3D printing hands on: How to easily customize objects to the exact size you need

We continue our 3D printing discovery series by showing you how quick and easy it is to customize the size of pre-designed objects -- without ever going into a 3D design program.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

In 3D printing, size really doesn't matter. If you like a 3D object, you can scale it up or down easily and print at exactly the size you need. Unlike items sold in a store, you have total control over the size of what you make. In this installment of our 3D printing discovery series, you'll see how to do it yourself.

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One of the interesting personal discoveries I've made about 3D printing over the last few months is you start to think about physical objects differently. Since I've never really been a fabricator, my access to physical objects has been limited to what I could buy. If I needed something larger or smaller, I could call around or do more Web searching, but that was about the limit of my flexibility.

If I couldn't find something in the size I wanted, I had to be willing to compromise.

For a few work-related objects, I did contract out with fabricators to build me custom objects. This was not in any way inexpensive (we're talking hand work by the hour) and usually took a few months to get back. As a result, choosing to contract for custom objects only happened when I needed to prototype something very specific for work, for a very tangible reason.

3D printing changes all of that. As long as the object can fit on the print bed, you can scale it up or down to any size. You can even print objects far larger than the print bed if you're willing to segment them and later assemble them with either screws, glue, or pins.

Another interesting aspect of the flexibility and customizability of 3D printing is you don't have to create your own custom design to benefit from custom sizing. In this week's hands-on example, I've used a very cool little cord holder design I downloaded from Thingiverse and scaled it to organize the wires for different size gadgets.

I created one object at 100 percent, one at 75 percent, one at 50 percent, and one at 25 percent. I picked the percentages relatively randomly, but if any of them printed either too small or too large, I could easily have tweaked the scale and reprinted them.

To give you an idea of cost, the role of MakerBot-branded blue filament I used cost $48 for two pounds of filament. The four cable holders used 0.061 pounds of material. For all four cord holders, that's about $1.40 worth of plastic, and that includes the cost to make the rafts. In the video, I estimated that one cable holder was about ten cents, but it's more accurately closer to about fifty cents for the largest holder. Even so, we're not talking big numbers here.

What that means is that you can choose to print, measure, tweak, and reprint, and eventually get exactly what you want. That's very cool.

In future weeks, we'll look at designing your own objects, but I wanted to start to show you how flexible you could be, even if you never did an iota of original 3D design work. Given there are over a million objects on Thingiverse, you've got a lot of objects to work with, without needing to do any 3D CAD work at all.

Stay tuned. Next week, my plan is to "kit bash" two existing designs together to create one custom, functional solution. And, once again, a special shout-out of thanks to the MakerBot folks for providing the MakerBot 5th Generation Replicator for use in our DIY-IT 3D printing discovery series.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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