LEGO means “play well”. While modern LEGO enthusiasts tend to focus on building pre-designed sets, it was created for free-form building.
Thus anything your mind can conceive can be built with LEGO. In the LEGO community, we call these non-set builds My Own Creations or MOC.
An example is this one from Doug Deegan:
While it is possible to build your creations in real-time (we created a challenge for this), this can be very hard for the more complicated builds.
A better way would be to use a tool that would let you design your build quickly and is not limited by the bricks you have on hand.
Luckily there is a solution for you. It is via a free tool from the LEGO group called LEGO Digital Designer.
What is LEGO Digital Designer?
Have you ever woken up with an exciting idea for a LEGO build?
Perhaps you want to build a castle after reading a fantasy novel. Or build a spaceship inspired by the latest science fiction movie you watched.
Or maybe it’s not a fantasy creation. Instead, you want to build a model of a building in your city.
A great way to translate your vision into reality is to use the LEGO Digital Designer.
LEGO Digital Designer is a software tool that makes it easy to design your own LEGO creations. It is inspired by Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools used by architects and engineers.
You use a CAD tool for the following reasons:
- To create the drawings of the designs need to physically manufacture products
- Allows firms to digitally demonstrate all of the parts of the manufacturing process from the visual view through the manufacturing and building process.
- Generate necessary reports required by auditors and inspectors
While you don’t need any inspector reports for your MOC, it’s helpful to visually see your design. And build instructions.
Another bonus is to see a parts list of the bricks needed. That way you can know if you need to buy any new bricks to complete your build.
Why Was LDD Created
LEGO is about creativity. And I believe the LEGO group wants to make it as easy for its fans, in particular kids, to be able to build anything they can dream.
In 2005 LEGO launched the Lego Design byME service. This enabled people to design their own sets, upload the designs and then LEGO would send you the kit.
The LDD was created to enable fans to design their sets.
The Design by ME service was stopped in 2012. And even LDD has been labeled “unsupported” as of 2017.
But the software remains functional. And there are promising new alternatives we will discuss below.
Does LDD work on Windows Yes. LDD can be installed on Windows. does LDD work on Mac Yes. LDD can be installed on a Mac. does LDD work on iPhone Unfortunately, there’s no mobile version of LDD. does LDD work on iPad Unfortunately, there’s no mobile version of LDD. does LDD work on Android Unfortunately, there’s no mobile version of LDD. does LDD work on Chrome Unfortunately, there’s no Web version of LDD. does LDD work on Firefox Unfortunately, there’s no Web version of LDD. does LDD work on Safari Unfortunately, there’s no Web version of LDD. does LDD work on Microsoft Edge Unfortunately, there’s no Web version of LDD.
How To Get Started With LDD
The first step is to download LDD from here.
Once you startup LDD you will see a screen that is separated into 3 main areas.
A top menu which has tools that allow you to manipulate the bricks in various ways including cloning.
On the left-hand side, you will see the brick menu. By default, LDD will place you in the LDD default view. If you choose “View->New Themes->LDD Extended” then you will have all of the current bricks available to you. But all of them will be red.
You can use the paint tool to change the colors of the bricks.
To start building, all you need to do is drag the bricks onto the grid. You can rotate the bricks using your keyboard’s arrow keys. LDD will not let you connect bricks if there are no connection points. For example, you can’t turn a 2x4 brick upright and try to connect to the side of a 2x6.
On the screen, you will also see 4 large arrows on each side of the grid. These are arrows are used to rotate the screen so that you can see the model from any angle.
Here is a video that walks you through these steps in a visual manner:
How To Share Your Designs
When LDD was first launched they provided a way for LEGO fans to submit their designs.
But from Wikipedia “ In late 2017, the last uploaded version 4.3.10 was officially discontinued, and users no longer can upload their creations to the public, but still can download the program via the official LDD website.”
Thus you can still download designs to get inspiration and to learn from. But you can no longer share via the LDD forum.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t any way to share your designs anymore. We have to be a bit more creative.
I have been online since 1996. Back in 1996, there was only one way for us to upload content onto websites. We had to use an old (and insecure) protocol called FTP.
Back then, my job was as webmaster for the University of North Texas (UNT). At UNT I spent a lot of time helping people remember how to use the FTP software to copy files from their PC to our Web server.
It is much easier to share content these days. Including LDD files.
If you have your own website such as Wordpress, you can upload them directly using its media manager function.
Or you could share by putting them into a public folder using a service like DropBox, Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive.
There is still a downside to this and that is LDD gallery provided a search mechanism which made it easier to find designs. And I suspect that’s where many people still look.
