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Accessory printing - the ultimate customization for your Android

It's late, something like 2 a.m., and everyone in the house has almost simultaneously discovered the need for tacos. I hop into the passenger seat, throw my phone into the cupholder, and off we go. On the way back from this random taco run, a deer wanders out into the road and my friend slams on his brakes. Everyone's fine, but my phone has flown out of the cupholder and is now sliding around on the floor of the car just out of reach. Shortly after recovering the phone, I decide that an actual mount for my phone needs to happen. Rather than head to my usual retail site, I went to Thingiverse and took a quick look at what other folks have made already that fits this need. I see something that interests me, send the file to the 3D Printer in my office, and when I wake up the next morning my new car dock is ready to be used.

This completely true story got me thinking about all of the possibilities that open up when you decide to just print your own accessories. While there are some serious caveats to what is actually possible here, the experience is impressive all the same.

One of the coolest things about 3D printing right now are the communities that have formed around sharing designs. Thingiverse user JinxTheRabbit, who is responsible for the dock you see above, is one of thousands who publish new designs for everything imaginable every day. This design is especially brilliant, as the back of it is built so you can snake a microUSB up into the bottom of the dock and power your Nexus 5. The sides are snug enough that the phone doesn't move around at all when docked, and it just plain looks nice when sitting in the cupholder.

Between Thingiverse and YouMagine, another community of 3D design content, I found there was rarely a point where I couldn't just search for something that already existed to print. This is the best way to start, as it gives you a better idea of what your printer is capable of and how it will behave when you start creating your own designs. There's also a healthy sub-community that focused on "remixing" existing projects, which lends itself nicely to things like accessories for phones and tablets.

OnePlus One speaker dock

YouMagine user MCVet is responsible for the OnePlus One speaker dock you see here, which does a fantastic job redirecting the audio from the phone while making the phone easy to dock and remove without a lot of work. Like the car dock, this was a file I could download to my phone and the 3D Printer knew exactly what to do. The design consumes maybe $1 in materials and power, and took around 12 hours to print. When you factor in the cost of the $2,500 printer it's not like you're saving money by making these accessories for yourself, but it's also not hard to see where personalizing one of these designs worth doing.

Docks are fairly simple, and cool to have. Cases are another matter altogether, largely because you have to be a lot more careful with the kind of material you use. Most 3D Prints are done with rigid materials, which means you get rigid prints that are prone to breakage when thin and stylish. You'll also find that very few consumer-grade 3D printers can guarantee a smooth print on every angle, which means the case you've printed with rigid materials has a much higher chance to scratch up your phone. There are a couple of printers out there that are designed to work with flexible filament, which means you can print objects that have a little flex and are generally softer, but we've not been able to test that just yet.

Printing accessories for yourself can be an incredible experience, but it can also be deeply frustrating. Stray fibers in the print can accidentally obfuscate the microUSB port or partially block a speaker hole, and print jobs can quickly go from 14 to 15 hours to several days if conditions aren't perfect. Like most things in the 3D Printing world right now, it's incredibly cool when everything is perfect, and it's really not hard to imagine a world where printing your accessories is totally normal behavior for everyone.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

