3D Printing Airsoft

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Complete Guide to 3D Printing Airsoft

Introduction

Airsoft is a great hobby that thousands of people enjoy. But what if you could make your own custom Airsoft weapons that fit seamlessly with your LARP, Cosplay or Mil-Sim game? 

Lots of people are now combining 3D printing with Airsoft to create unique and exciting weapons that stand out from the crowd. 

airsoft-thorn-CYMA-Glock-18C-AEP
Airsoft Thorn encasing CYMA Glock 18C AEP airsoft pistol (Credit: myminifactory user @Kirby Downey)

Why Do People 3D Print Airsoft Parts?

Airsoft is a fun hobby, but what if you could customize your airsoft gun to make it uniquely yours?

3D printing allows you complete freedom to design and make your own Airsoft parts to completely transform the look of your Airsoft rifle.  

Whether you want to make it look exactly like your favorite Cosplay character’s weapon, recreate an exact replica of a historical weapon for your LARP game, or design your own futuristic airsoft sci-fi weapon, with a 3D printer you can do it all. 

Can you Really 3D Print Functional Airsoft Guns?

3D printing is perfect for customizing all the external parts of an Airsoft gun but it can’t make the mechanism that fires the projectile. 

Other than the parts of the firing mechanism like the motor, spring, hop-up unit, and o-rings it’s possible to print all the other parts you need for a functional airsoft gun. 

Of course if you are willing to put in the effort you can print an almost complete Airsoft rifle. Check out this great video by RCLifeOn to see what is possible if you’re slightly insane! 

What Airsoft Parts Can You 3D Print?

One of the main reasons you should use 3D printing for Airsoft is for making upgrades and spares for your existing airsoft collection. 

You can 3D print grips, muzzles, scopes, suppressors, hop-ups, magwells, top rail, upper receiver, in fact almost any accessory you can think of. How about flash holders, Carbine kits… Excited?

There’s a rapidly growing community around people sharing their designs for Airsoft attachments. So you don’t have to design your parts from scratch, you can simply download, often for free, other people’s designs and print them. 

The great thing about 3D printing is you can evolve existing designs too. You can quickly learn how to import a file into a free CAD program like Blender or TinkerCAD and tweak it for your needs before 3D printing. 

Where Can I Find Airsoft Parts to 3D Print?

Airsoft Submachine Gun (Courtesy of Myminifactory.com user @LoganDesign)

To start your 3D printer making Airsoft parts you need to give it a file of 3D model data. There are three main ways to get Airsoft model files:

Download Airsoft model files – There are several places online where you can download either free or paid for Airsoft models. The two most popular places to find premium Airsoft models are MyMiniFactory.com and Airsoft3D on Shapeways. You can get a variety of free models from Thingiverse.com. All of these sites currently have hundreds of models available to download and print!

Design your own Airsoft parts – If you’re feeling creative, you can use a CAD package such as Tinkercad or 3DBuilder to design your own Airsoft accessories without limitations. If you’re feeling generous, you can then share your design on Thingiverse so other Airsoft players can use your model.

Scan your existing Airsoft parts – If you have a 3D scanner or a 3D printer with a built-in scanner, you can quickly scan your existing Airsoft parts, edit them if required and then print them on your 3D printer. This can be a great way of making spares or replacing damaged parts that might otherwise mean the death of your gun!

Best Filament for 3D Printing Airsoft

When you 3D print your Airsoft parts you need to choose your material carefully. As Airsoft weapons are functional, not just decorative, you will need to use materials that will cope with the forces they’ll see in normal use. 

PLA Filament

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The most commonly used 3D printing material is PLA filament. PLA is cheap and easy to print with, but it’s not as strong as the ABS plastic that most Airsoft parts are made from. 

You can definitely use PLA for many Airsoft parts but you need to make sure you use some engineering knowledge when designing them to make them strong enough. 

This means you should ensure wall thicknesses are always at least 3 or 4mm thick and sufficient infill and structural braces are added on long thin sections and areas prone to impact or flexing. 

One of the main advantages of 3D printing is how quickly you can design and print a part to test it. So you can easily try a new design, and if it doesn’t quite work as you want, tweak the design and print it again! 

ABS Filament

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When you buy your Airsoft gun in a store, most of the plastic components will be made of injection-molded ABS. 

ABS is very strong and it resists impacts very well. 

The downside of ABS is that it’s a little bit harder to print. This is because it is prone to shrinking as it cools down. 

Although most 3D printers can technically print ABS, to do so accurately and repeatedly you need your 3D printer to be enclosed. This keeps the print area at a constant temperature, preventing different areas of your print from cooling and shrinking resulting in an inaccurate or even failed print. 

Many 3D printers already have an enclosed print area or you can buy or DIY make your own enclosure that your entire 3D printer sits in. Neither option is better than the other and both will work and give you successful and accurate ABS prints. 

3D Printed Airsoft Ideas

Rail mount for Go-Pro camera. 