Since you’re not on LDD Gallery, then you have to depend upon other discovery mechanisms such as Google search or social media shares.
Which are much harder to generate traffic from for your designs.
How To Generate Build Instructions
After you have designed your build, then you will want to build it in real life.
And LEGO Digital Designer has you covered.
All you have to do is select the menu option that will generate the build instructions.
If you spend any time on any forum or Facebook group about LEGO there is a common topic.
It comes up every single day. Every hour on the more popular groups. And that is someone is complaining about how expensive LEGO is.
I’m not going to blow smoke to tell you that LEGO is cheap. They are not. The larger sets are expensive.
This is why I do enjoy the simple sets. They are cheaper. Quicker to build. And a lot of fun.
But there is a reason why LEGO is more expensive than the alternative brands. And it’s not just to cover the license fees for Star Wars, Disney, etc.
First, the quality of the materials they use is the best in the industry. LEGO that is kept out of the sun and away from any chemicals that can weaken the plastic - will last generations.
Next, the bricks connect with each other reliably. And they stay together. As a kid, my mom bought me bricks from one of the original competitors. And I can tell you, it’s extremely frustrating to try to build something with bricks that don’t stay connected.
I was too young to understand they weren’t real LEGO. And I was almost 10 years old before I realized LEGO actually stuck together. And came in more colors than red and white.
Finally, and most important to this article, the build construction including instructions are well thought out. This gives final builds that are sturdy and with easy to follow instructions.
A common problem with MOC and their instructions is that they are not as sturdy as professionally designed sets. And their resulting instructions can be hard to follow.
But a tip I found online from here is to use another LEGO tool called LDraw to generate the build instructions. The author claims that the instructions are easier to follow than what LDD generates.
How to render nice looking photos of your designs
After you are finished with your designs then you will want to share them with the world.
One of the best ways to do this is with photorealistic images.
The LDD provides a very basic rendering capability. Including the ability to generate a screenshot.
The rendering will provide simple backgrounds such as an open field or outer space.
But if you really want to show off your designs then you need to use a tool like LDD to POV-Ray™.
This tool takes your LDD designs and can result in 3D photos that look like they were created by a professional engineer using a CAD program like AutoCAD.
And you should check out the gallery here.
If you have Photoshop skills then you could take these renderings to the next level. And put your designs in more interesting backgrounds. As well as turn them into virtual dioramas.
how to buy bricks for your designs When I created the Brick Boss LEGO Build challenge, I decided to keep things simple. And only require using the bricks you had on hand.
I did this because the most common complaint I see with any MOC instruction - whether online or in a book, is that they require specialized bricks.
Either parts from a Technic set or that were part of a retired set. And most people don’t want to buy a retired set at an inflated price just for one piece.
I say most people because I’ve been guilty of buying a set I wanted for a single piece :).
But if you want to build the designs that you created with LDD then you will most likely need to buy more bricks.
The LDD itself will generate a parts list as an Excel file. But many people find the LDD Manager tool to provide a bill of materials that’s easier to use.
After you have this parts list, you can then use LEGO Shop’s Pick-a-Brick or Bricklink to buy your missing parts.
How To Get Paid For Your Original Designs
In the summer of 1984, I was 11 and we were living in Hewitt, Texas. It was the heyday of GI Joe and Transformers.
I got the idea to create my own storyline of characters and vehicles that could become their own toys. I remember discussing this very intently with my friend Jonathan.
And I drew crude drawings of the vehicles. I used my action figures to represent the characters.
And I put Scotch tape over old mindset cassette tapes my dad had given me. My dad for a while had been a salesman for a company who sold these things. And at least to me at the time, they were junk.
And I recorded my own idea for stories.
I’m sure if I had something like LDD available to me as a kid, I would have taught myself how to build my own designs.
And I’ve always been entrepreneurial. So I would have wanted to know how to sell them.
There are many ways you can do this now.
The Holy Grail of any person who has ever dreamed of selling their LEGO designs is to get it accepted as a LEGO Ideas set.
LEGO Ideas is a place where you can submit your own original design. It’s like Kickstarter for LEGO.
If your design can get 10,000 votes then the LEGO design team will review it. And if they accept it then LEGO will produce it as an official set.
And you get paid!
Here’s the latest winner.
Alternative LEGO Design Producers
If you have your own designs and just want to sell them without trying to get 10,000 votes then you should check out MOCHub.
They have created a specific site that will sell your MOC designs.
But they don’t just accept and sell any design.
As they state on their about page:
“The MOC’s acceptance process is not done automatically- we manually review all incoming parts lists and provide support for our builders to ‘commercially optimize’ their projects.”
