Can You 3D Print A Microscope?

3D printing is one of the most exciting technologies of modern times. It may seem like all you can create with 3D printing are simple things made of plastic. But since innovation has no limit, people from various backgrounds are making serious efforts to use 3D printing to solve major problems. One such example is 3D printing organs.


photograph of a microscope


Yet another scientific problem that the world is facing is the lack of accessibility to technologies like a microscope, worldwide.

So, can you 3D print a working microscope?


Yes, a microscope can be 3D printed. Every part of a microscope can be 3D printed, assembled and used for academic and research purposes. In fact, certain companies sell 3D-printed microscopes specifically, to make microscopes affordable and accessible to everyone.


Certain open-source projects specifically produce 3D-printed high-end microscopes for people who need a good quality microscope for any reason.   3D printing a microscope brings down the cost of a microscope significantly, making them more affordable.


What Are The Benefits Of A 3D Printed Microscope?

The purpose of a 3D-printed microscope is simple— to make microscopes more accessible to the common man.

It’s no secret that lab equipment, especially high-end ones like a microscope can be extremely expensive. This makes it difficult for most people to be able to afford high-end equipment. Researchers often heavily depend on funding to be able to buy this equipment, but someone with limited funding or someone who is a hobbyist may not be able to afford the kind of microscope that will serve their purpose.

Additionally, many countries don’t have access to much essential lab equipment, including microscopes. And imported brands may cost a fortune. Lack of access to the required technology is one of the major reasons why the field of research only thrives in a few select countries— which is not good as many potential candidates with great ideas can never execute their research. 

This problem can be solved with 3D printing a microscope. 

3D-printed microscopes are much cheaper than regular microscopes. It has been noted that the price of 3D printed microscope parts is 50 to 90% less than the cost of commercially made microscopes— depending on the parts. That’s a huge difference for anyone with a limited budget.

Many open source projects, like openflexure, miCUBE and UC2, also allow customisation of the microscope as per the requirement of the consumer.

So, 3D printed microscopes are more affordable and customisable, and you can get the customised 3D printed microscope made in a relatively less time. This way better technology can be made accessible to many.

Additionally, certain other open source projects like cellSTORM are making an effort to make microscopes more portable, by using a cellphone camera.

What Parts Of A Microscope Can Be 3D printed?

Currently, every part of the microscope can be 3D printed— except the lenses and mirror. Technically, even the lenses can be printed using a 3D printer, but usually requires some additional effort and technology to make it completely transparent. So, if you are planning to 3D-print a microscope yourself, it’d be easier to get the lenses from disposable cameras or purchase them separately.

A 3D printer is capable of printing highly complex microscopic parts easily and allows rapid prototyping. The parts of the microscope can be printed individually and then assembled. 

Additionally, various open-source projects make 3D-printed microscopes, like OpenFlexure and UC2. Their microscopes are extremely affordable, but they don’t necessarily look like the traditional microscope. These open-access projects are creating non-traditional designs to make the microscopes affordable, portable, and accessible.

Various 3D-Printed Microscope Open-Access Projects

  1. OpenFlexure— A UK-based open-access project, they produce 3D printed microscopes and make them available for as low as $18. They produce 3D-printed simple microscopes to the more complex fluorescence microscope. They are currently working with a health institute in Tanzania and contributing to making the diagnosis of malaria at the ground level possible. Their lightweight and cheap microscopes are making a real change in the healthcare sector of Tanzania. Their microscopes are small, can position the sample with an inbuilt computer and take images for later analysis. 
  2. UC2– Their microscope does not look like the conventional microscopes and they also use a computer system to position and see the images. They create the microscope using off-the-shelf materials (like a mirror) along with 3D-printed cubes— which can be easily assembled by anyone. You can see their unconventional design and how to assemble them in the following video, to get an idea.
  3. miCube— This is yet another open-access project which allows anyone to have access to 3D printed microscopes, but they specifically aim to make fluorescence microscopes more accessible to people. The fluorescence microscope is an important part of both the medical and research sector. But traditional fluorescence microscopes can cost around 100,000 euros, but you can build a fluorescence microscope at around 20,000 euros with miCUBE. You can see their component list along with their pricing here.
  4. cellSTORM— This open-access project uses 3D printed parts and a cellphone camera to create a microscope that is capable of taking pictures. The fact that smartphones are relatively accessible to most and the fact that cell phones now come with really powerful cameras gave birth to the idea that even a cell phone can be used for basic microscopic exams. This is not only very accessible but also quite portable. The camera attached to a microscope is usually one of the most expensive parts of that microscope and it’s often quite fragile and easily damaged in certain situations, like conditions with high humidity. So, the fact that cellSTORM uses the camera of something that you may already own helps significantly bring down the cost of the microscope. You can read about the components and pricing over here.
  5. The €100 lab— If you specifically work with certain model species like the zebrafish, Drosophila, and C.elegans— some organisms of importance in neuroscience, then the €100 lab microscope would be a better option for you. As the name suggests, this microscope costs under €100, and if you wish to have a fluorescence microscope then that would be under €200. Their microscope comes with a Raspberry pi computer, a camera, and an Arduino-based optical and thermal control system— which makes this microscope ideal for the study of the behaviour of the above-mentioned organism. These microscopes are also quite cheap and portable, and anyone interested in doing microscopic studies can have the pleasure of owning a microscope.


So, Why A 3D Printed Microscope?

3D printing can be used to solve many problems. In the field of research and education, 3D printing can make microscopes more affordable and accessible to anyone interested in the field of science.

A researcher with a low budget, a country with less access to modern technology, a school or a hobbyist— all can now have access to a good quality microscope that produces good quality images and is affordable. 

I hope that this article has given you some inspiration on what is possible in the world of 3D printing in the world of biology.


You can read more about 3D modelling for 3d printing here: A guide to 3D modelling for 3D printing.

Sneha Sunny

Dr. Sneha is a medical doctor (MBBS) based in India. She has always been fascinated with biology. She enjoys exploring and learning about new biological advancements, especially in the field of medical sciences. She finds writing to be a great way for sharing and connecting with others with similar interests.

Recent Posts

All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only.