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How to make your own LEGO set

Posted by Huw, 15 Nov 2021 06:00

66046 MHM 4

894 Views

This article has been written by Kyle, owner and operator of KO Custom Minifigs:

We recently took on a project to make what we have called our “Mutant Hunter Mech” building set. We are known for making custom LEGO minifigures, but this is the first time that we have ever made a professional quality, custom building set.

The process was a lot of fun and I’d like to explain how I did it and what I’ve learned along the way.


It all starts with an idea – Once you have an idea for a LEGO set that you’d like to design, gather images of your subject matter from all different angles. If the subject is something that appears differently across various forms of media, decide if you will be making one exact look, or if yours will be a mash-up of different iterations.

I am not an engineer, but I have been building with LEGO all of my life. Having said that, the LEGO models that come out nowadays are some of the most structurally sound models they have ever made. Long gone are the days of building a Star Wars ship that collapses in half while playing with it.

For this reason, I decided to look at recent LEGO Mech Robots when I began the initial phases of designing the MHM. Examining similar builds by LEGO’s Master Builders is a great way to ensure that you have a good understanding of the mechanics required to build your model.This is not to say that you should copy existing designs – your model should still be your own work.

Examining LEGO sets that have a similar form to your future model will show you where to balance the weight or connection points. You can do this by looking at the instruction manual of a model via a free online PDF. Once you have looked at a lot of these, consider buying the set that is the most useful to your needs and build it so you can see how the model is stabilised in person.

It is also a good idea to have a sense of scale in mind for how large or small to make your model. You wouldn’t want to jump into things and realise it is not set to minifigure scale or that it is way too large. Planning this now will save you time later. For the MHM, I wanted the build to be fairly large, and have it be a very large size compared to a standard LEGO Minifigure. I decided to go with it being just about 12 inches tall, which allowed me to plan out how long each arm and leg should be.

Knowing this, I could then expect about how long each sub part of the leg should be. This is important because it determines how many parts can fit within the space and how you have to arrange them for stability and details.

If you’re building something that relies on very specific colours, you should familiarise yourself with what parts are available in those colours. You can look into this on the colour tab on Bricklink.com, or here on Brickset.com, as well as on the software Bricklink Studio. For MHM, the biggest challenge of the entire process, from designing and building, to sourcing parts, etc., was that a large amount of the parts used were magenta and dark purple. These colours aren’t available for many elements, so it greatly limited the selection of parts to build with.

What features do you want your model to have? Before I started designing MHM, I knew that I wanted to have a way for the eyes to light up, and I wanted to make it as poseable as I possibly could, like a giant action figure. Ideally, I wanted to have the translucent orange dish piece on the chest of the MHM light up as well, but it wasn’t able to be done. However, my core features of light-up eyes and poseability were successful.

During the building process I realised I could include an additional feature, a connection point within the MHM’s hands that could be used to attach accessories. That’s when I decided to include the “tentacle” coil attachment as part of the set, but the connection point could be used for other interesting attachments like a brick built energy beam attack, or as a way to attach a minifigure. You might encounter similar opportunities along your building process that allow you to add cool, unexpected features.

I would highly recommend using the software Bricklink Studio to build your own model. There are other digital building programs out there, but this is, in my opinion, the best choice. Bricklink Studio allows you to export an inventory list of the parts used in your build so that you can upload this list to your Bricklink account. Then you can buy these parts from Bricklink.com using this list.

If you are not familiar with Bricklink Studio or you haven’t used it much, you may want to watch some YouTube tutorials for it. There are so many great features included in this program.

Using Bricklink Studio, begin by building something that looks accurate to your reference images. Do this one step at a time. For me I started by building the feet, and then the legs of the MHM. I treated each as a dedicated model within a model, sculpting them to look as accurate as I could get them. LEGO is known for its small details so try to employ that philosophy into your design. You don’t want to rush through the building process.

Keep structural strength in mind as you build on screen. Eventually you will need to test this design with real parts to ensure stability. Digital building allows you to explore ideas, and experiment while saving time and money. Alternatively, if you tried to physically build out every option it would take significantly longer and would be far more expensive. Along the way, you will most likely end up going back and modifying designs that you thought you had finished.

I found that while designing MHM, I would be fairly happy with how something looked, but after reevaluating the entire model, I would go back and change something. It’s a fluid process, but it’s important to be open to making these kinds of changes along the way. You don’t want to lock yourself into any designs until you feel the entire model looks as it should.

Try to condense your model where you can. An obvious example of this would be, instead of stacking three plates on top of each other, see if you can use a brick. Most cases this will work, unless the brick in question does not exist in the colour you need but plates do.

Bricklink Studio has a very well-made instruction generator, although it has a bit of a learning curve to it. I had never used the software to make instructions until now. The main difference is that you need to mark new steps as you are building. The way that I made MHM was that I designed the entire model first, and once it was finished, I physically built the model with real parts. I then began the process of partially deconstructing small sections at a time.

