Products and Design

How to Design Snap-Fit Ball Joints for 3D Printing

3d printed robot action figure
This post, originally published in 2013, was one of our most popular posts in 2017. Find out why below:

When designing an action figure to be 3D printed, the best way to create articulated components that are poseable is with snap-fit ball joints.

3D printed action figure

ModiBot Custom Shop’s Armor Set for ModiBot Mo

Ball joints work as snap-fit components and cannot be 3D printed together as the friction required to make the parts pose-able would result in the parts being fused together. When designing ball joints it is best to make them an ‘exact fit’ where the positive part (the ball) and the negative part (the socket) are the exact same circumference.  You need to ensure the socket component is not entirely enclosed, more like a C shape to allow the part to expand slightly to snap it into place.

try it yourself

woman warrior 3d printed action figure

ModiBot Custom Shop’s Moli Female DIY Poseable Figure Kit

Shapeways laser-sintered Nylon is the best material for creating snap fit ball joints as the material is strong enough to withstand the stress of being snapped into place (our Frosted Detail Plastic might just snap). The Nylon also has a slightly granular surface that also help to make the parts to grip together. Also note that our polishing and dying process which has a smoother surface than the raw Nylon still grips together for a firm fit, you do not need to change the design to allow for change in surface finish or dimensional changes.

To see some really good examples of snap-fit ball joints designed for 3D printing, check out the ModiBot shop by Kid Mechano which has many really good examples of ball joints in action.

3d printed robot action figures

make your figures move

About me
Shapeways Designer Evangelist
You may also like
3D Printing Industry, Products and Design
Just in Time: Last-Minute Holiday Gifts
November 29, 2018
Products and Design
Tutorial Tuesday: Taking Better Photographs of Your 3D Prints
October 9, 2018
Shapeways
How to Set Up the Shapeways Fulfillment App for Shopify
October 5, 2018