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How to design and 3D print your own custom smartphone case

If you’re bored with how your smartphone looks, you could go for a case. But what if you’re bored of that too? Here’s how you can 3D-print your own design!

Using a cover with your smartphone is something quite normal these days – what with phones falling and breaking into pieces being one of the worst modern nightmares. But since when has something normal been of any interest to the Digit geek? We swear, if we see one more Angry Birds smartphone cover, there’ll be exploding black bomb birds all over! Rather than go with the run-of-the-mill smartphone covers being sold on every nook and corner, how about making your own design and then 3D printing it? Let’s see how you can get it done, thanks to the awesome folks over at Imaginarium.

STEP 1: Ideation

So you want to make a personalised phone cover designed specifically for your phone. As a first step, it is always a good idea to make a sketch on paper to represent what you exactly want. Trust us, this helps a lot in maintaining the same vision throughout the actual implementation, which is something you need for any DIY project.

3D phone case

STEP 2: Design

Approach 1 – Design From Scratch
If you have a background in engineering or design, you can easily measure the dimensions of your phone using a Vernier Calliper, and create a corresponding virtual 3D design on your computer, with the help of design software. When taking this approach, you have to keep in mind all the necessary gaps and windows that you need to leave for things like the charging port, the headphone jack, volume buttons, power button, camera lens and more. And you also have to generally leave some allowance for flexing, when fitting the phone into the case.
Not an expert in graphic design? Don’t worry, you can still have your own 3D printed personalised phone cover.

Approach 2 – Use An Open Source Design
A lot of websites have a library of 3D designs of various objects, including phone covers. These designs are open source and anyone can download them for personal use. Two very good options for such websites are Thingiverse and Grabcad.

Say you own an iPhone 6 and want to 3D print a personalised cover for it.

Log on to Thingiverse and search for an iPhone 6 cover. Select one of the designs as shown and download it as a .STL (standard triangulation language) file, the format accepted by most 3D printers.

3D phone case

This becomes our base model for customization and is the exact shape and size for an iPhone 6 cover.

STEP 3: Customisation

You can customise a phone cover in a variety of ways, say by adding some text like your name or add graphics like your company’s logo or even add in a pattern that you like.

There are various paid software which make this process easy and convenient, but we are going to use a software that is professional and yet has some tools available free of cost to cater to beginners.

The software is called Meshmixer and can be downloaded from www.meshmixer.com

Once you have the design, you will also need a data preparation software to prepare the file for a 3D printer. For this purpose, download the free, trial version of Autodesk NetFabb.

Customisation 1 – Personalised message.

  • Head to Tinkercad by Autodesk and start the online free software.
  • Click on Import and import downloaded iPhone cover .stl file. Rotate it to get the back on top, as shown.

3D phone case

  • Select TEXT from the top right drop-down list, as shown below.

3D phone case

  • Select the alphabets and drag-drop them on the back of the cover. Place them as you want it on the actual cover. Make sure that the placement of the text is exactly on top of the flat surface of the cover as shown.

3D phone case

  • Once you’re designing is complete, click on EXPORT and export .stl file of your customised design. Or you can create a .svg file of your logo by using 2D software like Photoshop. Import this SVG file and adjust the dimension. Place this on the back of your phone cover to give it an embossed look.
  • Now open the exported .stl file in Autodesk Netfabb for fixing the file and making it ready for printing.
  • Then click on + Fixing tool and fix the file using automatic repair.
  • Now right click on the part and export as .stl to save the file.
  • Send it to the printer to get your 3D printed iPhone 6 phone cover.

Design 2 – Patterned cover

  • Let’s import the downloaded .stl phone cover file into Meshmixer software.
    Click on View > Show Wireframe

3D phone case

  • Select the object by pressing [CTRL] + [A] then click on select >edit>remesh.

3D phone case

  • Adjust the dimensions until the size of the triangles shown corresponds to the desired pattern size. Then click on Edit > Make Pattern.
  • Select Dual Edges in pattern type as shown in the image below.

3D phone case

  • Now you have a cool looking iPhone cover with a custom pattern. Click Apply to accept this design.
  • Click on File > Export to save this design to .stl format and print it on a 3D printer.
  • Open the pattern file in Autodesk Netfabb.
  • Now click on and fix the file as explained in Customization 1.
  • Right click on the part and export as .stl file.
  • Part is ready for print.

3D phone case


3D phone caseCustomization 1 – Personalized message.
This design can be easily printed on desktop 3D printers (FDM technology). This design will take about 1.5 hrs to be built at medium quality. The accuracy and finish of FDM 3D printed parts will be of medium quality with the 3D printers readily accessible in India as of now.

Design 2 – Patterns
This design is complex for (FDM) desktop printers as the support structures involved may prove to be a problem while cleaning up the 3D printed part. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing technology would do justice to this design. SLS 3D printed part has a superior finish and more accuracy than what FDM 3D printers can attain.

Overall, enthusiasm in 3D printing in India is growing among the general populace due to the Maker Movement that has been growing in popularity over the last couple of years. In case you were in the dark, here is a handy guide to the Maker scene in India, along with a list of the best makerspaces and how you can put them to best use. You can visit almost any of these to get your phone case 3D printed, mostly at a nominal charge.

This article was first published in the June 2017 issue of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.


Sameet Raut