Introduction: Ant Decorations Light Up at Night.

Decorate your favourite room with a column of coloured ants that glow at night.

3D printed ants are lit from inside by 50mm sections of easily obtained 3D LEC strips. The legs are made from covered ‘tie’ wire that also carries the 12v current.

Why an ode to ants? Because sum the dumb can hum!

An ant does not think about or plan what to do next, instead, it has a very limited set of behaviours triggered by its environment. The astounding thing is that when these simple behaviours play out thousands and thousands of times over, across a colony, the colony can make very sophisticated adaptions to its environment. (Google self-organisation ants).

You have to give them credit, they are well adapted, they have survived a 100 million years!

Be careful though they can be a war like lot.

Build the ants and learn new skills. By the end of this project, you will be able to

  1. Use ‘vase’ mode in 3D printing
  2. Hide wires, or other small objects, by embedding them inside the 3D print
  3. Use LED strip sections in small projects
  4. Use wire glue as an alternative to soldering


To Buy

Item Quantity per ant Information
LED Strip 50mm section 10mm wide Comes in 5m rolls, (AUD 30), some stores will sell by section
Filament PLA Light colours work better
Covered wire 315mm of 1.6mm gauge Sold by the roll, AUD 8, as ‘tie-wire’ by hardware stores
2mm copper tube 40mm AUD 8 for 4 *300mm lengths from a hobby store
Wire glue Small tub AUD 10 from electronic stores
Heat shrink Min amount of 3mm Can be bought on lengths, or an assorted box (better)
Miscellaneous Superglue, medium-grit sandpaper or steel wool

Step 1: 3D Printed Parts

3D Printed Files

  • Head.stl
  • Abdomen.stl
  • Thorax cover.stl
  • Thorax- LED and leg fixings.stl
  • Foot plug.stl (X4)
  • Plug.stl (X2)
  • Wire bender.stl
  • 4 foot jig.stl

Files available at Thingiverse

Step 2: 3D Printing

You don’t have to print all the parts straight away, but it would be good to start now. While these are relatively fast to print they do take time and you need to allow for this.

They are listed here roughly in the order you will need them

Printer set up

  • Layer height 2mm
  • PLA filament

Print the following as normal

  • Wire bender
  • *Thorax Base
  • Glueing Jig
  • Foot plug x 4

* Don’t print thorax base till you get the special instructions

Print the following in *‘vase’ mode

  • Head.stl
  • Abdomen.stl
  • Thorax cover

*Vase mode has different names in some slicers Prusa Slicer: “Spiral vase” Cura: “Spiralise Outer Contour”

Step 3: Tools

  • 3D Printer
  • Needle nosed pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire bender (3D Printed files supplied)
  • Glueing jig (3D Printed files supplied)
  • Heat gun, or hairdryer
  • *Hacksaw to cut 2mm copper pipe
  • Craft knife

* The more teeth per inch, the better. Cheap ‘Junior’ saws from hardware shop will do the job well, (AUD 4) Slightly easier might be a tube cutter or hobby saw from hobby shop AUD 15, or you can also use a rotary cutting tool if you have one.

Step 4: Anatomy of My Ant

I will use the terms in the image to describe the ant body

BTW: I’m not sure whether the bends in the ant’s legs are called ‘knees’ or ‘elbows’, I suspect neither, but I went with ‘knees’

Step 5: ​Prepare the Legs

We are going to build the legs into the body. To do this, we pause the print halfway through, then put the legs in place before we resume printing. (More on this in the printing section.)

  1. Mark off and cut four 90mm lengths of wire.
  2. Mark and cut one length of wire 135mm.
  3. Mark the middle of this (67mm)

We’ll strip the ends in the next step.

Step 6: Strip Wires

  1. Mark 7mm from each end of the 90mm lengths. (The wire bender has a convenient 7mm deep hole at the end of the handle which will help you mark this.
  2. Strip off the last 7mm with wire strippers. Alternatively, gently cut the plastic around the mark with a craft knife, and remove.

Step 7: ​Straighten the Wire

The straighter the wire, the more manageable the job will be. Roll wires back and forward under your fingers

Step 8: Bend Wire So That It Will Fit Into Body

  1. Get wire bender
  2. Make sure the lever is aligned with the body to make threading easy.
  3. Take 90mm length of wire and thread through the bender.
  4. Push the wire through till the end is flush with the end of the tool.
  5. Move lever till it stops.

