Community Chess Set

A 3D printed chess set made from 3D scans of costumed people

During a six week position with the Westport Library IMLS MakerSpace, I led a community project to create a chess set made of 3D scans of patrons and staff of the library. Visitors to the library were invited to help build cardboard costumes for each of the chess pieces: pawn, knight, bishop, rook, queen, and king. Appropriately attired, 3D scans were made of people dressed as the chess pieces. After post processing, the likenesses were added to a common pedestal shape to create a 3D printable chess set that immortalized some of the patrons and staff of the Westport Library.

One of the two Cardboard Queens in costume.


Cardboard is omnipresent, easy to work with, adaptable, and presents design challenges.

Any piece of cardboard that needed to be flexible, like a crown or the cape pictured above, could be "broken" by rolling it in all directions or by running the corrugation against the edge of a table. This made the cardboard more like fabric depending on how broken the corrugation became.

Rolling in a second direction.
A crown looks better rolled than boxy.
Completed cape trimmed with different colors of duct tape.
In addition to being curved to the head, this crown was adjustable for proper sizing.

Some costumes emphasized the boxiness of the cardboard and recast the chess pieces as angular and imposing.

Knight's horse.
Knight's helmet.

Other costumes combined soft and angular elements.

King's vest.

3D Scanning

Once costumed, the person sat on a short stool and remained as still as possible. The 3D scans were made using Autodesk 123D Catch. A series of 24 photos are taken of the model.

123D Catch.
One of the two kings, 92 years old and now preserved in plastic.


The photographs were processed in the cloud by Autodesk 123D Catch. Once finished, the mesh for the 3D model was downloaded and imported into Meshmixer. There, extraneous data was cropped and the model was made solid. An STL file was exported from Meshmixer.

The STL was uploaded to Netfabb for repair.

Finally, the repaired STL was imported into Tinkercad. There, the model was sized and placed atop a "pedestal" to create the chess pieces.

3D Printing

The models were sliced to print at .3mm. They were 3D printed on a MakerBot Replicator in ABS plastic on a bed heated to 115° Celsius. All of the models were 3D printed first in blue followed by a 3D print in white filament. Kings and queens were printed to be 100mm tall, while rooks, knights, and bishops are 80mm tall, and pawns are 60mm tall. The models will be uploaded to Thingiverse so patrons may download and 3D print their own copies of the game pieces to take home.

3D printing a knight.
3D printed rook.
Pawn in two different colors.
King 1-a.
King 1-b.
King 1-c.
King 1-d.
A king and his plastic likeness.
Relative sizing.

The complete set of photographs can be viewed on my Flickr page.

This work and images copyright 2015 Josh Burker

3D me.