By Jason Vander Griendt

May 16, 2022 at 12:47 pm

Note: As you’ll see from reading this article, making your own 3D printed chess set is a very involved, time and cost-intensive process. You can save a lot of time, headache and money by outsourcing your project to us. We can design, prototype, 3D print and even mass manufacture your chess set idea surprisingly affordably!

Get in touch with us today using our quote form, live chat, or by calling 1-888-202-2052 to find out more.


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So you’re a big fan of the board game of chess and it ranks first in your list of fun things to keep yourself occupied.

Let’s imagine one evening while you’re taking a walk across a park, you meet two people playing a board game. The game looks a lot like chess except the pieces look nothing like the regular chess sets you’re used to. You are a bit curious at this point and on inquiry, you discover they made the set themselves, inspired by world famous buildings, utilizing the powers of 3D modeling and 3D printing. You are intrigued by this finding and would love to have your own customized chess set, so you set about learning how to make one!

Thankfully there are no limits to our imagination and whatever our minds can imagine we can create. This aptly describes the limitless ability of 3D modeling and printing to bring our chess set ideas to life. With 3D modeling, we can design and customize our chess sets to any specifications we’d like.

So, even if you do not play chess but would love to create a lasting impression on a loved one who relishes the board game, why not customize a 3D printed chess set for them around a theme they really love?

Traditional Chess Sets

Traditional chess set

Traditional chess sets are made up of a chess board, and black and white chess pieces for playing the game. The chess pieces number sixteen (16) for each color: a king and a queen, a rook and a knight (2 each), bishops, and, and eight pawns. Additional pieces, usually a queen or a knight, are provided in the event of a promotion per color.

Chess boards have 64 squares arranged in vertical rows called files and horizontal rows called ranks. These squares are painted with alternating colors, one light, and one dark.

To play chess you need two players and chess sets are made in a variety of cool styles with the Staunton chess set being the most preferred in tournaments. The white side always makes the first move before the black pieces.

The Evolution of Chess Sets

Like many games, chess has a long history. In the middle ages, abstract chess set and Bauhaus style chess sets that adopted abstract shapes were in vogue.

Fun ideas have been incorporated into the game as these chess sets have evolved over the centuries as people began modeling chess pieces after family members, buildings, novel and movie characters (eg. Star Wars chess sets), animals, and even popular games.

These customizations were traditionally done through wood carving but are now even easier with the advent of 3D modeling.

3D Modelled Chess sets

Bitcoin chess piece

Chess sets have come a long way since medieval times. Themed chess sets, although generally intended for display purposes rather than actual play, have found their way into the world of chess owing to their cool designs. You can model a chess set after anything that catches your fancy. You can have a Star Wars chess set, a micro planter chess set, or a Pokémon chess set.

So, the choice of what to model your chess set after is solely dependent on your individual needs and interests. Is it a gift? Is the chess set for ornamentation? Do you want to keep a memory alive with the chess set? Or do you just want something unique your friends will talk about?

Whatever your reasons are, you can design and print the ideas you’re imagining by yourself using 3D printers. Or alternatively, outsource the work to a company that specializes in CAD design and prototyping 3D ideas down to the most minute detail to perfectly capture your chess set and chess board ideas.

In the following paragraphs, we will delve into how to make your own custom 3D printed chess set.

Making your 3D printed chess set

In the hands of a professional, development of 3D images and manufacturing them is a walk in the park. However, achieving this level of expertise requires significant work and financial resources. The development of a 3D printed chess set requires the following steps;

a. Choosing the object(s) to model your chess set after

b. 3D modeling

c. 3D printing

d. Post-print processing

e. Finishing and painting.

We will discuss making your 3D printed chess set under the subheadings below.

Choosing the object(s) to model your chess set after

This is the first step toward customizing your chess set. This step will determine what your finished chess set will look like. If you are a fan of exquisite civic architecture, the chess set could be modeled after famous buildings or structures like the empire state building, Sydney opera house or Eiffel tower.

Unlike in regular chess or even the Bauhaus chess set, your chess set can also be modeled after your favorite famous figures. There have been cases of pieces inspired by movie characters so you could model them after the Star Wars franchise for a Star Wars chess set and have your Jedis and stormtrooper pawns (although there are intellectual copyright ownership issues in this case).

Some chess sets have been inspired and modeled after family members too. You could also decide to make a simple design / low poly chess set or a Minecraft inspired set.

