3D Printed Drones: A Quick Primer
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3D printed drones are the latest trend in the industry. Thanks to their versatile nature and high customizability support, 3D printed drones drive drone innovation and allow ordinary drone enthusiasts to develop their custom products for recreational drone flying. Creating a 3D printed drone is fun, challenging, and can be a good pastime if you’re into drone technology.
But, before you can create a 3D printed drone, you should know everything that goes into it, from creating the frame to installing electronics. With that in mind, if you want to learn everything there is to know about 3D printed drones, you’ve come to the right place! On this page, we’ll guide you through the process step by step, from designing your new favorite toy through developing and configuring it to finally taking it outside. Let’s get right into it!
Benefits of 3D Printed Drones
So, why should you even consider creating a 3D printed drone in the first place? The most apparent benefit of 3D printed drones is that you can always tinker and change parts on your drone offers you a level of customizability consumer drones simply cannot match up to. Change color patterns, add or remove parts, and create your unique Batman-esque gadget no other drone pilot in the world has.
Not only this, but you’ll be able to fly your drone more comfortably, knowing that you can always just print up additional plans and replace every separate part if it gets damaged. If you break or damage any parts while flying a consumer drone, the repair costs can go as high as the cost of the drone itself. This is not a viable option, especially if you’re a beginner pilot who can expect a lot of crashes and a steep learning curve.
A new 3D printer can be a substantial initial investment, but you can find top-quality 3D printers for a couple of hundred bucks. Plus, you don’t even have to go down this route if you don’t want to. You can simply design the parts and order any 3D printing service to print them at an affordable price.
Can 3D Printed Drones Be Efficient as Consumer Market Ones?
Yes, 3D printed drones can be as efficient as consumer market drones, if not more! With a little bit of design practice and honing your skills, you can develop lightweight drones that are even faster than those you can purchase. Moreover, if you want to focus on a specific feature such as size, speed, or flight time, creating a 3D printed drone will allow you to make a product that best suits your individual flying needs.
Are 3D Printed Drones Legal to Fly Outside?
The legality of drone flying is a vital topic to address, especially if you live in the US. When it comes to this, there are no specific restrictions on this, as anyone can create their drone and fly it outside. That said, in the US, the most important thing to pay attention to is the weight of your drone. This is because any drone weighing over 0.55 lbs (250 g) needs proper FAA registration.
How to Design a 3D Printed Drone?
Designing a 3D printed drone can be extremely fun. Still, you can also quickly run into faulty design issues if you’re not careful when planning the critical elements of your custom drone. Here are the crucial things to take note of when designing your 3D printed drone:
- Motor Space – Most DIY drone makers make the mistake of designing the drone arms first without choosing the size of the motor. Always select the motor’s size first, so you have an easier time adding the holes pattern according to the engine you’ve purchased.
- Drone Thickness – Although you want to make your 3D printed drone as lightweight as possible for best performance, you also need to make it thick enough to survive if it crashes. The specific thickness of your drone’s frame depends on the size of the drone itself. The same thing goes for your drone’s arms. Ideally, they need to be even thicker, as they are usually the first thing that breaks upon impact.
- Flight Control Space – Most consumer market flight controllers have four holes for mounting on the frame, so make sure to design the structure according to this. Additionally, always remember that the flight controller must be in a perfectly flat area.
- Battery Area – Battery is the heart of your drone, and as such, shouldn’t be overlooked. Consider how large of a battery you want to install and where you want to mount the battery.
- Camera Area – Flying a drone without a camera is a very limited experience, as you’re missing out on the best part of the adventure. If you want to install an FPV camera on your drone, make sure to precisely design a dedicated area and window for your camera.
What Tools Do You Need to Create a 3D Printed Drone?
Before you can create your very own 3D printed drone, you need to make sure you have all of the necessary equipment at your disposal to complete the project. Luckily, you don’t need a long list of tools to create a 3D printed drone. The things you need include:
- 3D Modeling Software – It all starts with an idea. But, to turn your plan into reality, you’ll need a quality 3D modeling tool that will allow you to model your future drone the way you like. You don’t have to invest a lot of money into this part of your project. In fact, you can find excellent 3D modeling software entirely for free, such as Wings 3D and DAZ Studio 3D.
