If you decide to make a drone from scratch using 3D printing or make related parts for an already finished quadcopter, then this guide is for you. Read on to learn all about how to make your printed components fly!
The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts
Hero 8 printed 5″ mini quad (Source: Rob Davey via All3DP)
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs/UAVs/UAVs), also known as drones, are vehicles capable of operating autonomously. In other words, a drone is not necessarily an aircraft; they can also include cars, boats and even hovercraft. However, the term is used to refer specifically to an aircraft that has three or more rotors to provide lift and thrust. They are also commonly referred to as multicopters, tricopters, quadcopters, and so on.
In general, UAVs are mechanically very simple and consist of a frame, a flight controller, an el. motors, propellers, speed controllers and possibly first person view (FPV) equipment.
3D printing has long been a great drone hobby. This technology allows the user to easily produce many different parts on their own. This can be anything from protective bumpers and action camera mounts to accessories that add functionality to the quad.
In this article, we’ll talk about the things to consider when 3D printing drone parts, the most relevant parts to print, and where to find models and resources. We’ll then wrap things up with a few projects to get you started. But first, let’s figure out why you even need to print parts on a 3D printer. Read on to find out more!
Smartphone holder (Source: Digit Design and Prints via Facebook)
- The main advantage of 3D printed parts is that they can be completely customized. In addition, they are generally inexpensive (assuming you already have a printer and filament (3D printing filament)), and the design can be quickly iterated from initial to final version.
- Printed parts can be made from different materials and in different colors. This approach allows the use of a material with better mechanical properties for specific elements. For example, your GoPro mount might be blue TPU with nylon prop guards. Camera holders are best printed with TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane; TPU) as this material absorbs vibration from the frame and holds the GoPro tightly in place, while the durable nylon can absorb shock and protect both the propellers and the object/obstacle itself. Other durable materials such as reinforced nylon can even be used to create gliders, awnings and camera hangers.
- Another plus when using printed parts is their relatively low density. With 3D printing, parameters such as the number of perimeters and infill percentage can be adjusted to significantly reduce weight, with the former more predetermined in the final result.
This photo shows the sequence of making a canupi for an FPV drone (Source: Rob Davey via All3DP)
- While the manufactured parts are fully customizable and lightweight, they can be quickly iterated. For example, when designing a canupi, the first draft of the blank can be printed from an inexpensive material such as PLA, and after the fitting process, all required changes can be easily made into the next iteration. Once the model is considered complete, it can be printed in more expensive material such as carbon fiber, nylon, or even, if budget allows, PEEK carbon fiber.
- In addition, if you have a printer and filament, the problem of a broken part becomes irrelevant, since you can start creating a new one right away. Even though many retailers offer fast shipping, it’s always best to print the part yourself.
Do you need all these components? (Source: Rob Davey via All3DP)
While 3D printing opens up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of additional features, the most important thing to keep in mind is the weight of your aircraft. Not everything that can be printed and installed is useful! It should be understood that every gram of a drone affects the flight time and flight characteristics, especially for rotorcraft. In other words, on a UAV whose primary purpose is long flight, the presence of components such as a GoPro mount, a head tracker, and a reset mechanism is not necessary.
You may also notice that big companies like DJI that sell UAVs and similar aircraft usually offer the necessary mounts and accessories; they are all printed, but their number is as limited as possible, because they simply add weight.
In addition, in many countries, including the World, the rules require registration of models weighing more than 250 grams. Accordingly, the demand for quadcopters weighing below this limit is much higher.
The best materials
Beam shield, GoPro mount and antenna mount all printed in TPU (Source: Digit Design and prints via Facebook)
The most commonly used material for the manufacture of quadcopters (especially relevant for mini niches) is TPU. This is because it is highly flexible and can deform on impact, absorbing energy and protecting important UAV components. Due to its flexibility, it can also absorb vibration, reducing visible artifacts in recorded video. Fortunately, this has become less of an issue with the introduction of in-camera stabilization. Another suitable material is nylon. It is stiffer than TPU, but still has some flexibility.
Applicability of materials
The main parts printed on TPU are bumpers, camera mounts, antenna mounts and propeller guards. Nylon can also be used to protect props, but is less common because it is harder to print.
Although TPU and nylon are versatile, they are not suitable for all parts. Where more rigidity and strength are required, such as in the manufacture of gliders, carbon-fiber-reinforced nylon (CFRPA6) is recommended. This approach will provide the benefits of standard nylon, coupled with the rigidity of carbon fiber. It’s also easier to print on than regular nylon because it warps less and sticks better to the 3D printer’s build plate.