This will bend the wire to 60 degrees so it will sit in the ant’s thorax.

Step 9: Print the Thorax Base

Now that we have made the legs its time to print the thorax and include the legs

Tell the slicer software to pause printing at 2mm. This will be about layer 10 when using a 0.2mm layer height. When the print pauses Insert wire in grooves as shown, then resume printing.


  • Select «Preview»
  • Pull down the layer height indicator on the right-hand side to the desired height.
  • Right-click the «+» button and select «Add Pause Print.»



Step 10: Attach LED Strip to Thorax

If the LED strip has a plastic waterproof cover, you need to remove it.

Use your fingernail or a craft knife to separate the plastic cover from the LED strip, then slowly and gently pull them apart.

Step 11: Cut a 50mm Section

Cut a single 50mm LED strip. Cut through the middle of the copper tabs. Scissor icons often indicate the exact place.

Step 12: Stick the LED Strip on Your Ant.

  1. Remove the blue backing to expose the sticky surface
  2. Stick LED strip to the flat side of “Thorax Base” as shown

Take care to get the strip evenly in the middle.

Step 13: Connect Wire to LED Strip

Now we will bend the exposed wires over so they touch the copper contacts on the LED strip. This will take several steps.

  1. Bend all protruding wires straight up. (Repeat for all four wires)
  2. Reposition plyers
  3. Bend down towards the LED. (Repeat for all four wires)

Step 14: Squash Wire Onto Copper Tab

4. Reposition pliers

5. squash the wire flat against the copper tab on the LED strip. (Repeat for all four wires)

Step 15: Ensure Good Electrical Contact

To make contacts between wire and copper pad more reliable use solder or wire glue.

If you are not experienced with soldering you are better off using wire glue. The downside of wire glue is that you have to leave overnight to cure fully and ensure the connection is strong.

(I’m going to assume that if you can solder, you won’t need my help, you are just ensuring good contact between wire and copper pad))

To use wire glue:

Use something like a toothpick for an applicator

  1. Stir the glue thoroughly before using (It should run cleanly off the toothpick after you stir)
  2. Use the toothpick to cover the exposed wire and copper pads on LED

Step 16: Leave Glue to Cure (harden) Overnight

Allow to completely dry and harden overnight.

(BTW: Hows the printing going?)

Step 17: Shape the Ant’s Legs

If you used the glue, make sure you will have left it overnight to cure.

The first bend is where the leg joins the body.

Use the wire bender to bend the legs up 45 degrees to the platform the LED sits on.

Step 18: Bend Ant Legs at Knee’s?

(Or maybe these are elbows? I’m not sure.)

At 30mm from the body bend the legs down 90 degrees.

Your ant should now stand on its own.

Step 19: Clean Up the Thorax Cover

To print the thorax cover in ‘vase’ mode, and hence very even, I had to add a flat wall. We now need to cut most of this off.

However, we will leave a little behind so we can glue the cover to the main thorax.

Cut off the area indicated by the hatch marks.

Step 20:

Use super glue to secure thorax cover to “Thorax Base.”

The areas marked green above are where you should put the glue.

Clean any excess plastic from the head and abdomen

Step 21:

Glue head and abdomen to thorax.

  1. Slide each object to be glued over the LED part, this might be quite tight so take your time
  2. Place super glue between objects as shown
  3. Push tightly together for at least a minute

Note #1 (Very Important) Which end do I put the head? Orientate the ant and so you can read the writing on the LED strip the right way up. The end furthest from you is the head, closest is the abdomen. It is essential that you put these the correct way around because this determines which way the current flows. LED’s only work in one direction.

Note #2: The flat side of the abdomen goes down

Step 22: Feet Feet Are Electrical Plugs

An electrical connection is established because two wires are pushed into the same copper tube. This is disguised by the feet where the end of the wire is threaded into the foot till it just peeks out the front. The copper tube is permanently glued into the front foot. When you want to join ants you push the copper tube embedded in the front foot over the other wire and into the back foot. Friction should keep the feet together and the electrical parts insulated.

Front foot Back foot
Front Foot Back foot

Step 23: Prepare the Tube

Cut 2 x 10mm lengths of 2mm copper tube.

