D printer.
I once had someone ask me what they could do with a 3D printer. It’s that question that inspired this post. There are many, many useful objects, ornamental items and works of art that you can make.
What you make with your 3D printer is limited only by your imagination. In fact, there are over 1.2 million objects that people have uploaded to Thingiverse alone.
Think about it – 1.2 million 3D printed objects have been uploaded onto Thingiverse. How many more have not been shared?
The possibilities are endless and I hope the designs I’ve shared here have inspired you to expand your catalogue of 3D printed components.
If you haven’t done so yet, I encourage you to visit Thingiverse and see what others have done and shared. You’ll be amazed at what people like you and me are doing with 3D printing. You may even decide to share some of your own designs with the rest of the world.
I want to thank all the makers I’ve mentioned in this post for your contributions to the 3D printing revolution and for sharing your designs with us.
Please let us know what you think. If you have some cool designs that you want to share, please provide a link below in the comments section.
What will you create?
Jeff is a mechanical engineer, designer, maker and registered patent agent with a passion for and professional emphasis on 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing.