Free Lightsabers for Everybody: An Interview with Thingiverse Lightsaber Designer Brad Harris
In his spare time, toy designer Brad Harris develops 1:1 scale 3D printed lightsaber hilts. He posts the lightsaber files for free on Thingiverse. Harris, who goes by the username CaseStudyno8, has posted 31 lightsaber hilts so far along with 4 other Star Wars props, including Chirrut Imwe’s Staff. All of his lightsaber designs are inspired by hilts from the Star Wars movies and other Star Wars media. Lightsaber enthusiasts can 3D print, finish, paint, customize and remix his free lightsaber designs as they see fit.
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Since the release of his first lightsaber in October 2015, fans have downloaded Harris’ lightsaber designs over 100,000 times. His designs range from fan favorites like Kylo Ren’s crossguard lightsaber to the more niche Kirak Infil’a lightsaber from the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith comic book series.
SaberSourcing interviewed Brad Harris about his 3D printed lightsabers.
How and when did you decide to design 3D printed lightsabers for Thingiverse?
I decided after I printed my very first lightsaber which was a designed by Jacky Wan who did a really incredible Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsaber. Immediately after finishing that print I went onto Thingiverse expecting to see prints of the same quality all over the place, I wanted to print Mace Windu, Yoda, Ahsoka, Anakin, all of them, but I ended up seeing no other prints that were of the same quality and of the same design intent. I come from an industrial design background so when I saw a problem like that, I decided I had to solve it.
Can you describe your lightsaber design process from concept to completion?
My first step once I’ve decided which lightsaber I want to model is to gather a bunch of reference imagery. A lot of the props vary from movie to movie so I try to make decisions on what version I want to adhere to or what aspects I want to take from each iteration.
After that I create an orthographic side view that is 1:1 scale so I can start modeling off of that. I typically begin by modeling it to be as screen accurate as possible, there’s been some cases where I make small changes in order to make it more printable such as adding a chamfer over a 90-degree edge, but I take those decisions pretty seriously and only deviate where I think is necessary.
After modeling the whole hilt, I split it into parts based on printability and color breaks. Typically, I shoot for any part of the lightsaber that is supposed to be a specific color to be a print on its own, so people can either print them in that specific color or paint them separately without having to worry about masking anything off.
Which lightsaber was the most challenging to design and why?
I think the Grand Inquisitor’s. Not only was it a double bladed lightsaber but it also has that ring running around the outside that had to be broken up into multiple parts. On top of that I wanted to challenge myself and preserve some of the functionality we see in Rebels where the full ring would fold into the half circle. So I had to balance screen accuracy, the function of that feature and printability. It is still is one of the more difficult prints out of everything that I’ve published but I think one of the most rewarding.
How do you hope that people will use your lightsaber designs?
I love seeing the designs being used as simply as being put on display, and I’ve had the absolute honor of seeing some of them being used in great cosplays. When I was at San Diego Comic-Con last year I actually stumbled upon someone using my Chirrut’s Imwe staff which was one of the best moments ever. I also really love it when people take my designs and then modify it themselves to be used with electronics or just take the design in their own direction and improve upon it in some way.
What are some of your biggest tips for people about assembling, finishing and painting your 3D printed lightsabers?
Be patient. If you want to take your lightsabers prints to a museum quality level it will take a lot more time outside of the printer obviously, and that’s going to involve numerous grits of sandpaper, a lot of bondo/filler work, more sandpaper, primer, more sandpaper, paint and a whole lot of time.
However, for the images that I post on thingiverse I don’t take them to that high of a degree because I don’t want them to look like something that is unapproachable to someone who is casually printing things. So for everything that you see on thingiverse I do no sanding, I use two coats of high build primer that I get from an automotive store and I layer on top of that another automotive spray paint in silver, black or whatever colors are called for.
Some people have sold printed versions of your lightsabers, even though your designs are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution for Non-commerical use. What would you say to someone that’s selling your lightsabers without your permission?
I would ask that they please reach out to me and ask permission to sell prints of my designs.
How often do people send you photos of their finished projects or tell you how they end up using your lightsaber designs?
Given the ratio of downloads to the number of makes posted, there’s a pretty small percentage who do share their work, but I am grateful to everyone who post images and I love seeing the outcome of everyone’s prints. I think I’ve been incredibly lucky on thingiverse that so many have posted images of their makes from my files, it’s a thrill to see every time.
Which lightsaber hilts are you considering designing in the future?
I keep a running list on my phone that I add to every once in awhile, including some non-lightsaber but still Star Wars-related projects that are coming up, but the next three sabers on that list are Ezra’s first lightsaber, Depa Billaba’s and Jocasta Nu’s.
What’s your favorite lightsaber from Star Wars Canon or Legends and why?
That’s a tough question, I’ve got to go with Obi-Wan’s saber from episode 3 specifically. It was the first time we saw that prop in the timeline and it felt like the original trilogy while maintaining a bit more of the elegance of the Jedi Order from the prequels. There are subtle differences between it and the episode 4 prop that point to Obi-Wan’s maintenance of it over the years, and I love that there is this bit of retroactive story telling between the two props.
What’s next for you?
More 3D printing and lightsabers I am sure! I’ve definitely slowed down over the last two year period or so because luckily these lightsabers helped me land a job in the toy industry at Mattel as a designer. I’ve always wanted to work in toys, but that has meant I have a couple more projects at work that keep me busy as well, but I’ve made sure to always have some sort of personal project on my plate as well, but I still have lightsabers on my to-do list and I also have been looking for ways to integrate more zbrush sculpting and action figure based things onto Thingiverse as well.
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All 35 of Brad Harris’ Star Wars-themed 3D printing designs are available free of charge on Thingiverse. The designs are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution for Non-Commercial use.
Brad Harris (CaseStudyno8) 3D Printed Lightsaber Designs on Thingiverse
Brad Harris official website
IMAGE CREDIT: Brad Harris
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