- 3D Printer – Obviously, the 3D printer is the most important tool you’ll use during the process. That’s why you need to carefully pick a 3D printer that can produce the parts you need. Alternatively, if you don’t have the budget to invest in a reliable 3D printer, you can also order custom parts online. Sites like Hubs and Treatstock can provide you with great products at very cost-effective prices.
- Additional Tools – Aside from the printer itself, you won’t need a lot of tools, but you still need to have a few pieces of equipment handy. The most important additional tools you need to have when creating a 3D printed drone include screwdrivers, a soldering iron, and wire.
- The Electronics – Arguably the most complex part of the project you have to pay attention to. You’ll need motors, electronic speed controllers, flight controllers, a radio and a receiver, propellers, a battery cable and connection, and a power distribution board.
How to Create a 3D Printed Drone?
Now that you know all of the information we share with you on this page, you’re equipped with all of the necessary knowledge to embark on this adventure and create a custom 3D printed drone. To help you with this process, we’ve drafted a detailed step-by-step guide with all of the essential details. With that in mind, here’s how to create a 3D printed drone from scratch:
Step 1: Designing Your Drone
The very first thing you need to do is put your thoughts on paper or on-screen in this case. Using one of the software tools we recommended above, you can start designing your pet quadcopter. You have complete freedom over the process, so you can make it all in one piece or with detachable arms if you want to. If you’re feeling really innovative, you can even design retractable arms to make your custom drone even cooler.
The advantage of designing your drone is that you don’t have to adhere to any set measurements or frame shapes. You can go with the standard pre-set measurement or get creative. You don’t have to aim for any specific frame size, but if you wish to model your drone to unique measures, just make sure that all of the propellers and motors match up with the size of your frame.
Step 2: Printing Your Drone’s Frame
Once you’ve designed a drone you’re satisfied with, you can move on to the printing process. This is the moment when you’ll first see how your idea looks in real life. But, before you start printing, be sure about a couple of vital things.
The two most important things to consider are the infill (we recommend 50% or more) and the filament you’ll use. Regarding the latter, consider all of the pros and cons of PLA, ABD, and PETG as the most popular filaments. Each type offers specific benefits and drawbacks you need to be aware of before you opt for one of them.
The printing process itself isn’t very hands-on, as you’ll mostly just be waiting for the printer to finish so you can inspect each part before installation. When you’ve printed all of the features you need, including any standoffs or enclosures depending on your design, you can move up to the most challenging part of the process.
Step 3: Installing Electronics
If you’ve printed out all of the necessary parts and ordered all of the electronic components we discussed previously, you’re ready to breathe life into your little quadcopter. The wiring process is the most challenging part of making a DIY drone, but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming.
Just make sure you have a functional wiring diagram according to the products you’ve purchased, and everything will be reasonably straightforward. You don’t need to overthink every step. Just plug in the parts according to the instructions of each part you’ve purchased, and you’ll complete it in no time.
If you’re comfortable handling a soldering iron, do as much soldering as possible. This will allow you to avoid unnecessary connectors and create a more streamlined structure with much fewer potential points of failure.
Step 4: Configure Your Drone
Once you’ve set up the hardware part of your 3D printed drone, you can move on to the software part of the project. To complete this, you need to connect your drone to your PC and configure the base settings. This includes installing the appropriate type of software and required drivers based on the type of flight controller you’ve put in your 3D printed drone.
You can also program the electronic speed controllers (ESL). This isn’t necessary, but we highly recommend you do it. Programming the ESL will allow you to get the most juice and optimal control of your drone.
Step 5: Take Your Drone Outside and Enjoy Flying!
If you’ve followed all of the above steps, you’ve successfully designed, printed, and configured your 3D printed drone. All that’s left now is to take it outside and enjoy your new gadget!
A Quick Summary
With the details we shared with you on this page, as well as the step-by-step process we’ve guided you through, you can see that anyone can make a 3D printed drone without reliance on traditional drone manufacturers.
With modern 3D printers and free design software, the only thing limiting you is your imagination. Of course, you’ll have to deal with installing electronic components, motors, wires, and cameras entirely on a DIY basis.
But, if you’re not very crafty, you’ll be able to pick up the tricks as you go. Do you already have an idea of what type of drone you want to design? Nothing is stopping you from embarking on this project, so start building your 3D printed drone today!