3D printing has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for FPV drone enthusiasts, allowing them to experiment, customize, and create like never before. In this tutorial, we will explore the basics of 3D printing, the equipment needed, and how to get started with creating your own custom parts and accessories for your drone.
The Benefits of 3D Printing
3D printing has revolutionized the way we create and innovate in various industries, and the world of FPV drone flying is no exception. With the ability to print custom parts and accessories at home, 3D printing has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for drone enthusiasts, from creating unique frames parts to custom mounts and quick prototypes.
One of the biggest benefits of 3D printing for FPV drone enthusiasts is the ability to quickly and easily replace broken parts or make modifications to existing designs. With 3D printing, you can create parts that are not readily available or that are too expensive to purchase, allowing you to experiment and customize your drone in ways that were once impossible.
Additionally, 3D printing allows for greater creativity and customization. You can create unique designs and shapes that are not possible with traditional manufacturing methods, and even print in a variety of materials to suit your needs.
Examples of 3D Printed Drone Parts
GoPro Mount – it holds the camera in place while provide some protection in crashes.
Video transmitter antenna holders – they holds the antenna in an optimal position while provide physical protection.
FPV Camera mounts – these hold the camera in place on the drone and can be adjusted for different angles and positions.
Arm guards – protects the carbon fibre of the arms in crashes.
Custom made radio grips.
Various custom 3D printed parts for fixed wing.
FPV Goggles screen protector printed in TPU.
Best 3D Printers
Two of my favourite 3D printers are the Ender 3 and the Bambu series. They excel at printing FPV drone parts using common TPU, PETG and PLA filaments. These printers are quite different from one another, and the best one for you depends on your specific needs. Let’s delve into their pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.
Buy Ender 3 V3 SE here:
Buy Bambu Printers here:
Bambu is a new brand in 3D printer world. Their printers come with cutting edge features and are easy to use, it’s like a car with full self driving capability—you just punch in the destination and enjoy the ride. In contrast, the good old Ender is more like a manual car—it’s cheaper and you have more control, but it requires more effort and knowledge to get it running the way you want.
If you’re tight on budget, the Ender 3 will serve you well. There are plenty of TPU profiles and mods available to get you started. It’s like paying with time instead of money. Yet, if your budget allows, the convenience and quality of Bambu are worth the investment.
Ender 3 V3 SE
If you really want the cheapest and worth having 3D printer, consider the Ender 3 V3 SE. It’s a new version of the original Ender 3, it fixed many issues that previous models have. It’s priced under $200, comes with direct drive and auto-leveling. It’s a significant step up from its predecessors and could be a good fit for FPV printing without the need for heavy modifications.
Buy Ender 3 V3 SE here:
Bambu Lab A1 Mini
Right now in 2024, the best starter 3D printer is the Bambu A1 in my opinion, priced under $300. Despite its affordability, it retains many advanced features typical of Bambu Lab’s higher-end models, including high-speed printing, a direct drive extruder, and capabilities for multicolor printing, and it won’t force you to tinker and upgrade straight out of the box. It’s slightly more expensive than the Ender 3, but it runs out of the box and just easier to get started without modifications.
The printer is designed with a bed-slinger and cantilever structure, supporting various filament types like PLA, PETG, TPU, and PVA straight out of the box. It offers a build volume of 180 x 180 x 180 mm and includes quality-of-life features such as auto bed leveling, auto calibration, and a built-in camera for monitoring prints, though the camera quality is notably low.
Setup is straightforward, requiring minimal assembly, and the printer is equipped with Wi-Fi for easy control via app or software. While there are some compatibility issues with third-party filament spools for multicolor printing, the overall performance, ease of use, and print quality make the A1 Mini an exceptional value for those new to 3D printing or seeking a reliable, budget-friendly printer. The only reason one would still buy an Ender 3 would probably because it’s a good platform for tinkering and modifying. However as a beginner you should look a different way.
Buy Bambu Printers here:
Creality, the maker of Ender, has been around for the longest time, and seems to have taken a backseat in innovation. On the other hand, Bambu has been constantly releasing printers for different audience, with different price range and features. For example, for those on a budget, the Bambu A1 Mini is worth a look. Ender 3 might still be the tinkerer’s choice, but for beginners, I’d steer towards something less demanding.