(Use fine tooth hacksaw, rotary tool, hobby saw, tube cutter or utility knife, all will work, but some are just easier) You’ll find it difficult to cut exactly at this small scale, try to get it as accurate as you can. Clean off any burr with a file or emery paper, when you do this try and put a little chamfer, (slope), on the ends of the tube so it will slip into the plastic more easily.

Poke a small length of the wire you through the tube to ensure that it is clear.

You will save time later if you cut an additional two 10mm lengths. (Total four)

Step 24: Forming the Legs

Bend front legs forward, close to head and back legs back next to the abdomen

Step 25: Bend Feet

  1. Front feet: Bend forward. Make parallel to themselves and parallel to the ground
  2. Back feet: Bend back. Make parallel to themselves and parallel to the ground

Step 26: Use Jig for Best Foot Position

So that all ants join together easily, the feet need to be the same distance apart, and the right distance from the body. I’ve provided a jig to help you with this.

Place feet in the alignment jig. This will take a little while. Don’t worry if the legs become irregular as this will give your ant its character. The main thing is that the feet stay comfortably in the holes, so later when you join ants together they will fit together easily.

(Don’t worry too much about the middle feet at this point as you can do that when you come to display.)

Step 27: Using Wire Glue

Stir the glue well before using. It will flow easily off the stirrer when fully mixed.

There is a small tray at the rear of the ‘foot’. This will help keep the glue in place.

Before glueing make sure that the hole for the wire is clear by poking the foot wire through it.

Step 28: Glue Foot

  1. Dip wire foot in wire glue.
  2. Slip wire foot through back of the printed foot.

Step 29: Check Glueing

The tray should fill with glue. If not use a toothpick to add more glue. You can heap it so that it matches the round part of the shoe.

Step 30: Add the Copper Tube

This only applies to front feet.

This diagram explains how the components are designed to go together

Step 31: Glueing the Copper Tube

Dip the end of the copper tube in wire glue as shown, get just a little bit on the end.

Insert the pipe into the foot, over the wire. The wire already in the foot and must go through the centre of the pipe. You may have to gently move the foot so that the wire is in the centre and the pipe slides over it.

Step 32: Leave to Cure Overnight

Leave overnight so that the glue cues fully

Step 33: Power Supply

See the section called ‘power’ to work out what power supply you want. Most transformers come with 2.1mm DC connector plugs (Male). We will connect to the power by the female version seen above. Note: positive and negative are marked on the casing.

Step 34: ​Connecting LED Ants to Power

  1. Cut the electrical cable to about 300mm. (Or if you already know how long you need for your display, cut to that length.
  2. If you have dual-core cable. (That is two wires in one covering) .Split the wires about:
    1. 20mm at one end (This will become the plug end.)
    2. 50mm at the other. (This will become the ant end.)
  • Bare about 5 to 7mm of wire at both ends. (That is cut off the remaining covering Twist tightly the strands of bare wire
  • If you know how to solder then ‘tin’ the wire. (This is not essential.)

    Step 35: Add Lugs

    1. Dip the end of a copper tube into wire glue and press it into the plug.stl,
    2. then immediately push the bared end of one wire into the other side of the plug.
    3. Repeat for the other plug

    Step 36: Protect Wireing

    Normally the insulation of each strand will be a different colour. Black and red or in my case, brown and blue.

    1. Cover with heat shrink, or electrical tape. This should both insulate and secure the electrical cable.
    2. Choose one to be the ‘Positive’ Usually, the warm colour. Mark this with a ‘plus sign’, before you cover the other side.
    3. Then when you have covered the other side mark this one negative, a ‘minus sign’.

    Step 37: Add Connecting Plug

    Screw the other end into 2.1mm 12v plug. The ‘positive wire goes to the ‘plus’ sign the ‘negative wire goes to the ‘-’ sign.

    If you have heat gun shrink wrap the last twenty mm

    Step 38: Connect and Swirch On

    Switching on!

    LED lights will only work one way around.

    Place the ant so that the abdomen is pointing to you. In this position, The positive is on the right.

    Plug your:

    1. positive lead into this foot
    2. negative lead to this foot

    Step 39: Turn Ant On!

    Step 40: What Next?

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