How to Erect a Polyboard?

In a photography studio, erecting polyboards to bounce or absorb light is a common necessity. You can purchase large polyboards from warehouses, paint one side black, and create a versatile studio prop. However, setting up a 2.4x1.2m polyboard can be challenging.
photography studio polyboard/foam boad stand, 3d priting solution
Figure 1. Too Young Too Simple Studio polyboard setup.
Many photo studios opt for metal stands available on the market, but I find them to be expensive (typically £30-50), unattractive, and not adaptable to different board thicknesses. They are also cumbersome to store if you have several.

Motivated by these drawbacks, I decided to design and 3D print my own polyboard stands, which I believe might just be the best out there.

For those interested, I’ll share the STL file for the design at the end of this post.

Initial Design Thoughts

The primary function of the stand is to support large polyboards. The legs of the stand must spread wide enough to ensure the board's center of gravity falls within the stand's base. Most commercial stands spread up to 50cm.
photography studio polyboard/foam boad stand, 3d priting solution
Figure 2. Board's center of gravity shall fall within the stand's base.
Here, I encountered my first design challenge. The printer I own is a Prusa Mini, and the maximum size it can print is 18x18x18cm, which is much smaller than 50cm. So, I broke the design into three parts and planned to join them with dovetail joints—a joinery technique borrowed from carpentry.
photography studio polyboard/foam boad stand, 3d priting solution, dovetail joint
Figure 3. A dovetail joint.
The advantage is that you don't need extra nuts and bolts to hold the pieces together. You simply slot the two leg parts into the central main part.

The main part has a large opening to hold the bottom of a board. The whole stand spans 54cm; we can attach one to each end of the board to hold it steadily. The minimal design not only blends well in the studio environment but also makes it much easier to store them.
photography studio polyboard/foam boad stand, 3d priting solution, animation
Figure 4. The initial design concept.

Defects and Further Iterations

After using the initial design for a while, I found some defects. The opening of the main part is set at 5cm. However, the thickness of polyboards can vary from 4.5 to 5.5cm due to production errors. When the board thickness is less than the opening, the stands often fall off when I move the whole set. When the board thickness is greater and forced into the opening, it fractures the plastic stands after several uses.

To improve this, I added a flexible mechanism to the opening so the size can adapt according to the thickness of the boards and can provide some grip when the board is lifted or moved.

I added a 'zig zag' pattern to the opening, which serves as a spring to fit varying thicknesses.

When sliding the board in, the deformation mainly occurs at the bends of the 'zig zag', which quickly wears the material out due to plastic deformation. Eventually, the mechanism loses its springiness and renders the design pointless.
photography studio polyboard/foam boad stand, 3d priting solution
Figure 5. The zig-zag mechanism allows some flexiblity .
I opted to print the stands vertically to allow for simultaneous printing of all three components. Nonetheless, this printing orientation did not enhance the structural integrity. Stress was exerted parallel to the layering, causing torque in the blue section, which subsequently led to the layers being torn apart (see Figure 6).
photography studio polyboard/foam boad stand, 3d priting solution
Figure 6. Stress was exerted parallel to the layering, causing torque in the blue section.
So, I reoriented the model to print "sideways". Also, the dovetail slots are reoriented as well so I don't need extra support when printing.
photography studio polyboard/foam boad stand, 3d priting solution
Figure 7. The model is reoriented when slicing.
I also turned the "zig zag" into curves so the deformation can be spread more evenly. I tried different numbers of curving segments and altered lengths. Eventually, I achieved a perfect spring that is not too tight or too loose, and can adapt according to the thickness of the board.
photography studio polyboard/foam boad stand, 3d priting solution
Figure 8. Prototyping different alterations.
photography studio polyboard/foam boad stand, 3d priting solution, animation
Figure 9. The spring mechanism that adapts to the board thickness.

Final Result

Here's the final result: a minimal design that is easy to stack/store, fits board thickness from 4.5 to 5.5cm. Each stand uses 203g of PLA, and the material costs about £3 each.
photography studio polyboard/foam boad stand, 3d priting solution
Figure 10. The final result.
If you like the design and find it useful, you can download the STL file here
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