Take a look at the Bambu Labs P1S – sure, it’s more than you ever need for printing FPV drone parts, but the print quality and user-friendliness are undeniable. The more expensive Bambu X1C is nothing short of a dream. If you can afford it, a Bambu printer can deliver incredible results with less fiddling around.
How to 3D Print?
- Download a design you want to print (the design file is called STL file).
- Import the design into a slicing application to prepare it for 3D printing.
- Customize the printing parameters based on the type of filament you are using.
- Export the instructions (G-Code) onto an SD card and insert it into the 3D printer.
- Power on the printer, select the G-Code file, and press start.
Slicing software, or “slicer”, is essential for 3D printing; it takes your 3D design (in STL file format) and translates it into “G-Code.” Essentially, it “slices” the 3D model into layers and creates a toolpath for your 3D printer to follow.
This software also allows you to customize print settings such as layer height, print speed, and infill density. Cura is one of the most popular slicing software options, and it’s free.
Download Cura here: https://ultimaker.com/software/ultimaker-cura/
3D Modelling Software
If you can find a design file online for the part you want to print, then you don’t need to create the design from scratch. However, if you want to create your own design, you will need 3D modeling software.
3D modeling software is used to design parts that can be 3D printed. There are many different software options available, ranging from beginner-friendly to professional-level programs. Popular options include Tinkercad, Fusion 360, and SolidWorks.
Beginners may find Tinkercad to be a good starting point for its ease of use and intuitive interface. More advanced users may prefer Fusion 360 and SolidWorks for their comprehensive feature sets and advanced tools. Fusion 360 offers a free version for non-commercial use, making it a great option to get started with.
Once a model has been created, it can be exported as an STL file, which can then be imported into slicing software to prepare it for 3D printing.
There are several materials available for 3D printing drone parts. The most common ones are:
- TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) – A flexible and rubber-like material that is ideal for shock absorbers, motor mounts, and other components that require flexibility.
- PLA (Polylactic Acid) – It is probably the most common filament used in 3D printing as it’s biodegradable, easy to print and has a low melting point, but it is brittle and has low impact resistance.
- ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) – A strong, durable, and heat-resistant plastic. It has a higher melting point than PLA, but it is more challenging to print due to warping and requires a heated bed.
- PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol) – A material that combines the strength and durability of ABS with the ease of printing of PLA. It has a high melting point and excellent layer adhesion.
Each material has its properties, advantages, and disadvantages. The choice of material depends on the specific application, design requirements, and personal preference. Personally, I use TPU and PETG 99% of the times, TPU for flexible parts and PETG for rigid parts.
Get TPU filament here:
Get PETG filament here:
How to Improve Printing Results
Have the printer and slicer settings dialled in makes a huge difference to the printing quality. Some key settings to adjust include layer height, infill density, and print speed. The ideal settings may vary depending on the complexity and size of the part, your printing environment and the material you use.
When printing with different materials, be sure to adjust the print temperature and bed temperature to match the recommended settings for that specific material. It is also important to properly level the bed to ensure a successful print.
Regular maintenance and calibration of your printer are also important for consistent and reliable printing.
There are many resources available for finding and sharing 3D printable FPV drone parts. Thingiverse, Yeggi and MyMiniFactory are some of the popular websites where you can find a wide variety of 3D printable drone parts. Additionally, some drone manufacturers and retailers offer 3D printable parts STL files on their websites.
In conclusion, the world of 3D printing offers FPV drone enthusiasts an unparalleled opportunity to push the boundaries of customization and innovation. Whether it’s crafting durable replacements for broken parts, designing unique accessories, or experimenting with new drone modifications, 3D printing empowers pilots to enhance their flying experience. By selecting the right 3D printer, mastering slicing application, and choosing the appropriate filament, anyone can start bringing their custom drone visions to life. The journey from downloading your first design to watching your custom part take shape in the printer is not just rewarding; it’s a step into a future where the only limit to what you can create is your imagination.
- Jan 2021 – article created
- Mar 2023 – article updated
- Feb 2024 – article updated