Whatever your decision, move on to the second step and continue until you have your pieces printed.

3D modeling your chess set

Viking styled chess pieces

Three-dimensional (3D) modeling is an advanced technology that is a subset of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) in which you utilize CAD software in the design process to model your chess pieces and chess board. This computer model will enable you to outline all the required details of your pieces like the dimensions, material type, and even spatial orientation.

In summary, 3D modeling will show you on a computer screen, what your chess pieces will look like when 3D printed given your outlined parameters.

This design process is highly efficient as the modeling program will permit a user to modify and optimize the designs of his custom chess set, document measurements, and materials for the 3d printed finished product.

To design your 3D printed chess set models, you need 3D modelling software such as CAD software. If you already have a developed model of the chess set in mind, you need to download the STL file of the already created model before you can proceed to have it 3D printed.

Methods of modeling

CAD modeling software is equipped with different methods of developing a cool design. These include;

Direct Modelling

In this mode, models are created by manually manipulating a three-dimensional object using a variety of manipulation techniques and geometrical creations. Below are the types of geometry commonly used in this method;

Solid Modelling

In Solid Modelling software, the 3D objects for your chess set are manipulated as solid objects instead of hollow shells. This modeling geometry is suitable for ready-to-print objects and aids the user in avoiding certain model problems like parts that are too thin for the 3D printers to print.

Fusion 360 and Solidworks are highly reputable solid modeling programs. This however may make it difficult if adding weights to your 3d printed chess sets.

Polygon Modelling

This form of modeling will treat your chess piece as a hollow shell bearing several discreet flat surfaces comprised of points and edges. This modeling technique bears the advantage of creating objects rapidly, especially ones with flat surfaces. Several programs are popular for this modeling style but Blender, Maya, and 3DS Max are quite well known.

Non-uniform Rational Basis Spline (NURBS) Modelling

This modeling technique differs from polygonal modeling in not having the control points directly attached to the surface of the model. So, unlike in the polygon model where moving the control points account for straight facets and edges, it causes a smooth distortion in the surface.

Popular NURBS modeling programs are Maya and Rhinoceros.

Parametric Modelling

As the name implies, in this modeling method, the designer creates an object by explicitly stating its parameters. To some degree, this method is often used with direct modeling. These parameters are represented in lines of code that the modeling program computes into a representative object. This gives you full control of the object design process as you can alter these parameters before the program renders the finished image of your chess set.

Fusion 360, Solidworks, Maya, Rhinoceros, and Openscad are equipped with parametric modeling tools.

3D Scanning

As an alternative to 3D modelling, 3D scanning is perhaps one of the easiest ways of obtaining the physical attributes of the object(s) which you want to model the chess set or chess boards after.

3D scanning is perfect for making 3d printed chess sets. It is the process of digitizing a three-dimensional physical object within a 3D modeling setting. Most models for a 3D printed chess set can be obtained via scanning.

Different kinds of 3D scanning exist and they utilize different technologies to collect and interpret data that will be transformed into the individual pieces of the finished 3D printed chess set.

Some scanning models create only geometric models while some others obtain color data. Below are some of the different kinds of 3D scanning technology available to you for making your 3D printed chess set:


This is the most easily accessible form of 3D scanning and uses photos of the object taken from different angles to reconstruct a 3D model that approximates the physical object. This scanning technique also offers the advantage of capturing color for your proposed 3d printed chess sets.

However, this scanning method is better suited for medium-sized objects measuring between 8 and 36 inches. Smaller objects or objects with lots of crevices or tiny parts may not produce detailed models with photogrammetry.

Structured Light Scanners

This process digitizes objects for your 3d printed chess sets by projecting a pattern of light on them and simultaneously taking photographs. It recreates a 3-dimensional digital representation of the object by measuring the light scatter across the surface of the object. An example is the Autodesk Pier 9 scanners. They are quite expensive and come with clunky software.

If you decide to want to use 3D scanning for your 3d printed chess sets, we can help. We already have the technology and it’s surprisingly affordable to outsource the fine details to us.


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Laser scanning

This process recreates the 3D representation of objects by projecting laser dots or lines onto the surface of the object and measuring the distance to the object at varying points. It triangulates these points with the scanner’s location while taking pictures simultaneously. Although expensive, these scanners can produce highly detailed models for your 3d printed chess sets.

