Across the Thingiverse: Customizing Open-Source 3D Models

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned that one good way to get started with 3D modeling was to download open-source models and customize them to your liking. I said I would show you how to do that, and then proceeded to post a couple much more intense tutorials instead.

Today, we’re going back to basics- we’re going to make an iPhone case using a pre-existing model from Thingiverse and a few simple tools in Fusion 360.

A Good Model is Hard to Find

Open-source anything will result in a pile of 95% garbage, so you have to use a little patience when looking for a good model to download- it’s just like combing through Project Free TV for a halfway-decent Top Chef link (because, despite Hulu taunting you and promising otherwise, you CAN’T access the new season with your current Optimum account, and thus you are left to scrape around the streaming dregs of the internet like a peasant).

My search on Thingiverse for “iPhone 6 case” yields almost 5500 results, ranging from things that are kind of close (docks, stands) to things that are not even remotely close (birdfeeders?), but with a handful of actual cases mixed in there. I choose this one by Thingiverse user hangsta (is he a gangster who loves brackets and shelves? Or a gangsta named Han? Or Hang? We may never know)– it’s been downloaded almost 12,000 times, and a quick look through both the instructions and the comments show that the designer, hangsta, has both been very responsive to feedback from the community and has made improvements to his design based on feedback. I’m also comforted by a dozen photos from people who have actually printed this design. Even more importantly, hangsta has made this file available as a Solidworks file, meaning I will be able to import it into Fusion 360 and make changes. STL files don’t allow that luxury.

All that’s enough for me to give this one a shot, so I navigate to the “Thing Files” and download the latest update- iphone_6_case_v3.SLDPRT.

If you wanted to just print the plain case, you could download the STL and upload it to your printing service of choice. But we’re going to customize.

Getting Fancy

  • Programs Used: Autodesk Fusion 360
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Time: <1 hour
  • Cost: $0.80 of material on home printer (PLA), ~$20 through printing services

To upload our newly-downloaded file, we want to go into our project folder and look for the upload icon:

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.07.08 PM


You’re a woman of the world, so I won’t insult you by writing out how to upload stuff.

Once it’s finished, the file will pop up in your projects folder. At this point, start a new design and save it as something wildly creative like, “iPhone Case v1.” Now we’re going to right click on our downloaded file and select:

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 11.25.23 PM

You’ll now see the case appear in your workspace. Orient it to your liking (I flipped mine 180 degrees because I like to work top-down) and click ok. You’ll see on the right, too, that a new item has popped up in the browser (next to the yellow lightbulb):

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.20.08 AM

We’re now going to break this file’s link. That sounds like a bad thing, yes. If you leave it as is, the inserted case will be able to update according to any changes you make in the original file. While that can be very useful in some cases- for example, frequently-used components that you’re in the process of refining-, keeping the files linked prevents you from altering the inserted file in any way. And altering this file, my friends, is kind of the whole point of this tutorial.

So we’re going to go ahead, right click, and break the link:

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.20.28 AM

First things first: I don’t totally love the hard edges of this phone case, so I’m going to fillet the edges. I don’t want to mess with the inner edges and compromise the snap-fit, so I just select the outer edges and put a little radius on them.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.26.59 PM

There. That’s better.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.27.24 PM

Now I’m going to start a new sketch, and I’m going to select the back of the phone case as my working plane:

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.27.42 PM

Rather than drawing lines, though, I’m going to use the text tool (Sketch>Text).

As you can see, I can choose a font, change the size, yadda yadda. It’s like a very crappy version of Illustrator.

(Note: if you want to do more complicated typography or text layouts, do it in another program and insert as an SVG. The capabilities of the Fusion 360 Text tool are limited, and best for only simple applications.)

Now, I’m going to Extrude my text (Create>Extrude).

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.28.07 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.28.18 PM

And, because I want to leave absolutely NO DOUBT regarding the ownership of this phone, I’m going to just just repeat it over and over and over with the handy “Rectangular Pattern” tool (Create>Pattern>Rectangular Pattern).

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.28.52 PM

With this tool, I can choose the direction, spacing, and repeats of my pattern. Play around with it a little until you get a result you like.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.29.03 PM

I then just copied all but the top copy of “beulah”, pasted it, and scooted it over to the other side of the phone (I just eyeballed it).

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.29.51 PM

Then we combine everything, and we’re done.

See? Not so bad.

Here’s my little case being printed in white PLA on an FDM printer my husband is building (which I am starting to suspect may be to replace me in a sort of Helen O’Loy scenario, based purely on how much time he spends with it and how much of the living room it occupies currently):

So artistic.

And here it is on a phone, as god intended:

Hand Shoot (1 of 1)-2

If you make your own case, let me know how it goes in the comment section, or drop me a note through the contact form!




Designer, magpie, maximalist.

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