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3D Printing Lego – My Complete Guide
Last update on 2021-04-26 at 16:14
As 3D printing has become cheap, easy, and reliable enough to welcome into the home, Lego enthusiasts are now using 3D printers to make their own Lego pieces. 3D printing Lego has become so popular that it’s a hobby in its own right.
There are plenty of 3D printers available that can print using ABS; this is the same plastic that is used to make genuine Lego. Or you can print using PLA which is non-toxic and made from natural materials like corn starch.
3D printing is being used by Lego fans to print replacements for lost pieces as well as creating entirely new Lego pieces that have never existed before.
As the Lego company continues to diversify into new areas like movies and games, it seems likely that soon they will invest in 3D printing themselves and maybe even offer consumers like us the ability to buy unique Lego files online that we can print at home.
Where Can I find Lego Parts to 3D Print?
To start your 3D printer making Lego you need to give it a file of 3D model data. There are three main ways to get Lego model files:
Download Lego 3D model files – The most popular place to find free Lego models is PrintABrick.org. This site currently has over 5000 Lego bricks available to download and print! You can also select multiple pieces or even whole sets to download as zip files and print. You can also find free Lego models on Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory.
Design your own Lego – If you’re feeling creative, you can use a CAD package such as Tinkercad or 3DBuilder to design your own Lego pieces without limitations. If you’re feeling generous, you can then share your design on Thingiverse so other Lego fans can use your model.
Scan your Lego – If you have a 3D scanner or a 3D printer with a built-in scanner, you can quickly scan your existing Lego blocks, edit them if required and then print them on your printer.
What Legos Can I 3D Print?
There are lots of great Lego pieces you can print. Both Lego and 3D Printing have great online communities where people share their projects and ideas. Here are some of my favorite 3D printed Lego models to give you an idea of what’s possible:
1. All Lego! – PrintABrick offers file download of all Lego parts and sets, allowing you to fill gaps in your incomplete sets or get your hands on hard to find pieces.
2. Customizable Lego Brick – This parametric brick allows you to create whatever custom sized and shaped Lego brick you want. You can add Technic holes, slopes, wings, Duplo compatibility, almost any feature you could want.
3. Technic Gear Set – This set of four common Technic gears allows you to create much more complex gear mechanisms without needing to invest in further Lego sets.
4. Duplo to Brio Converter – This invention is an excellent demonstration of how you can use 3D printing to combine Lego with other toys. Using this adaptor, you can incorporate wooden Brio train tracks into your Lego world with ease.
5. Giant Lego Minifigs – This great collection shows that 3D printing isn’t just about replicating everything exactly. You can use 3D printing to easily create objects at entirely different scales to what you’re used to. This Lego minifigs become great desk ornaments to show off your hobby.
Advantages of 3D Printing Lego
It’s Fun and Creative – 3D printing gives you complete freedom to design and make your own Lego pieces. It allows you to create Lego parts that have never existed. You can create models of the places you live, or Lego mini-figures of yourself, family, and friends.
You Can Replace Missing Parts – There’s nothing more frustrating than being one missing 2X4 blue brick away from finishing your epic build. With a 3D printer, you can download a free file and have a replacement brick printed in just a couple of hours.
You Can Replace Unavailable Vintage Lego Parts – There’s a very popular hobby of buying old Lego sets, especially the ones we loved as kids, or the ones we coveted, but Santa never bought us. Sometimes these old sets are incomplete or completely unavailable. In this case, it’s possible to print the missing pieces as long as you can find them on a repository or known the dimension well enough to design them yourself.
Compatibility – Lego is an amazing and varied world in its own right, but what if you want to incorporate other fantasy worlds, like Meccano. You can 3D print bespoke adaptors to make parts compatible. When you own a 3D printer, any object can now become Lego compatible!
Cost – Although the initial cost of a 3D printer may be anything from $200 to $2000, the running costs and material costs after the initial outlay are minimal. Each 3D printed Lego brick will cost little more than a couple of cents. Considering this may be the difference between having to buy a complete set to replace just one brick, the savings can be considerable.