34 Comments
  • 3D printers will be 200$ in no time.
    Then ill get one Posted via My G2
  • That's about where I am. Someone around the office has on and he loves just playing with it and bringing things in for people to compliment him on. Might see if he will print me a home dock or something just to have one. Posted by my soon to be retired Note 3
  • they kind of already are. you can get kits for 6x6x6 at around $250. the 12x12x13 i am looking at is $695 with upgrades. but that one has a heat bed for abs plastic and will do the flexible plastics also. http://www.makerfarm.com/index.php/3d-printer-kits/prusa-12-i3v-kit-v-sl...
  • Wow this is incredible. Can't wait to live in a world where we come across an issue such as yours and just go home find the resolution and print it!
  • The 3D printer... China's #1 competitor
  • This comment made my day Posted via the Android Central App
  • Who do you think makes those 3d printers and the ink and their parts?
  • Where do think that Oneplue One is made? Designed and assembled in china....
  • I didn't say a 3D printer would take over all of China's business but you have to admit if everyone can print off these little accessories that all come from China that will have a big effect on them.
  • I foresee these being a neighbourhood thing, like copy/print shops. When the oil runs out, these fabricators can make things using recycled/renewable ingredients and powered by wind/solar. Posted via Android Central App
  • Oil will run out? (^_-) Posted via Android Central App- Via HTC One
  • A 3d printer? /broken one at that Posted by my soon to be retired Note 3
  • Very true, a 3d printer in every home....almost like star trek and the replicators....just don't eat what you print
  • Wait, what? http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/06/tech/innovation/foodini-machine-print-food/
  • Once again, NoNexus Strikes! lol
  • Not sure what you mean by that. I was merely pointing out there are food printers
  • My oh my... You deserve that stupid comment that everyone says.... Since no one else said it, I will.... You sir have win the internet.... That comment was funny as heck..... Congratulations
  • I really want to make a dock for my Choetech Stadium Qi charger that puts my phone (and the pad) at a 45 degree angle like a TYLT, and figure that can be done for super cheap if I had a 3D printer. I was going to carve one out of wood, but who has that kind of time!
  • Coincidentally, I've just ordered one of these chargers and designed the holder yesterday while I wait for it to arrive
    I don't have a printer but will take the design to my local maker space to get it done.
  • I am so ready to do this... I can't wait for printers to drop to a more reasonable price so that I can do this kind of thing myself. I'd love to design stuff and print it (I know I could get software to design stuff, but I'd want to be able to test prints before sharing them), I'm sure in 4 or 5 years we'll be at a point where I could afford the printers in the market. So exciting!
  • I like it
  • Someone make me a 3d printed waterproof case for my oneplus one with bamboo cover Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • Libraries have 3d printers. The main one in downtown Cleveland has 4. I'm gonna look into a dock Posted via...The One
  • I own 3 printers (two of them were "used" by people who were intimidated by them when they first opened them) all of them being PrintrBot brand. They are fantastic at printing accessories for phones and tablets! i've printed a case for my Nexus 5, four different generic desk stands and a desk stand that holds a PowerBot QI charger pad in it. I am trying to design a clean looking dock for my Nexus 6 to go on the dash of my Chevy Traverse; I don't like any of the available docks out there. I've also printed an entire 350 size quadcopter (in parts, not as one piece) and a few parts for various stuff around the house that "needed" fixing :) I still wouldn't say 3D printers are ready for the general public yet but if you're enthusiastic about tinkering with robotics/computers/tech and you have patients and skills to find help online, 3D printers are great! I prefer PrintrBot and Ultimaker printers myself. MakerBot reminds me too much of Apple (closed source, their way or the highway type attitude). I realize some people are truly not able to afford 3D printers but I really would recommend people check out PrintrBot's printers. The Simple Maker kit (4"x4"x4" build area) is $350, the Metal Simple (6x6x6 area) is $600-700, and the Metal Plus (10x10x10 area) starts at $1000, all very reasonable prices for the quality of printers you get. My Metal Plus prints the same quality of stuff that my father's Ultimaker 2 and my friend's Ultimaker Original make.
  • Can't wait to see some more nexus 6 designs. Good Luck!
  • I'd live to get one of these and the entry level $350 dollar 4x4x4 is right at my price point. The question I have for you is limited would the 4x4x4 size be in printing various items? Is it better to look at a slightly bigger printer? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Sorry I didn't see your comment earlier! Personally, I started with a PrintrBot Jr v1 which was 100mm x 100mm x 100mm in build area (which is nearly identical to the Simple Maker at 4" x 4" x 4") and it was great to start with. But I quickly wanted a bigger build space. 4 inches cubed is just too small to print anything useful. For example, I tried printing a few different phone docks I found on Thingiverse and YouMagine but they were all just a bit too big for the build area, especially those that are landscape. But instead of buying a new printer, I just modified my Jr to have a 6" x 6" x 5" build area myself and I have been using it ever since. That is one my favorite parts of PrintrBot printers vs Ultimakers, you can tinker and change it yourself. Programming the motherboard's firmware of PrintrBots to handle a bigger build area is one command (and one other to save the changes). For beginners, the 4x4x4 print area isn't bad. And they sell a Maker to Metal Simple upgrade kit for $300 for when you're ready to upgrade to the bigger size. But if you have the money for the Metal Simple right now, I'd recommend going for that. If you're comfortable with building kit things and/or are decent at diagnosing issues of any sort, the Metal Simple Kit is what I would recommend. If you'd rather it just work without having to build it, the pre-built one isn't a bad option at all.
  • Hey, what 3d printer was used to make that oneplus one dock? I really like the print quality from the pics.... Posted via the Android Central App
  • The Ultimaker 2 was used in both prints.
  • ....
  • Awesome thanks :) Posted via the Android Central App
  • I envy those who have 3d printed a dock similar to the Oneplus dock. I'd want one for my Note 3. I think there's no one offering a pay-to-3d-print stuff here in the Philippines... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Shapeways.com. You can print anything you want and even sell it afterwards right on their website. I have had several prints made and its good quality at a decent price..
  • Hi, I have been reading about 3D printing for year but am yet to take the plunge. I came across this article as I am thinking of something small, cheap and practical to give away to clients. It would be awesome if I could take a project file for a desk based smartphone holder, add the name of the company in an reverse embossed effect and give it to them as gifts. $1 in materials is competitive to bulk ordering custom ones from China but you can only get my company name, not customise it for clients that way. Something simple, or even something like this would be awesome: http://www.aliexpress.com/item/Popular-Mobile-Phone-Holders-Durable-Cell... Can someone tell me what the best budget-priced printer that is around now or coming out in 2016 to do the above would be? Cost of materials and speed is important, I would like to be able to churn out one stand every four hours? Thanks!