One way to protect the underside of the boat’s frame, as well as the motor mounting bolts, is to add 3D printed “stands or landing pads”. They are especially useful when flying over concrete surfaces. The ideal material for this is CFRPA6. You can also print them in TPU, but the abrasion resistance won’t be as good.
Variety of parts
5″ racing quadcopter with tandem fin with turtle or turtle mode (Source: Rob Davey via All3DP)
If racing drones are your hobby, then you should try using a fin. This component is especially relevant in tandem with the mode known as “turtle or turtle”. When the drone is flipped upside down, thanks to the fin, the two motors free from contact with the surface will be able to rotate freely, which will subsequently allow you to quickly flip the quad and continue the race. They are most often printed in TPU and sometimes in nylon.
FPV transmitter antenna holder printed in TPU (Source: rapnit via Thingiverse)
If you are flying in FPV mode, VTX antennas are vital. Thus, there are many mounting options for such components. If the device is intended for flights over long distances, then enclosing the active part of the antenna in a TPU is not a good idea, as this will adversely affect the video signal. For them, TPU is the preferred choice because it is very elastic and can deform without breaking for a long time.
It is also possible to enable head tracking in FPV mode, when the FPV camera is mounted in a motorized drive, allowing it to move in two or three dimensions according to your FPV goggles. Thus, the camera copies the movements of your head, contributing to greater immersion. For this, inflexible materials such as PETG, ABS, ASA or even PC should be used. Rigidity is needed to eliminate play in the components.
The 2-axis gimbal (to stabilize the camera) was printed in PLA (Source: turbi via Thingiverse).
If FPV flying or racing isn’t your thing, you can always print the parts to expand the functionality. Maybe it’s a camera stabilizer for aerial photography or video shooting, or a mechanism for grabbing and dropping objects? For a gimbal, the moving parts must be printed on a non-flexible material to eliminate play.
When installing the stabilizer on the drone, there must be a flexible part between it and the gimbal that isolates it from vibration.
This stick guard was designed in Fusion 360 (Source: Motorpixiegimbals via Thingiverse)
Finally, another good option for printing are parts to protect items, such as the control sticks of a remote control. They can be either flexible or non-flexible, depending on your preference.
Search results for “Drones” on GrabCAD (Source: GrabCAD)
- Thingiverse is a great free resource for finding mounts for public cameras (GoPro, Insta 360, etc.) and frames (TBS Source One, ImpulseRC, Iflight, etc.).
- GrabCAD is another popular free resource that tends to offer more engineering models, however there are still models related to quadcopters on the list. Please note that you will need an account to upload models (remarkably for Thingiverse this is not necessary).
If you download models from any repositories (including the websites listed above), be sure to check the license under which they are located so that they do not infringe copyright when selling.
- If you happen to have a specific frame or camera, remember that the manufacturer of those components often has design data available for download and printing. In this case, this approach will be most useful, because the likelihood that the part will match yours may be higher than if you use the data of a third-party website.
- If you can’t find what you need anywhere, you can design your own parts in CAD software or have someone else design them for you.
This site has an active user base and lots of helpful discussions (Source: DIYDrones)
While many of the individual components can be downloaded from the sites listed above, there are also additional resources such as forums. The main forums for drone manufacturers are DIYDrones and RCGroups. A complete list of printable gliders on RCgroups can be found in one helpful thread, or similar listings can be found on DIYDrones. In addition, there is a subreddit for drones that discusses 3D printing topics, as well as a subreddit for do-it-yourself drones.
Projects to help you get started
Canupi model with custom molded GoPro holder (Source: basdelfos via Thingiverse).
The only real limit to what you can print is your imagination! Before proceeding, it will be necessary to take into account the intended purpose of both the drone and the part, as well as the impact of any additional weight.
Here are some ideas from Thingiverse for printing, whether it’s a whole quadcopter or just parts of it:
- Quadcopter: a family of frames that can be fully 3D printed (dozens of versions and variations)
- Stick protection: Protects control sticks during transport
- Kanupi for FPV Drone: an example of a kanupi, with a molded GoPro holder (pictured above)
That’s all we have. Thank you for your attention. We hope the presented material was useful to you. Stay with us!
A visual process of printing beams for an FPV drone made of carbon fiber reinforced nylon (CFRPA6).