Of note, one of the most common scanning tools is the Microsoft Kinect and 123D Catch. To use the Kinect you will need the scanning software Skanect or Reconstruct Me to take the scans and clean them up. If you intend to use live objects like family members to create your 3d printed chess sets, this will prove helpful.

The 123D Catch software will create models without a scanner from a series of pictures on your mobile device. Although the quality of models created in this way are not equivalent to laser scanners, they capture enough detail that will still make for a nice model for your 3D printed chess set, even with a wide range of different pieces.

After scanning, it is advisable to clean up your scan with Meshmixer, add a chess base / board and prepare for production.

Whatever scanning technique you choose, below are a few pieces of professional advice to ensure an optimal outcome:

1.    Avoid intricate or overly-detailed objects:

Intricate facial expressions or hand gestures or extremely fine or detailed objects will be lost during the production of your 3d printed chess sets owing to the small size of the chess pieces to be made.

2.    Avoid Overhangs:

This is especially important if you are using a single extrusion method. When the parts of your model are printed, you will likely require a support material for the chin, hair, or other overhanging features.

If you do not have an option for easy-to-remove, dissolvable supports, it is better to avoid overhangs so as not to have to go through picking off supports for all your chess pieces once they are 3d printed.

3.    Strike a pose you can hold:

This is particularly important if you are extracting models by scanning individuals. Since scanning takes a couple of minutes, the person must strike a pose they can maintain for that long – this is harder than it sounds!

4.    Refine the scanned model with Meshmixer

Refining the model will include making a few changes like the removal of excess parts using the sculpt tool, editing unwanted parts, and adding a chess base. This needs to be done to ensure a polished product once your set is 3d printed.

3D Printing Your Chess Set

A 3D printer at work

Having had all the models for your file ready, it is time to have them 3d printed. Ordinary printers use 2D paper and ink to print text and graphics while 3D alternatives print using different raw materials (plastic, ceramic, metal, etc.) to create 3-dimensional objects by layering these materials and making them stick together. These materials are converted into thin layers by laser, heating, light, etc.

The most common 3D printing technology is fused filament fabrication (FFF) also known as the FDM method (fused deposition modeling). Others include SLA and SLM. These technologies have shortened print time and enabled finer detail in the finished product.

It is advisable to print the individual pieces on a high quality setting with higher infill owing to their small size in relation to the object and fine details. You can print each set in different colors (black and white traditionally) or the same color and paint them afterward.

Because there are two colors in a full set in a game of chess you will need to print a total of 32 pieces for the board; one king, one queen, two bishops, 2 knights, 2 rooks, and 8 pawns respectively for each color.

There are 3 basic considerations to printing your model. These are:

  • A 3D printer
  • Filament
  • Slicing software

Choosing a suitable 3D printer

This choice is highly dependent on your needs. As stated above, the FFF printing technology is the most common in use. This tech is made up of:

  • Printing bed: this is the stage for printing the models and it is usually heated to aid the layers to stick to each other strongly.
  • Extruder: the extruder is the major part of the printing device. It melts and stretches the filaments for building the model. It consists of the stepper motor, a heating nozzle, and a print nozzle.
  • Touch screen: this part mainly serves an operational function. Printers usually have an in-built RaiseTouch LED touch screen through which the designer can operate and complete various settings.
  • Moving parts: the printer parts make movements in three (3) axis, X, Y, and Z. X and Y are for forward and backward movements while the Z is tasked with vertical motion.

There are several good ones with good reviews and varying costs if you’re looking to buy. They differ most importantly in dimensional accuracy and overhangs. If you get one with problems relating to dimensional accuracy and overhanging troubles, printing your modeled chess set or board may prove to be extremely cumbersome in the context of print speed and part stability. Some models cost as high as $3975 while some may cost as little as $999.

You can also decide to make your own DIY 3D printer. There are kits available for anyone with knowledge of electronic principles to assemble and make their own. Making your own will no doubt save you some dollars but it is also a huge investment in effort.

The third and best option is to oursource your printed pieces. Send us your files for the light and dark side pieces and board if you are customizing your own. A designer on our team will download the collection of files needed for your 3d printed board and pieces. Once the king, queen, pawns etc. are printed, the designer will finish the pieces and send them to you.

