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There are pieces I'd like to get, like "door rail" inside and outside corner plates, double-sided plates, 1x1 and corner masonry bricks, 1x1 panels (not a corner, more like Lego 4865), as well as pieces that aren't made in the color palette I want.

I've looked at Lepin and I see that they do have some increased color palette options for "door rail" pieces, as well as masonry bricks, but I'd like to go further (they only have 1x2 bricks/plates for each of those options) without resorting to pay $12+ a piece for items on shapeways (that would get very expensive very fast). Even $2-3 a piece wouldn't be so bad if I could just get what I want in the colors I want.

Is DIY 3D printing currently the only real option here?

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  • There are several 3D printing services that can print anything you want, you would just need to create the 3D model of the parts you want – Matthew Jensen Oct 6 '20 at 3:43
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There are several ways to obtain pieces that are not in the LEGO pallette that I know of:

  1. Through 3D printing at home. This has become much easier as 3D printers have seen significant improvements in resolution, precision and affordability. The challenge is to make a part that works as well as a regular LEGO brick, as that requires very tight tolerances. On the other hand, dimensions of common bricks are very easy to find in the public domain.

  2. Via a 3D printing service using someone else’s design for a part. Check out Shapeways and even Etsy to see if a part has already been designed and manufactured by another fan. There used to be room on Bricklink for custom items like this, but since LEGO bought Bricklink these products have been removed from the site. Especially in the train hobby there are many individuals printing custom items such as wheels, track, connecting rods, couplers etc.

  3. From a LEGO compatible brand. I would first look at reputable brands such as Mega Construx, Kre-o and the like, before going the illegal-clone route with companies like Lepin. The downside is that there are no part catalogs and trading sites for these brands (like Bricklink and Brickowl for LEGO), so you will need to look at sets and see if you can spot the piece you need. Perhaps some brands have a customer service line where you can ask questions about specific parts. Another downside is that color matching with your build can be problematic, but that likely holds for options 1&2 as well.

Note that many AFOLs consider it part of the fun of building with LEGO to use only available parts to solve a particular challenge.

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  • Some things can't be solved by fancy building techniques, though. I can saw some plates to make a door rail inside corner, but not so much an outside corner. And I could paint pieces to expand the color palette, but would prefer not to. I've contacted several companies and they haven't replied. At least with Lepin there packages of parts available like this: lepinland.com/shop/moc-single-bricks-figures/tile/… I just wish someone offered even more options. – crimson30 Oct 7 '20 at 18:08
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3d printing works, but a lot of people steer away from it because it tends to be slow, brittle and expensive. The finish of most 3d printing is also rather rough, and it can be rather difficult to get it to match cast parts. You need to figure out which plastics you are going to print with, as they all have trade-offs.

The really good 3rd party bricks and accessories use injection molding (as does Lego) to make parts. This is more expensive and time consuming than 3d printing, but it gives better results and allows far more economy of scale. Go check out Brick Arms if you want to see what you can do with DiY injection molding.

Cutting / drilling / painting Lego - Some people do this. It might work if you are skilled with an exacto knife. Depends on your skills and goals.

Generally any 'make your own brick' solution is going to be either expensive to buy from someone else or involve you investing a lot into infrastructure to make it yourself. There isn't any silver bullet for this (yet). Lego is terrified of the technology that allows cheap fabrication of high-quality bricks, because it could mean the end of their market dominance.

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