But once they have accepted your design, they take care of everything.
While researching this article, I came across this awesome Mad Max set. I’ll update the article with the build once I have it.
You may also have heard of a site called Xing Bao. Apparently, they too will accept and resell MOC designs. But I’ve not linked to them because they are not actual LEGO.
Your own site
I had a friend in college who was great at making hand-made jewelry.
I encouraged them to sell it. But to have any chance of selling it outside of our dorm meant having a booth at the mall which was expensive.
Now you can in a few minutes open up an account on a site like Shopify and start selling your products such as your own LEGO designs.
An example of this is the site Plane Bricks.
They are well known for creating designs of famous planes such as the B-17 or SR-71 in LEGO form.
They are not cheap and are intended for the AFOL collector.
And it requires work to get people to come to your store and buy from you.
But if you are good at designing LEGO builds and can specialize in a niche, this could be an excellent side hobby business.
sell on marketplaces
A few years ago, I took up art. I have skills in certain types in particular abstract work.
I particularly enjoyed using markers to create an illusion of a wood carving on paper.
I gave one of these to my father-in-law to celebrate his love of archery and his Native American heritage.
I did consider selling it on Etsy, but I never put much effort into promoting it.
But if you are good at LEGO designs and have a passion for building, then I would put my MOC on sites like Etsy and eBay.
While they still require work to promote, they are easier to get customers to find and buy than on your site.
I’ve been lucky to have friends who were good at performing music. One of my buddies is even up on Spotify and iTunes.
And it wasn’t that long ago that the only way to get paid was to either sell records or tour. Or sell merchandise.
Now there’s another option via a website called Patreon.
Patreon allows fans of content creators to give them money on a monthly basis. Often the content creator will provide rewards for Patreon supporters.
If you like to create original LEGO designs and have a fan-base on Instagram, YouTube, email, etc., then you should consider setting up a Patreon account.
That way your fans can reward your generosity of sharing your designs without the hassle of actually shipping them a product.
Sell artistic prints of your renderings
One of the most creative ways I’ve seen people use LEGO is for LEGO photography.
LEGO photography is what it sounds like. Taking photos of your LEGO.
While this can be as simple as taking photos of your builds after they are complete, they can become more elaborate.
There are two distinct flavors of these advanced photos. One flavor is to set up the LEGO figures and sets into a diorama. The diorama can recreate a scene from a movie, a historical event or an original story.
There’s a person who has documented their life in LEGO form - LEGO Grad Student.
The other flavor of LEGO photography is to take photos of their sets and figures outside. There is a person in one of the LEGO groups that I’m a member of who treats his miniature Millineum Falcon as a little bird. And places the Falcon in different outdoor places. Like on a tree branch.
Takes a photo and captions it with a cute phrase like “the Falcon likes to rest on branches before its next flight.”
What is great about having a digital rendering of your LEGO designs is that you can use digital photography tools like Photoshop or Paint.NET or GIMP and put your designs anywhere you want.
I believe there’s a large open playground here.
And even better, in the next few years, Augmented Reality is going to become more popular. And the ability to manipulate your designs digitally will let you have even more fun.
And potential job opportunities if you can figure out how to create and manipulate AR images.
What Are The Alternatives To LEGO Digital Designer
LEGO Digital Designer is a great tool. And easy to use. Unfortunately, LEGO has announced they have stopped supporting the current version.
Thus it could disappear on us. And most likely won’t be enhanced further.
Thankfully, the LEGO community has stepped forward to create other tools for us to use.
One of the most mature alternatives is LDraw.
Like LDD LDraw is a CAD tool for LEGO designing. It will also generate build instructions.
And it will render your final results for you to display.
They also provide a gallery.
As of June 2018, the application was still under development. With an updated parts list and an improved installer.
They also have several tutorials to help you learn how to use the product.
There is also a new entry from the team at Bricklink. And this tool is called Stud.IO.
What makes Stud.IO unique is that it has a commercial backing - the popular Bricklink site. Bricklink is a site that makes it easy to resell and buy LEGO pieces, figures, and sets.
In fact, when you build with Stud.IO, it will let you add the pieces you use to your Bricklink wishlist. Thus making it very easy to buy the pieces you need to construct your set.
LEGO has come a long way since its invention. It’s not just a simple set of plastic bricks. And while it is fun to build predesigned sets, there is even more enjoyable when you design your creations.
Using tools like LEGO Digital Designer or its alternatives make this easier and ultimately more fun.
I can’t wait to see the sets you design using these tools.