Mar. 26, 2015 | By Simon

Ever since they launched their 3D printed and open source drone in October of 2014, ELF has been busy making their platform easier to use and for their designs to get into the hands of eager users.  Just last month, the ELF team introduced a new feature that includes the expansion of virtual reality options for shooting aerial photography and the company is showing no signs of slowing down their efforts towards putting their hackable 3D printed drones in the hands (and subsequently, into the sky) of as many users as possible.  

Currently, users can purchase the latest standard design pre-built with all of the development files on ELF’s Indiegogo page or simply print out their own using the company’s Thingiverse project page that includes all of the 3D printable build files.   

In one of many efforts to make their platform easier to use for existing ELF drone owners, the ELF team has just released a list of 3D printing tips that are aimed at those who want to further modify their drones using their own 3D printers.  

ELF is quick to note that over the past two years, there have been a lot of low-cost desktop 3D printers based on Fused Deposition Modeling technology.  This includes various 3D printers from well-known manufacturers including MakerBot, Ultimaker, RepRep, UP and more.  With this in mind, they have chosen to focus their tips on FDM 3D printers.


To begin with, ELF notes that all of the 3D design models must be the same size from the bottom to the top or the lower part must be larger than the upper part structure.  Although this is common knowledge, it never hurts to clarify the basics for new users.  

Going against this simple rule will essentially result in failed prints over and over again so it’s not even worth trying unless a customized support structure has been integrated and can be easily removed without damaging the final print.  Additionally, they note that if the model requires a large upper part with a smaller lower part, adding a 45-degree angle or arc can help support the heavier load coming from the top.  

Moving on from the focus on avoiding top-heavy designs, ELF emphasizes that users should try to design a flat base for any and all designs in order to eliminate the trouble of later having to remove unnecessary supports or otherwise warping a design.  Additionally, strength should be considered at this stage to ensure that there is enough contact between each of the layers.  Because additive manufacturing relies on a layer-by-layer method of production, strength needs to be considered before the printing process in order to ensure that an object doesn’t break.  This can be done by reorienting the position of the file on the bed before it prints in order to have the optimal amount of contact area between the layers.

Aside from basic printing strategy, the team stresses the importance of breaking up complex parts into small assemblies - something that is often used in engineering anyways and is considered good practice unless showing off engineering skill is a motivator in the final aesthetic direction.  

Finally, the ELF team notes the importance of designing your parts to fit together by compensating for any nozzle width error.  This can be done by modifying the part sizes so that the final prints are able to fit together with accurate real-world dimensions rather than how they read in a CAD program.  

Additionally, the importance of picking the right filaments and avoiding support material (if possible) wrap up the list.  For their prints, the ELF team prefers ABS to PLA and hollows out their prints while minimizing as much support material as possible.  

While the list is formulated for use with their open source drones, it is a great compilation of info for anybody who is looking to optimize any 3D print.  If you haven’t tried printing out one of the ELF drones, be sure to head over to Thingiverse to download all of the necessary files...just be sure to follow their advice!  


Posted in 3D Printing Technology


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accurate wrote at 3/30/2015 1:33:36 AM:

Please note the 'nozzle width error' described above is misleading (if not outright incorrect). Slicers account for the extrusion width when producing perimeters (some basic information can be found here: The error in part size they have observed is from something else. I mean no disrespect, but it would be nice if people choosing to publish information and guides on a subject took time to do basic research beforehand to minimise the dissemination of false information.

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