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Design and 3D Print a Snowflake

Summary

Active Time
30-45 minutes
Total Project Time
Up to 1 day
Key Concepts
Computer aided design (CAD), 3D printing
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
Design and 3D Print a Snowflake

Introduction

Design and 3D print your own snowflake ornament with Tinkercad in this fun winter-themed STEM activity.

This activity is not recommended for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.

Materials

  • Computer with internet access
  • Access to a 3D printer or online 3D printing service

Prep Work

  1. Look at pictures of real snowflakes online if you need inspiration for your design.
  2. Make sure you know the limitations of your 3D printer, such as the minimum feature size or wall thickness. For online 3D printing services, you can find this information on their website for different materials.

Instructions

  1. Start a new design in Tinkercad and follow along with the video or the steps below to design your snowflake.
  2. Design one arm of your snowflake, using block or cylinder shapes, for example.
  3. Group all of the shapes together when the arm is complete.
  4. Use the "duplicate" button to create a copy of the arm.
  5. Use the "mirror" button to flip the copy opposite the first arm.
  6. Move the copy so that the two arms are end-to-end and connected in the middle.
  7. Group the two arms together.
  8. Use the "duplicate" button to create a copy and then rotate it 60 degrees.
  9. Use the "duplicate" button again, and it will automatically create another copy and rotate it 60 degrees. You should now have a snowflake with six arms.
  10. Optional: add a loop using the "tube" shape if you would like a place to hang your snowflake ornament with a hook or string.
    A snowflake designed in Tinkercad
  11. Click the "Export" button in Tinkercad to download a file for 3D printing. You can print the snowflake yourself if you have access to a printer or upload the file to an online 3D printing service like Shapeways. You can also send your file directly to some online 3D printing services from the Tinkercad interface.
    3D printed snowflake ornaments

What Happened?

As long as you were careful to follow guidelines for your 3D printer material, you should have ended up with your own 3D printed snowflake! If you tried to make parts of your snowflake too thin, they might be fragile and break easily. Even if the part prints successfully, it might break when you try to remove it from the printer. If your snowflake breaks, try redesigning it to be thicker.

Digging Deeper

Snowflakes have six-fold symmetry, meaning they have six (nearly) identical arms or branches. This symmetry comes from the hexagonal structure of the underlying ice crystal lattice. You probably noticed this symmetry (also called radial symmetry, as opposed to bilateral symmetry) if you looked at pictures of snowflakes online. You can read more about the science behind snowflakes and how they are formed at the site listed in the Additional Resources section.

When designing a symmetrical object in a computer aided design (CAD) program, there are some useful shortcuts to make your life easier. It would be unnecessary work to create six identical copies of the same snowflake branch from scratch. Instead, you can design a single branch, and then use the duplicate, mirror, and rotate functions to create five identical copies, resulting in a complete snowflake with six branches.

icon scientific method

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For Further Exploration

  • Try designing a more complex snowflake with multiple smaller arms branching off of the main ones.

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