3D printing is also a great, enjoyable hobby that promotes creativity and thinking. In comparison to many other hobbies, the outlay is relatively cheap.
Speed – rather than trawling eBay and waiting for delivery of your replacement Lego set, 3D printing your own Lego can take just a matter of hours.
Is 3D Printing Lego legal?
Generally, yes, but there are some caveats. The patent for Lego blocks ran out in 1989; this is why other companies are making their own versions of Lego such as Megabloks. What you can’t do is print Lego minifigs or the Lego name on the pieces you make, as this is a trademark. You also can’t print any Lego that is still under patent or where you may break another trademark such as Star Wars. LEGO®, the LEGO® logo, the Brick, and DUPLO® are trademarks of the LEGO® Group.
Many users and Lego fans have been openly critical of this move by the Lego company as it seems to only punish long term fans of Lego.
Of course Lego is within their rights to protect their IP, however, as thousands of 3D printer owners have shown, there’s a golden opportunity for Lego to embrace 3D printing and further enhance the creativity and excitement that Lego can offer people. I hope in time Lego realizes their mistake and starts to work with the 3D printer community instead of against us.
However, as long as you’re only making Lego for your own use and not trying to sell it, you are unlikely to be asked to stop! Ultimately, if you’re making your own Lego, you are most likely a huge Lego fan, and I hope you are likely to buy plenty more genuine Lego 😊
How Good is 3D Printed Lego?
Genuine Lego blocks are made using extremely high precision tooling and are incredibly accurate. Realistically, 3D printing will struggle to match this accuracy and quality. But, you will still be able to create Lego parts that will be more than good enough to fit seamlessly into your existing Lego sets.
However, you can’t expect instantly perfect parts as soon as you get your 3D printer. It will take a little practice to get the best results.
As with most technology, the more expensive machines tend to be better out of the box and will need less tinkering to get the best results. But ultimately, all 3D printers use the same fundamental technology, and with a little practice and a few upgrades, even the cheapest models can give you perfectly good 3D printed Lego pieces.
Limitations of 3D Printing Lego
Genuine Lego pieces fit together so well because they are manufactured to a very high tolerance, this is why Lego parts made in 1970 will still fit with Lego bought new today. The injection molding tools that are used to make each Lego piece cost many tens of thousands of dollars, and so it’s unreasonable to expect a $400 3D printer to match this.
However, although you will never meet the same quality as genuine Lego, 3D printed Lego can still be perfectly usable and almost un-noticeably different once used in a set.
Accuracy – It may take you a few attempts before you are able 3D print Lego parts that mate well with your existing Lego. The easiest way to overcome this is to print your chosen Lego part and then see how well it fits your existing Lego and adjust your 3D printer slicer settings to compensate. You can then print the piece again and repeat the process until you’re happy with it.
The good thing is that once you’ve dialed in the optimum settings for your 3D printer, you shouldn’t have to modify them any further when printing more Lego parts.
Quality – 3D printers generally get more accurate the more you pay, but even the most expensive 3D printers cannot replicate the glass-like finish you get on genuine Lego. Because of the way 3D printers work, you will always be able to see lines on your prints where the individual layers are built up.
There are ways to remove or hide these layer lines after you have printed them, this is called post-processing or part finishing. On accessible surfaces, you can remove them by sanding them with abrasive paper and then paint over them. Or you can cover the lines with filler or a type of thick paint called filler primer that can then be painted over in whichever color and finish you choose.
Longevity – The most popular material to use in 3D printers is PLA (Polylactic Acid). PLA is an excellent choice because it’s non-toxic, it is made from natural products such as Corn Starch, and in the long term, it is biodegradable.
The downside to using PLA to 3D print Lego is that it is not as strong as genuine Lego, which is made from ABS. If you bend or step on a Lego part made from PLA, it might snap.
The second most popular 3D printing material is ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), the very same plastic that is used to make genuine Lego.