From these physically deconstructed sections, I would rebuild these areas by hand, as well as, simultaneously building them in Bricklink Studio. In Bricklink Studio, I would generate a new step after adding about 5-6 parts into the onscreen build. Making instructions can feel very tedious, but you wouldn’t want all of your hard work to be lost now by making confusing steps that the builder cannot follow.

Take this on one area at a time and in several sessions. Once you’ve got your steps seemingly making sense, print them out and have a family member or a friend attempt to build your model. Note any area that confuses them or isn’t clear. You may need to modify the angle showing the building step or change the order of the parts being added.

You can use Bricklink Studio’s instruction maker to not only organise your building steps but also design the final look of your pages. I’m not extremely familiar with this side of their editor but there are several videos online that go over the settings to change the look and layout of the page. I went a different route for my MHM set. Depending on your level of experience with graphic design I would caution you to stick with Bricklink Studio’s instruction maker.

I wanted to make a printed instruction booklet, so I was only using Bricklink Studio’s instruction maker to generate the images I would need of each building step. Once I had the high resolution PNG images exported from Bricklink Studio, I then used Adobe Illustrator to design my actual pages.

I was using a specifically sized template which included bleeds and safe areas. I downloaded the template from the printing company I was ordering from. If you go the route of making your own printed booklets, it is expensive and time-consuming. Be sure that the images you’re using are high resolution, and that the scale of parts is consistent throughout the booklet.

I had a percentage calculated out that I would scale each image down to. Don’t overload a single page with too many steps. Test that your pages are readable by printing out a page at home, at actual size. If you only require digital building instructions, you can export the instructions you’ve made in Bricklink Studio as a PDF file. Some custom models offer their instructions as a digital download or come on a USB drive.

You will want to have high quality images of your model to show the world. I would recommend taking high resolution photos of your finished model, against a plain white background, or you could make a high resolution, digitally rendered image of your model using the render feature within Bricklink Studio. For either approach, a static pose of your model is a good start, followed by other images that showcase its special features.

If you would like to go even further, and have a box printed for your custom set, I would caution you in a similar way about the costs and level of graphic design experience before taking it on. However, for MHM I found a box printing company online, and worked within a dieline template they provided. The dieline template corresponded to the specific box shape and dimensions I was ordering.

To figure out what box size I needed, I measured and trimmed a cardboard shipping box at home. The dimensions factored in that the box had to contain the printed instruction booklet, and the parts for the set (which were separated into 5 bags for each stage of the build). I ensured this was accurate by physically testing that all components would fit. In terms of production, I also had samples of the box and the instructions printed up. This was to ensure that the colour levels were where I wanted them.

Printing in CMYK often makes your artwork appear darker, or more blue. If you are designing your own box/ instructions, check that your document’s colour profile is set correctly to RGB (screen) or CMYK (print). Also, check for any other specific directions that the company you are using has for formatting your files or other settings. This can often be found on the company’s FAQ section or by asking the company.

If you want to offer the full set, parts included in the box and ready to build, you will need to source every part. I mainly have used Bricklink to source the parts needed for each set. I have also used LEGO’s Bricks and Pieces service, but the availability of parts is often hit or miss.

The thing that I would stress the most is, if you plan to provide the parts, before you finalise your model, begin printing X amount of copies of instructions, boxes, etc., double check that all of the parts you are using are readily available to fulfil all of your sets. Certain parts might appear to be available to buy, but upon looking further only a handful of sellers might have them. This is more often the case for parts that have only ever appeared in one set, at low quantities in that set.

Again, this was more of a factor for MHM, due to the unusual color palette I was working in for magenta and dark purple elements. Once you have your set finalized, and are not using any elements that you cannot buy, you can proceed with the rest of the process. To order all of the parts I made multiple wanted lists on Bricklink. One list is the master list of the original build, and other lists were bulk ordering lists that had the quantity of each part multiplied by 10. Using Bricklink’s smart buy feature, and wanted list buying features, you can order parts and apply the order to your list to track your inventory quantities and see what is still needed.

Finally, once you have the parts for your set you will need to sort them all out. I did this by sorting the parts into a few of the Akro-Mills sorting drawer bins. Each bin is labelled with what it contains. They are a great way to keep things neat and organised. To sort each bag, I have a list of the parts and quantity required, and I scan through the rows and columns of the Akro-Mills sorting drawers, gathering what is needed.

Once I have all the parts, I double-check the lot of gathered pieces and carefully slide the tray of parts into a plastic bag, which is then sealed with a heat sealer, and numbered with a sticker. Once the parts are bagged, they are then packed into one of our custom boxes, along with a printed instruction booklet, (which has been sealed in plastic wrap) and the set is ready to be sent out.

One thing’s for sure: creating your own LEGO set is a lot of work, but a labour of love!

If you’d like to purchase your own Mutant Hunter Mech, you do so at KO Custom Minifigs for $225.

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