Many 3D printing enthusiasts wonder if they can 3D print keys to replace their lost house or padlock keys but are unsure if they can do it and how to do it.
To copy a key with a 3D printer, you’ll need to first get a 3D model of the key and then prepare your printer with the appropriate settings and material. The next step will be printing the key and post-processing it to make sure it will work well. Finally, test it and refine it if necessary.
Keep reading for more information on how to copy a key with a 3D printer.
Can You Copy a Key With a 3D Printer?
Yes, it is possible to copy a key using a 3D printer. People who are into 3D printing have been trying it out and experimenting with replicating keys. Take a look at the image below, featuring a 3D printed key from a photo.
Some users have managed to create working duplicates, while others have faced a few problems due to the complexity of key designs and the precision required.
One user stated that it depends on the type of lock. He said that while you can make keys for simpler pin tumbler locks, the accuracy of FDM printers may not be high enough to print all types of keys.
Another user said that it’s important to only 3D print keys with the permission of the owner as 3D printing keys may be illegal in your country because it is considered to be a “lock picking tool”.
How to Copy a Key With a 3D Printer
Here’s how to copy a key with a 3D printer:
- Get a 3D model of the key
- Choose the correct material
- Adjust the settings
- Print and post-processing
- Test and refine
Get a 3D Model of the Key
The first step in order to copy a key with a 3D printer is to get a 3D model of the key you want to copy. It could be the key to your front door, your padlock, or anything else.
If you have access to a 3D scanner, such as the Revopoint POP 2 3D High-Precision Scanner, available at Amazon with great reviews, you can simply scan your key, and the scanner will create a 3D model for you.
This option doesn’t require you to have another copy of the key as people who know how to use this type of software are able to duplicate keys having only a picture of it. It might take some practice if you never used software like this before.
Check out this video which features detailed instructions on how to model a key shape on Blender.
The final option is to look online and see if you can find a pre-existing 3D model of your key online. There are websites and online communities, such as Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory, where people share all kinds of 3D models.
One user managed to model and 3D print a copy of his house keys that worked from a picture he took from four feet away. He stated that it was a lot easier than he expected.
Another user said that he modeled his key in Blender and was able to get it to work pretty quickly. He also tried a 3D scan of the key but thought that the result was not accurate enough.
Check out the video below for detailed instructions on how to make 3D printed keys from pictures.
Choose the Correct Material
The next step is to choose the correct material for printing the key to make sure that you get the best end result possible. Among the most popular materials for 3D printing keys are Polycarbonate and PLA for their strong and durable qualities.
One user stated that it is really important to choose a sturdy material when 3D printing keys, as he tried to print a toilet key and it snapped instantly on the lock. He doesn’t recommend 3D printing a key if the lock needs some force to turn the barrel.
Another user recommends printing it with Polycarbonate filament, as he tried with PLA and PETG, but the keys failed after some months of use on a mailbox. He stated that polycarbonate seems to be fit for long-term use and even works on locks with high resistance.
Adjust the Settings
After choosing the correct material to print your key, you’ll need to adjust the settings so that your 3D printer is able to correctly print the key you want.
These settings may include the layer height (the thickness of each printed layer), the print speed, and the temperature settings.
The recommended layer height for 3D printing is usually set at 0.2mm but it is important to know that the ideal settings can vary based on your printer, material, and the complexity of the key design.
Another important setting to adjust when making a key with a 3D printer is to calibrate your E-steps. These steps determine the amount of filament extruded by the printer’s motor during each step, which impacts how accurate the print will be.
Calibrating the E-steps correctly will allow you to 3D print consistent key replicas that work without any under or over extrusion. I wrote an article called How to Calibrate Your Extruder E-Steps & Flow Rate Perfectly that may be useful to you.
One user suggests printing the key under an angle of 40° to achieve more strength in the end result.
Check out the video below for more information about this process.
Print and Post-Processing
After preparing the 3D printer, you’ll need to start to print the key. Occasionally check to make sure that everything is running smoothly. Look out for any signs of issues, such as warping, stringing, or layer misalignment.
These can sometimes occur, but they can easily be solved by adjusting the printer settings or making small changes to the printing process.
Depending on the quality of the print, you may want to sand the surfaces of the key to remove any visible layer lines or imperfections or remove any supports that were printed with the model.
One user stated that it took him 20 minutes to 3D print his key and three attempts to get a working copy.
Check out the video below which compares a real key with a 3D printed one to see which one works better.
Test and Refine
Now that you have your 3D printed key in hand, you’ll need to put it to the test. Take your 3D-printed key and carefully insert it into the lock that it’s intended for.
Gently turn the key to see if it smoothly opens the lock mechanism. Pay attention to any resistance, misalignment, or difficulties in turning the key.
If the key doesn’t work perfectly, examine the key’s shape and compare it to the original key or the lock itself. Look for any problems or areas where the printed key might need tweaking.
It could be that the teeth of the key need more refinement or that the keyway needs adjustments to fit better.
You may need to make some modifications to the 3D model of the key. If you have access to 3D modeling software, you can refine the design by adjusting the dimensions or reshaping specific areas of the key.
After printing the key again, perform another round of testing to see if the issues have been solved. If necessary, continue with the adjustments until you get a satisfactory result.
In case you’re dealing with complex key designs, it might be worth consulting a professional locksmith. Locksmiths have specialized tools and expertise in crafting keys, and they can help with valuable insights and assistance in creating a functional 3D printed key.
One user stated that while it takes only half an hour to 3D print a key but it takes hours of refining to get a perfect copy of one. After a lot of effort, the user was able to make a perfect copy of his keys and now uses them on a daily basis.
Check out the video below for more information on how to 3D print a key.