The best design is one you don’t have to do – design tips and tricks for 3D printing

As more customer requests for design come into our queue, we wanted to ensure our design community that they have as many tools at their disposal to do the best design work for our customers so that the You3Dit community becomes the best distributed design and manufacturing network on the planet.

So what do we mean about the “best design is the one you don’t have to do”? This simply means that we always need to ask ourselves, “Is design necessary to solve this customer problem?” “Has someone else already designed something that solves this problem?” “Is there an 80% solution that I can polish or improve upon?”

We know that our growing design community–with over 64 different CAD software backgrounds–has the potential to produce AMAZING designs in both functional hardware and artistic models.  That being said, our time is best invested solving NEW problems and not re-inventing the wheel solely to make a couple extra bucks off of an less-informed “Maker” in our community.

If a product already exists that you know about which solves the customer problem, 90% of the way, please suggest that as a “solution” to our customers and save your design energy for new, unsolved problems.  If you can redesign the better mousetrap, feel free to suggest this new design to the Maker but our data and gut tells us that customers will keep coming back if they trust our community to provide them with the best information.  Let me show an example:

soda can cap

A customer wanted a soda-can cap so that they could prolong the life of the soda by saving the carbonation. However, since a product already existed online, our community members suggested this option.

The customer submitted the above drawing for a Soda-can Cap for design and subsequent 3D printing.  While many of our Designers submitted several design solutions, several knowledgeable and customer-oriented Design members suggested this soda-can cap alternative from Jokari.

This obviously reduces the opportunity for our Designers to earn money from a new design job, but what makes the You3Dit network special is that they also recognized that a product alternative existed and that it may be better for the Maker to simply buy Commercially Available Off the Shelf (COTS) products.  They did offer to personalize the cap–should that have been interesting to the Maker–however, the Maker was satisfied with this product and saved some good money buying this alternative solution.

Thank you You3Dit designers for providing this type of service to our customers.

So You3Dit Designers and others, when designing new parts, products or widgets for anyone, that will be later 3D printed or manufactured by other distributed processes, always consider the following:

  1. Do any other designs / CAD models already exist that solve this customer’s problem?  Or is what they are asking for already modeled by someone else?  If so, consider leveraging those models and improving upon them.  You have many resources now at your disposal to help you start with a base design, and modify:,,, among others.  If you download STLs from a place like for example, you might say, “well wait, hey Chris, I can’t edit an STL file very easily.”  Well, thanks to, you can actually using their import tool.  Highly recommend their free CAD software for getting started.  Feel free to watch a tutorial on How to design with CAD at Hands-On Rapid Innovation webpage if you’ve never heard of and want to learn more.
  2. Have you thought about design for 3D printing (or other distributed manufacturing process)?  Chris–the co-founder of You3Dit–wrote an article waaay back in the day that talked about Design for 3D Printing–What You Should Know (DFP–as determined by a poll within the article).  Basics are to: a) understand how 3D printing works b) think about how each layer would be printed and try to design so that there are no free-hanging structures aligned with your print axis c) try to have some flat surface to support your initial layers d) minimize support material needed to produce your part.
  3. Are there any other commonly available parts that can be utilized instead of a physical structure?  Nuts and bolts, springs, etc.  Common household items like wine corks, bottle caps, papertowel spools, etc. that can be used in concert w/your 3D printable design could really make your designs awesome and practical.  At You3Dit, we actually leveraged Bic pens to make a spool holder then realized that a wine bottle does an even better job at being a spool holder.  While some of these features can be integrated into your design (like the Wedgie from–the spring connector was built right into the part–leveraging one of the benefits of 3D printing).
  4. Know someone with a 3D printer?  If not you should!  If you don’t, no worries, You3Dit is here to help.  Let us know and we can put you in touch with one nearby you so that you both can work together to make awesome designs ready for 3D printing.  But your design will improve dramatically if you start working with someone who is making the parts you design.  Submit your name / e-mail to be added to the You3Dit Designer / 3D Printer Buddy Program.

All that being said, if you’re having fun, it’s no longer work and with fun and passion for design, you’ll by default do better, more creative design work.

Some other great design references are:

  1. Professor Alex Slocum’s Design FUNdaMENTALs from MIT
  2. Design Matters PodCast

Please do ask your questions below and share your comments.  We’d love to hear from you!

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