Top 12 functional 3D prints

3D printing is capable of producing quite a few functional prints, such as a ball-within-a-ball, collapsible prints, foldable prints, and puzzles. Some functional prints revolve around being kinetic. Some functional prints revolve around mechanical designs. Others simply are interesting 3D desk art. Listed below are some of my favorite functional prints throughout the world of 3D printing.

#12: K5 Programmable Auto-Kalimba

Perhaps this kind of design will become popular, but I’ve never seen anything else like it so far. Auto-Kalimba will actually play sounds and tunes for you. Essentially, the user will crank a lever and it will slap one of the five stems attached to the device. These will produce a sound when hit–which will be amplified through the hollow speaker-like section of this piece. Watch the video to get an idea of the music this model produces. Read more about this print.

#11: 3D Printed Chariot

This Thingiverse model is definitely unique. This entire project involved a good bit of assembly and a few nuts and bolts, but most of this chariot is 3D printed. It’s very difficult to understand just from looking at the picture, but this chariot is very kinetic. Almost everything on it moves when in action–you should watch the video and see for yourself. Read more about this print.

#10: Ipad 2 Wrap: Grid

When Jeff designed this print, he wasn’t trying to make a puzzle. He wasn’t trying to make a kinetic model. However, he was definitely thinking “functional” with this design. This iPad case will actually snap on to the corners of your tablet. It will not only offer protection, but it will also add a good bit of style to your portable devices!  Very cool print in my opinion. Read more about this print.

#9: Screwless Heart Gears

Emmett created the “Screwless Heart Gear” model awhile back and it definitely took off. There have been quite a few variations of this, but this model is my favorite. Take notice that the heart can be twisted to form an abstract shape. One could compare the process of twisting this piece to a system of gears, thus the name “Screwless Heart Gear” came about. Take a look at the video below to see this model in action. Read more about this print.

#8: Dad’s Beer Ring

Ovidiu Opresco was definitely thinking outside the box when he came up with this design. “Dad’s Beer Ring” is actually a ring that can open bottles of beer. In addition to that, there is an insert on the top of the ring. If you fill this insert with a magnet, you will actually be able to magnetically attach bottle caps to the top of the ring for style. Dad’s Beer Ring not only opens beer bottles, but serves as a masculine fashion statement. Very cool, functional print. Read more about this print.

#7: Christmas Ornament Rolling Ball Sculpture

“Rolling Ball” sculptures have always been fascinating, but this is the first 3d printed version that I’ve seen. Even though small, this print speaks for the creativity of designers in the arena of 3D printing. The Christmas Ornament Rolling Ball Sculpture poses a “what if…” kind of question to designers all over the globe. What else can we accomplish through this amazing manufacturing technology? Read more about this print.

#6: Iris Box

The concept of an iris box has been around for quite a while, but it only recently entered 3D printing. What is an iris box? This model consists of a tube or box, sealed off by a very unique “door.” The actual process of opening this “door” is very interesting–by twisting the circular top of this model, the five blade-like pieces keeping the iris box shut will curl open. Although somewhat simple, I’m having a difficult time explaining the process. See for yourself, this print is pretty cool. Read more about this print.

#5: Gear Project

Up front, I admit that after the 3D printing took place, a lot of subsequent assembly was required. Not sure it really should be included in the list, but I had to post it because it’s just so cool.

This Gear Project is serious business. A motor spins, causing other gears to spin – which causes even more gears to spin. What stops more gears from being added to the equation? Erik Pettersson asked that question with this model, and didn’t face much of a challenge finding an answer. Through uniting a variety of printed gears together, Erik created an assembly of gear frames which stick out in the world of functional prints and art. Read more about this print.

#4: Shakuhachi – 9.4 Inches

This flute is really unique–not just for the artwork and intricate details of it, but because it is fully 3D printed. Shakuhachi was fabricated in a single print. This kind of thing poses a challenge for designers across the globe; what else can be fabricated? 3D printed guitars, flutes, and ocarina-like instruments are already in circulation… what’s next? Read more about this print.

#3: Propeller Propulsion

Some designers have it, and some don’t–this designer definitely has it. Essentially, when air hits the fan of this print, the fan will act as a motor. This motor will then send power to the gears, which will then cause this model to move. The “Propellor Propulsion” print will actually walk for you! Imagining this kind of thing moving on its own is very… unique. To get a better idea, see the video for yourself. Read more about this print.

#2: Fadi Cube

M. Oskar van Deventer has developed several Rubiks cube-like models through 3D printing, and has truly changed the way that puzzles can be produced. These nylon based prints are made through the SLS 3D printing method, and offer several variations to the original Rubiks cubes. This particular model rotates on a diagonal axis in two different spots per each corner. See the video to get a better idea. Read more about this print.

#1: Gyro The Cube

3D designer – Virtox, created this very unique piece known as “Gyro The Cube”. When used properly, this model will actually spin in the palm of your hand. It consists of three cube-like pieces, interlocked together. There aren’t many kinetic models that work like this one. If you haven’t heard of Gyro The Cube, I highly recommend you watch the video. Read more about this print.

The Final Word

Instruments, kinetic sculptures, intricate puzzles, and functional pieces have all been created through 3D printing. 3D printing is continually becoming more efficient, but I’d really like to tip my hat off to the designers. These powerful minds are the ones pushing the envelope in 3D printing. What are designers going to create next?

Which print is yourfavorite? Did I miss any? Tell us what you think in the comments. 

  • Albert

    now that is awesome!

    • Chris Waldo

      Hey Albert,

      There are definitely some pretty creative designers out there! It’s always cool to see how they utilize 3D printing to create awesome prints!


  • Chris C

    You might find my website interesting. I’m trying to develop 3d printed robotic hands, that one day could be used for prosthetics, but right now are so that makers and roboticists can get involved. I’ve got my first two prototypes available on shapeways. Just search for ‘anthromod’ to get to my shop.

    • Chris Waldo


      I took a look at your website and the concept is pretty cool. I saw a couple of the prints you got, were those PA 2200? (white strong & flexible) The concept has a ton of potential, but if you really want to make something cool happen in the world of prosthetics, you need to get a hold of some people in the medical community. You need to really network this idea & get coverage where ever you can. I’ve have a series of leg complications so I’ve been in and out of hospitals my whole life and I’ve seen a lot children missing limbs – it would be very powerful to market this idea. I may actually want to write a piece about this, I’m very interested in 3D printing used in conjunction with medical applications – especially with something that I can relate with to some extent.