Jesus Huerta | CUE Director of STEAM for Imperial Valley and Sixth-grade Teacher | Calexico Unified School District.
Jesus Huerta | CUE Director of STEAM for Imperial Valley and Sixth-grade Teacher | Calexico Unified School District.


If you haven’t had a chance to see my last tutorial on custom 3D printed bookmarks, give that a quick look! Building on that lesson, let’s get started with remixing designs and taking it to the next level. For this lesson, we will take an object we find online and, with a few easy steps using your 3D modeling software of choice, turn it into a planter. This allows students to be creative, increase their designing skills and allows them to make a unique, one-of-a-kind item for their home or as a gift for someone special. 

Necessary Tools and Materials:

Here are the items you'll need to get started:

  • Ruler: Useful to measure for a specific plant and print it at the correct size
  • Pen & paper: Make sure to write down your ideas, measurements, conversions, etc.
  • PLA filament: The easiest material to use when 3d printing and great for this project
  • 3D Design/Slicing software: Download MatterControl for free
  • 3D Printer: To make your design into reality!

Design by @infinitymaq
Designs by @Robbo44 and @infinitymaq

Find Your Starting Object

The first thing we need to find is an object with the right aspects that will make a good planter, so let’s find something that will allow us to carve away a space for our succulents. The video below will guide you through finding 3D models online. Consider these points when choosing your model: what features of the design will make for a great object to turn into a planter, what aspects of a model we want to avoid and which aspects can we fix or adjust when editing the model with our design/slicing software.

From this video we learn three key features important to finding the right model to make our planter:

  • Pick an object with enough height and depth, like a bust, to give us plenty of room to carve a space for the plant and soil - a flat object will probably not work well for this project. 
  • Part of the top (or head) of the object will need to be removed to make space for the plant, so consider how that will affect the look of the final model.
  • A base that is already flat will be easier to work with, but we can edit the design to create a flat surface for a stable base, if needed, with just a few extra steps.

Make Your Planter in 6 Easy Steps

Watch the video tutorial and follow along with the instructions below for a step-by-step guide to turn the ordinary object we selected in the previous section into your own custom planter. Tips and tricks for 3D design demonstrated in this video include scaling and adjusting objects, duplicating shapes, and creating negative space (subtractions) in your 3D model. 

Tutorial on custom planters:

Step 1: Load Your Starting Object

Start by clicking on "New design" and then click "Import" to load the STL file that you found as your base. Note that if the object is too complex or if the file size exceeds 25MB, then you will need to find base object to use.

Step 2: Subtract Unwanted Areas from the Base

Once your object is imported and ready to edit, use the grey box to subtract any parts you do not want included in your final design. Adjust the size of the box to completely cover the areas you want to remove. Afterwards, don’t forget to highlight all of your remaining creation and click "Group".

Step 3: Make a Cylinder

Select a grey cylinder from the list of pre-made shapes on the sidebar and resize it as needed. This cylinder will be used in a moment to create a negative space that will become the opening at the top of the planter, so make sure it is large enough to fit your desired plant. You can keep a uniform shape when scaling the object by holding [Shift] on your keyboard as you adjust its size. 

Step 4: Create the Hole for the Plant

Adjust the height of the cylinder with the Z directional arrow (located above the shape) by clicking and dragging the arrow downward to descend the shape. Once it's placed properly, highlight all of the objects on the screen by clicking and dragging your cursor across the screen. Click the Group button to combine the objects together. Any of the areas where the cylinder intersects with the original object will be converted into negative space, and the hole for your plant is completed! But we still have one major step to make sure your plant stays happy and healthy.

Step 5: Prevent Rot - Make Drainage Holes

Drainage holes let out any excess water after watering your plant and prevent it from being damaged by bacteria and fungus.  To start creating these holes, select another premade grey cylinder shape and resize it to be very narrow and long - it will need to run the length from the planter hole you just created to the object's base. 

You’ll notice some double arrow icons that will allow you to rotate the object; turn it about 45 degrees counterclockwise to angle the cylinders from the top to the bottom of your planter.

Step 6: Duplicate and Done!

Now that you have one cylinder for a drainage hole placed, use the duplicate button(or use CTRL+C and then CTRL+V) to make a copy. Slide that copy over beside the first cylinder to create an area for the second hole. 

Finally, select all objects again, click Group, and voila! Your planter is complete. 

Why Do This Project?

Your students can expect to take away a number of positive lessons after having completed this project:

  • Allows students to start seeing objects as a resource that can be manipulated into something more than just a trinket. 
  • This can be given as a gift or even inspire students to begin gardening themselves! 
  • The design aspect of this project will get students to start thinking of how to improve designs, how to add functionality and also begin thinking outside of the box

As your students continue to explore 3D design and printing, look to use a mix of completely original designs and remixing. Remixing allows students to see that items i.e. a statue or bust, can be taken and turned into something that now has a function. It also allows them to look at objects in 3D differently and opens many, many possibilities moving forward during their journey into making! 

Recommended Materials

Parthenon Gray Marble PRO Series PLA Filament (and other marbles!) - Up the classiness of your fun prints and recreate the speckled texture of grey marble with any of these beautiful PLA options. Perfect for statuesque prints, the flecks of these marble-finished filaments also help to hide layer lines from the eye, giving your finished model an even cleaner stone-like appearance.

Terracotta Red PRO Series PLA Filament - The quintessential "baked earth" color, give your 3D printed plant pot the distinctive look of fired clay with Terracotta Red PRO Series PLA. MatterHackers PRO Series filaments are USA-made with rigorously tested diameter tolerance and color consistency. 

MH Build Series PETG - Does your plant need direct sunlight? Frequent watering? Protection from the household cat who knocks it off the shelf? PETG is here to save the day. In addition to its higher heat resistance compared to PLA, PETG also has strong layer adhesion and low water absorption after printing (surprisingly contrary to its hygroscopic properties while still on the spool), and higher impact resistance. Basically, if durability is an issue for your plant pot, consider upgrading to a more long-lasting material for this project and choose from any number of colors from the affordable MH Build Series of PETG filament. 

To find more innovative lessons and inspiring content like this that Jesus has created as an Education Ambassador for MatterHackers, visit the Jesus Huerta Ambassador Feature page here
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