That way you get a cool modern board and chess set to play on, without the cost, space requirements or stress that trying to print your own board pieces can bring! Without that stress you’ll have much more fun when you play chess games with your friends or loved ones of course.

Choosing a filament

The filament is the material you choose to use for your print. Your choice of material will depend on:

  • How flexible you want the chess pieces to be
  • Heat resistance of the chess pieces; and
  • The expected durability of the chess pieces.

As a beginner it is advisable to use PLA (Polylactide) for your print because it is, generally speaking, modern, easy to print using a standard algorithm and equally cost-effective, without requiring you to play around with the settings too much (save your playing for the chess games instead!).

Another great material for your chess set is the PET-G (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol), although this requires a bit more technical acumen to use. It can withstand higher temperatures and has a different chemical makeup that gives it higher strength and relative flexibility.

Several other plastics-based filaments exist such as ABS. Metal-based filaments are also available for your 3D printed chess set, which could be useful if you want a sleek modern set that could even look a bit space age.

Choosing a Slicing Software

Slicing software collects the model from the CAD design software and if need be, adds support structures for overhangs before exporting the model in a readable format for printing. The name “slicing” is derived from the fact that the print is built-in horizontal slices.

To work properly, the CAD software used to create the model must be able to export it in an STL format native to the slicing software. The slicing software then translates the STL file into a Gcode (a set of instructions that are interpreted for the print) that dictates axis movements, how much material to use, temperature to maintain the extruder at and the location of support structures.

Several slicers are available and each varies in price and quality. Bearing in mind that this is an important aspect of making your 3D printed chess set, you must choose one that gives you the best quality.

Free slicers are available for download but do not work for all users.

Meshmixer and Print Studio are free slicers that produce beautiful results and have a relatable user interface but only use tree-style support structures. These support structures will work well on DLP 3D printers but significant overhangs in FDM machine-printed models will require parallel wall-type support structures as seen in MakerBot’s software and Cura by Ultimaker.

Simplify 3D is another slicer with excellent results but which costs $150.

After choosing your slicing software, go ahead and print your model.

Creating Your 3D Prints

Unique chess set

Upload the sliced file to your device, calibrate the extruder and printing base to improve printing accuracy in space, and start printing. The course of the printing can be observed through the glass panel on the side of your device. You can print the chess set in one color and have them painted later on.


This is the last step in making your 3D printed chess set. It involves removing the support(s) (if any), sanding (using sandpaper to make the chess set smoother), coloring (if not already colored during the printing), and polishing (if you’d like to finish your pieces in that way).

Aside from sanding, several other methods can be applied to smooth out the printed chess set. Using Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) for PLA is advocated as a best practice to produce smoother results. Care should be taken as MEK is highly toxic and should only be used in an open space with adequate ventilation.

Should you make your own chess set?

An intricate custom chess set

Having outlined the steps required to make your custom-made chess set, it is important to note that modeling them requires a high degree of expertise. It is tough but not impossible.

Unless you intend to venture into the world of 3D modeling as an ongoing hobby, you may have realized that it is going to be expensive and probably impractical to try to make a 3D printed chess set yourself, so you might be wondering “How Much Does It Cost to 3D Print Something?“.

When you consider the cost of purchasing the CAD and slicing software, the 3D scanner, 3D printer and the time it will take to learn how to use all these, as well as the filament cost to print, a much more practical approach to getting your 3D printed chess set is to outsource it.

In an outsourced project, the designer assures you of high quality 3D modelling and finished pieces when compared to what you can achieve as a beginner.

You can outsource your custom 3D chess set project to us at a surprisingly affordable rate. At J CAD-Inc. your ideas will be turned into magnificent chess pieces with great attention to detail.

So to get a 3D printed chess set you will really love get in touch with us today through our quote form, live chat, or by calling us on 1-888-202-2052.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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Jason Vander Griendt

Jason Vander Griendt is a Mechanical Engineering Technician with years of experience working at major companies such as SNC Lavalin Inc, Hatch Ltd. Siemens and Gerdau Ameristeel. He is the CEO of JCAD – Inc., a company he started in 2006 after seeing a gap in the market for businesses who could assist clients through the entire product design and manufacturing process.

Jason has been featured in Forbes, has had his businesses analyzed and discussed in multiple start-up books, was a previous winner of the Notable8 Digital Innovator of the year award, and is a regular guest on business panels and podcasts. Email Jason at or follow him on LinkedIn.

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