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How to design 3D printed pin hinges: No assembly required

Christina Westbrook
posted this on November 04, 2011 15:46

Something that’s never really been easily possible (if at all) before 3D printing is creating hinges completely intact, with no assembly required.

Using many of our 3D printing materials you can make your own hinges, creating hinged boxes, hinged containers, etc that are fully functional right out of the 3D printer..

The Test
I did a test with a basic Pin Hinge using three 3D printing materials: durable plastic, superfine plastic and black durable gloss plastic.

The main thing to consider when designing hinges is how much clearance there is between the two moving pieces. I've personally had a decent amount of success with a clearance on all sides of at least 0.3-0.4 mm between pieces, but to be safe we recommend a minimum 0.5mm clearance especially on larger or more complex pieces.

Also, make sure the pin area isn’t too long. A good rule to follow in 3D printing is to not have the length equal more than 2x the width, it will then be able to withstand lots of usage without breaking.

If the pieces on any side of the hinge are too close together then they'll likely meld together when being printed and the hinge won’t be able to move.




For each piece I made the clearance between each part only 0.3mm to see how they’d turn out..

The Results
Durable gloss plastic: due to the process (thin extrusions) durable gloss plastic failed as a small piece. I doubled the size and ordered another. Success! It’s also a great size for something like a jewelry box or a larger container, but for a decorative piece I’d personally choose another material with more detail.

Durable plastic: It took a little patience (since I didn’t make the area to grasp long enough) but the hinge did come loose and move after a couple tries. Upon close inspection it looks like part of the hinge almost melded together (in the “hinges open” photo below). I’d go with at least 0.4mm-0.5mm clearance in durable plastic next time.

Superfine plastic: It worked / moved right out of the package, but since it’s not as durable as some of our other materials make sure a hinge like this isn’t supporting heavy areas, either that or make the “pin” part of the pin hinge, and maybe the entire hinge itself, larger.

Here are photos of the hinges open and closed:




Different geometry will have different results. We give you as many guidelines and examples of as we can to base your prototype on, but always feel free to ask us for help.

Start small and/or prototype if you can. Make a small section of a complex design to prototype and see how it turns out before you invest in a large and expensive piece that you may later find needs to be redone.

To Sum It Up
Some materials are better than others for hinges.

I'd say the durable gloss pieces aren't ideal unless you're making a large hinge, the same goes for rainbow ceramic hinges since the material is somewhat brittle (as ceramic tends to be). Rainbow ceramic is probably the cheapest option when you're just trying out the shape (remember you don't need to use a WRL file - it will come out in plain off-white with an STL).

The best material options for hinges are durable plastic, superfine plastic, and durable fine plastic.

Printed hinges are unfortunately not possible in glazed ceramic or stainless steel.

The best way to test out a hinge before making an entire large model is to just get one piece made as a prototype and then change what needs to be changed in the 3D model.