Custom mount with Team Name 

Best 3D Printer for Airsoft

There are many 3D printer models that are suitable for printing Airsoft parts. To help decide which is best for your needs you should answer the following:

Do you want to use ABS? If so you will need to buy a 3D printer with an enclosure or make your own enclosure.

Do you mind tweaking your 3D printer to get the best from it, playing with settings and possibly adding some DIY upgrades, or do you want a plug and play model that just works out of the box?

Best Budget 3D Printer for Printing Airsoft – Creality Ender 3

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The Creality Ender 3 is currently the best value 3D printer available. It sits at the budget end of the market but has set a new high standard for 3D printers in this price range.

It features an all-metal construction and uses quality components that ensure it can print accurately and repeatedly with a 100-micron accuracy.

Like most 3D printers at this end of the price range, the Ender 3 will benefit from some trial and error when you start printing to dial in the best settings and ensure you’re printing accurate parts that will fit your airsoft weapons. 

The Ender 3 is an open design which means you will struggle to print with ABS unless you make a DIY enclosure for it. This also means all of its mechanical workings are on display and therefore easy to get to if any of the components requires replacing. 

Setting up the Ender 3 is very easy. When it ships, you’ll find it split into two main components that you have to bolt together with four bolts. You then have to plug in a few electrical connectors that connect the motors and sensors to the control unit and then it’s ready to go.

If you’re on a low budget and are happy to stick with printing in PLA, then the Ender 3 is a great choice, offering the best bang for buck you can get. 

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Easy to build and setup
  • Good user community

Cons

  • Open design means ABS printing will require a DIY enclosure.
  • You will need to do some tinkering to get the best results.

Easiest to Use 3D Printer for Printing Airsoft – Sindoh 3DWOX 1

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The Sindoh 3DWOX 1 is the easiest to use 3D printers available. It is designed to be 100% reliable straight out of the box and requires almost no setup.

To replace filament, you just push in a cartridge, and it automatically loads, much like changing ink on a conventional paper printer. On most other 3D printers, you have to manually feed the filament through narrow tubes that can be a bit fiddly.

When you need to level the print bed, a helper walks you through the steps on the clear touch screen. This assistance makes bed leveling not only easier but more accurate than the more common method of sliding a sheet of paper under the nozzle until it drags. In turn, a level bed means more accurate and more reliable printing.

The Sindoh 3DWOX 1 also has some other features that make it great for printing Airsoft parts. As it’s a fully enclosed design, it’s perfect for printing your Airsoft accessories in ABS plastic. 

It also features a HEPA filter which makes it safe to use in your living space and around your family.

Pros

  • Fully enclosed design is perfect for printing ABS
  • Very easy to use
  • Quiet (~40dB)
  • HEPA filter makes it great for home use

Cons

  • Higher price range
  • No fun of building your 3D printer

Problems with 3D Printing Airsoft Parts

Material Strength

The main problem people have with 3D printing Airsoft accessories is not making parts strong enough to cope with rough handling and small impacts. 

The most common plastic used in 3D printing is PLA (Poly Lactic Acid). PLA is good for most uses but for parts that need to be impact resistant, durable, and tough, you need to make parts that don’t contain thin walls. 

Instead of PLA, you should use a stronger material called ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). This is much stronger and is, in fact, the same plastic used on many commercially made airsoft accessories that are made using conventional manufacturing methods.  

The downside of 3D printing ABS plastic is that it requires a little more care to get successful and accurate prints. This is because it is prone to shrinking when it cools. This shrinkage can cause it to distort during printing. 

To counteract this shrinkage, you need to use a 3D printer that encloses the print to keep its temperature constant as it is printing. Then you can safely print with ABS and have strong robust parts. 

Accuracy and Precision

Often, when people 3D print parts for their Airsoft weapons they find they don’t fit very well.  

Airsoft guns are precision instruments made to tight tolerances. Even the plastic parts are molded in tools that have been CNC machined to within 0.1mm or even less. 

On the other hand, 3D printers generally have an accuracy of around 0.1mm but they are much more susceptible to being out of tolerance or not calibrated. 

If you want to 3D print Airsoft, you should spend a little time printing calibration prints to find out how accurate your 3D printer is. 

You can then use the results of these prints to dial your printer in, including applying compensation in your slicing software, which will ensure your prints are exactly the same size and shape as designed.

What is Airsoft?

Airsoft guns are mostly used for playing military sims, target practice, or training. They are ideal for backyard war games or indoor target practice. 

Airsoft guns are often made to look very realistic, in fact in terms of appearance, they are pretty much unmatched in replicating real-world firearms. 

Airsoft weapons fire a plastic projectile using the power of compressed gas (green gas). Compared to BB guns that fire a metal projectile, Airsoft guns are generally safe, even at close range or after ricochet. 

Their relative safety makes them suitable for playing military games and firing at other people, as long as they are aware you will be firing at them and they are wearing proper safety equipment (even Airsoft guns can seriously injure sensitive areas like the eyes and teeth, you must not play with Airsoft guns or fire at anyone who isn’t wearing proper protective eye goggles rated at ANSI Z87.1). 

For more on Airsoft safety check out this excellent resource. 

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