Toying Around: Turning 3D Printed Parts into Impressive Designer Toys

David White is a talented freelance illustration and concept design artist in Western Massachusetts. He specializes in robot art and has self-published books and other items for fans of robotics. White began creating 3D-printed designer toys in July of 2013. Some of his big-name clients include Lego and Scholastic.

Most adults who spend much of their day around toys usually answer to the name of “mom” or “dad,” and spend their time picking up what a Craigslister would politely term “well-loved” toys. David White is an exception.

Toying Around

White’s days are almost entirely spent around toys.

White’s workbench is filled with parts for his designer toys.

However, these toys take on a different meaning of “well-loved.” As a freelance artist, White pours his creativity into making designer toys for the young-at-heart. Creating the designer toys started out as an homage to the “Micronauts” of the 70s. “I took the design of those toys and combined it with with a diaclone. I started doing sketches that were a 50/50 mix of the two and then figured it would be fun to 3D print them.”

Just one year after beginning his 3D-printed toy journey, White has created four designer toys that he sells online, and has plenty of ideas for the future. “I’m planning on releasing a major toy series for the next 6 months. Each release will include different colors and different accessories for the toy, along with a back story for each character. The Mechanaut V2: Solider will be the next to hit the store.”

The Predanaut

White’s newest designer toy is the Predanaut.

White at the Predanaut Premiere.
White at the Predanaut Premiere.

“This enemy toy is completely original. It premiered on July 26th at the FOE gallery. I don’t usually go through a gallery when I release a new toy, but I really wanted people to have the opportunity to understand the process and work that goes into each character. The Predanaut, for example, is 6 inches tall and has 42 pieces. It takes about 13 hours to create a single Predanaut, not including cleanup and assembly. When fans and friends realize what goes into the toys and get a chance to handle them, a typical remark is “Wow! I didn’t know you could get this with a 3D printer!”

Since each toy is given extensive attention, White usually releases a limited number. Costumers recognize the quality of the work, and the toys don’t sit on the shelves for long. “When I sell the toys online, they are purchased almost right away. I just did a “Double Drop” of 85 figures – 50 mini Mechanauts and 35 Vindicators (which turn into tanks)- about six weeks ago. Of the 85, I only have two left.”

“You can tell that I have learned a lot about 3D printing in the past year. The Predanaut has been my most complicated print, and it works the best too.”

Stressing Quality

The quality of White’s designer toys begins with his preproduction concept art.

White's concept art for the Predanaut.
White’s concept art for the Predanaut.

“The first step is having an idea and visualizing how the toy will look. Sketching the toy first gives me direction. For the Predanaut, I did 6 different sketches and merged the parts I liked into the unified figure. I started designing it back in December and every couple weeks I added something to it. Once the design phase was done, it only took me 8 days to make the model and a few different prototypes before printing the final figure.” White had all of his sketches and prototypes with him at the gallery premier for fans to view.

“All of my toys are put through a “stress test”. I’ll take them to parties or to lunch with my friends and have people play with them. I don’t tell them to be careful or gentle. I want to see how the toy holds up. If something breaks, I know I have to go back and make it stronger. Even if the toys aren’t necessarily meant to be played with, I make them with ABS filament so they have a bit more durability. They still need to be able to withstand being enjoyed.”

The Buddy System

“I have a couple of buddies that I get together with every so often and we help each other out by sharing ideas and tips. It’s informal, just: ‘How did you do that?’ or “Did you hear about this?!'”

“Two of us have Afinia printers, so we can also share tips about how to get the best print out of the machine, too. It is actually because of my buddy that I got my own. After seeing his Afinia, I realized that personal 3D printers were to the point that I could make good use of it, and I knew I had to have one. I read up on the Afinia 3D printer in MAKE Magazine, too, and that finalized my decision since it won so many awards, including Best Overall Experience. Since I don’t have time to build anything, it was also appealing that it is a true out-of-the-box printer and has great usability.”

White's Mechanaut, constructed of parts printed on the Afinia 3D Printer.
White’s Mechanaut, constructed of parts printed on the Afinia 3D Printer.
The 3D printed Predanaut parts, prepared for final construction.
The 3D printed Predanaut parts, prepared for final construction.

Art Galore

In addition to 3D printed designer toys, White keeps his online store full with his other art. Customers can purchase self-published art books or other artistic prints that White has created. His items are a hit among robot-lovers and are great gifts for people who like Transformers, Battletech, and Mechwarrier, (brand names to which he has contributed concept art).

If you would like to view White’s work, visit his store here.