ABS is slightly harder to 3D print than PLA because during printing it is sensitive to temperature fluctuations. This means ideally to 3D print ABS you need a 3D printer that is enclosed to protect it from external draughts and temperature changes.
Fortunately, once you’ve bought a 3D printer, printing parts themselves is quite cheap and quick, so I would recommend you print using PLA and print replacement parts if you should damage any.
3D Printer Requirements for Printing Lego
For 3D printing Lego you should look for a 3D printer that is reliable and accurate. Fortunately, Lego pieces tend to be small, and 3D printers increase in cost according to how large their build volume is. So, we can look at the smaller machines to save money without compromising our Lego prints.
As discussed above, Lego bricks printed in PLA material are perfectly usable, but if you are dead set on printing in ABS, then you should ensure you pick a machine that is capable of it.
The Best 3D Printer to Print Lego
Choosing a 3D printer to print Lego will come down to what your requirements are. Your first consideration should be the budget. If you don’t want to spend too much, then my budget choice is perfectly reasonable, and you won’t be disappointed.
I’ve added additional recommendations for a child-friendly printer and a super easy to use 3D printer that is perfect if you don’t want to tinker, you just want to print.
Best Budget 3D Printer for Printing Lego – Creality Ender 3 V2
Last update on 2021-04-26 at 12:10
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 all-metal construction and uses quality components that ensure it can print accurately and repeatedly with a 100-micron accuracy.
The Ender 3 is an open design which means all of its mechanical workings are on display. This is great if you’re a Lego Technic fan! However, this does mean you will need to make an enclosure if you want to print ABS and you will have to take care around young children and pets.
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.
Great value for money
Easy to build and setup
Good user community
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 Lego – Sindoh 3DWOX 1
Last update on 2021-04-26 at 18:57
The Sindoh 3DWOX 1 is one of the easiest to use 3D printers available. It is designed to be completely functional 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 Lego. As it’s a fully enclosed design, it’s perfect for printing your Lego in ABS plastic. ABS is the same material that genuine Lego is made from, and so your 3D printed Lego will have the same properties as genuine Lego.
It also features a HEPA filter which makes it safe to use in your living space and around your family.
Fully enclosed design is perfect for printing ABS
Very easy to use
HEPA filter makes it great for home use
Higher price range
No fun of building your 3D printer
Best 3D Printer for Children to Print Lego – FlashForge Finder
Last update on 2021-04-26 at 21:04
The FlashForge Finder model is aimed at younger users, putting safety first with a non-heated bed and rugged but fun exterior that hides the moving and heated parts out of harm’s way.
Because the bed is unheated, this 3D printer can only accept non-toxic PLA filament. It’s also a quiet printer with a peak noise level of ~50dB. All of these features make it a perfect model for children of all ages to print Lego.
It prints straight out of the box with no assembly and minimal setup needed so your impatient designers won’t have to wait long to start printing their Legos!
The interface is designed well, with wi-fi connectivity allowing you to easily upload your files without worrying about cables or small memory cards. Your kids will find it easy to take control of the FlashForge Finder through its colorful touchscreen, which allows you to start and stop prints and start the bed leveling process.
Bed leveling is easy, thanks to a calibration detection system that directs you to tighten or loosen each of the four leveling screws until you hear a beep. This makes calibrating your printer very easy compared to the more manual process on other models.
When your print is complete, you have to scrape it off the build surface as it becomes stuck. On the Finder, this process is straightforward as you can just slide the print bed out of the machine allowing you to peel your print off. Because you won’t be applying force to the print bed to remove your print, it will stay level for much longer.
Safe and easy for kids to use
Reliable first 3D printer
Limited to PLA material
Lego and 3D printing are a perfect combination. Both inspire creativity and problem solving and introduce people to the principles of engineering and construction.
If you’re a fan of Lego and want to reach beyond the constraints of the commercially available kits, then making use of 3D printing is an obvious step.
At the moment, finding Lego models to 3D print is entirely dependent on the 3D printing and Lego community. In time, I hope Lego come round and embrace 3D printing, allowing us all to take Lego to the next level of creativity.
If you have any questions, please comment below!