Remember the good ol’ days before electronics when we played with toy planes and cars? Thanks to advances in technology, those toy planes and cars are fully functional and you can even build a quadcopter yourself! With the evolution of electronic planes, a community of drone enthusiasts is emerging.
Many drone and quadcopter hobbyists decide that they want to venture into DIY land and make their own from scratch. When the alternative is spending money for one in the store, it is significantly cheaper (not to mention more fun!) to make one yourself. It also familiarizes Makers with how the quadcopter works and ties them in with the enthusiast and maker community.
How to build a quadcopter?
1. Build with Parts: You’ve got some options – the most common choice is to buy the parts in shops and then assemble it together . This hobby has become increasingly popular in the past years. After all, some people only use the drone to take aerial photos and videos with them or just use them for fun. But whatever the reason, you will always have to deal with replacement parts. You will need to purchase parts either when you are putting your drone together or when you crash your quadcopter—and believe me— that will happen a lot at the start of your flying career.
2. 3D print it!: When buying a new frame, you can go to a local store or look on the internet. Even when you are repairing your frame (which you might have crashed), you may have to buy a replacement part. The thing about replacement parts is that often they are often just 3D printed frames which are then sold in shops for a higher price. You can save a lot of money if you decide to print it yourself. You can even print the same frame if you’re able to find models online.
Other advantages to 3D printing your quadcopter?
One of the biggest advantages of 3D printing is that you can choose the materials that you want your quadcopter to be built with. They can be very strong or perhaps a bit fragile. It depends on how well you can fly the copter. You will learn why a part is made of a certain material and how to fix it if it breaks. Knowing your quadcopter thoroughly is important if you’re taking the hobby seriously. With 3D printing, you will know the hobby inside out!
Which parts are 3D printable?
You can print everything except the camera, batteries, wiring, antenna, video transmitter and motors. You’ll need to buy those in the shop. That means you can 3D print the frame of the camera, propellers, gimbal (the piece of equipment that holds the camera and makes sure that it does not have a shaky/blurry picture) and legs if you decide to make them (for landing).
For example, you can place your antenna in a 3D-printed frame. Much of a quadcopter can be made with 3D parts. This is very useful for serious pilots who want to have their quadcopter designed exactly for their application of choice (usually aerial filming). 3d printing gives makers the freedom to modify for the design to fit their needs. You can also make all sorts of additions on your quadcopter with 3D printed tools.
Besides things on the actual quadcopter, you can also 3D print the receiver and controller. Many serious hobbyists do that, not just because it is cheaper, but also because they want their quadcopter to be made for specific operations. You will be able to find some of those parts and designs online and just print them. For the others, you will have to make your own designs. As 3D printing is becoming popular, more and more quadcopter models are available online for 3D printing. Nowadays you can find the models online and this can save you a lot of trouble.
Which material should I use?
As mentioned before, there are different materials you can use. Usually the cheaper quadcopters are made mostly of ABS plastic (at least parts that can be 3D printed). You can also make it out of other materials— frames can be made of carbon-fiber, aluminum or metal. Usually carbon-fiber or aluminum is used for more durable copters. Use ABS plastic if you want to make a cheap (but not very durable) frame. Carbon-fiber is currently the most widely used material for 3D printing quadcopters.
How do I wire my quadcopter?
Once you have your quadcopter printed, you need to make sure that other non-printed parts are connected. Standard rules apply. Usually you will get the wires along with the equipment when you buy a certain part of your quadcopter. For example, when you buy a video transmitter, you usually get wiring to connect your camera. All you have to do is to ensure that you can connect it within the the frame you’ve built.
In this respect, building a quadcopter is really not that hard. The parts that can be bought are sold in a way that is easy to install and wire them together. The problem is if you decide to build a more complicated quadcopter with additional options like a GPS system. That can potentially be more challenging to wire with the rest of the equipment. This is a topic for more experienced flyers who would like to dig deeper into the hobby, or for those who are willing to spend more. Professional video makers and photographers often add additional functions on their quadcopters so they can create their art exactly how they want it.
What isn’t printable in my build?
The things that can’t be printed (usually technical stuff on the copter like a camera, transmitter, antenna, etc.) can easily be bought in shops. Most of the local stores have them but you can also get most of the things on internet. Every quadcopter needs a transmitter, antenna and motors. Additional equipment includes cameras, GPS devices, gimbals, and other additions that a hobbyist or a professional flyer might find useful. They are usually quite easy to wire on to a quadcopter, but when you are creating the design for your 3D printed parts (like a frame), make sure you create the plans with those additions in mind. This will ensure you can actually add them to your quadcopter in the end.
Some issues on legality…
Before printing a frame with a downloaded design that is availible in a shop, make sure that you are legally allowed to use them. You can potentially violate some copyrights. Also make sure you fly only in areas where you are allowed to fly and that you follow legal practices with your quadcopter. What is legal and not legal when flying a quadcopter might also change in the next few months or years as this industry is getting regulated more and more. Keep your eyes open for new regulations!
Go ahead, try it! Print your first quadcopter from designs on Pinshape! Comment below if you have any questions!
About the author: Thomas Foster is a quadcopter enthusiast who has been in the drone industry for more than 15 years. He is also interested in 3D printing and has collaborated in some 3D printing projects. He writes a lot of tips about the usage of the quadcopters with cameras on his website. You can also reach him on Twitter.