At this point, LEGO isn’t just a toy, it’s a way of life. The little building blocks have acquired a devoted following the world over, from both kids and adults. We’ve covered LEGO from stem to stern on this site, but if you’ve been building advanced sets for years, maybe you’re ready to start designing LEGO creations of your own.
Of course, anyone can make a new LEGO creation out of existing sets, or more commonly, combining the pieces of existing sets. But for anything over about a hundred pieces, you’ll need a plan, both for building the set itself and for acquiring the specific pieces you need.
Here’s how you do that.
If you want to make a LEGO set with hundreds or thousands of pieces, you want to plan it out first. The easiest way to do that (without spending a mortgage’s worth of money on randomized pieces) is to use a software tool to build a set virtually. There are three notable options at the time of writing.
BrickLink Studio, sometimes simply referred to as “Studio” or “Stud.io,” is the best option for most builders of intermediate to advanced skill. This free design tool is published and maintained by BrickLink, the biggest secondary market for LEGO pieces (see below). It features tens of thousands of LEGO parts, all of which can be modified and placed within its virtual build space. It’s available on Windows and Mac.
Studio mirrors professional design software with its multi-window interface, and its search tool is the best way to get the part you need. It’s also possible to move the parts in the virtual world with near-infinite variety, twisting and turning them in the space with warnings for what will and won’t work. My favorite feature is the stability tool, which can tell you which parts of your LEGO model are most likely to fly apart under stress.
Studio includes a system for replacing parts you use that aren’t available (for example, if you color a part that LEGO doesn’t make in that color option). Once you’re ready to proceed, the program can help you make your own LEGO instruction book, render the creation in 3D graphics animations, and buy your list of parts directly from the BrickLink store.
MecaBricks isn’t the most powerful LEGO design software around, but it is the only one that’s available in a full web interface. That also makes it the only option if you’re using ChromeOS or trying to design LEGO on a phone or tablet. The interface supports most of the tools that BrickLink Studio does, albeit without some of the fine control.
A particular highlight is an easy way you can browse the parts library or view and edit user-submitted models in the online repository—again, all without needing to install any software on your local machine. The interface is impressively quick, even when handling complex or transparent parts.
LEGO Digital Designer
LEGO makes its own design software, though it was unfortunately discontinued in 2018. Still, the software is available as a free download, and it’s a good way for beginners to get used to designing LEGO sets in a virtual environment. The interface, in particular, is much more kid-friendly.
LEGO Digital Designer shouldn’t be relied upon as the be-all, end-all of LEGO design software—its selection of bricks is pretty paltry compared to other community-made tools, and it no longer allows you to buy bricks directly from LEGO. Still, it might be useful for kids to plan out before proceeding to a physical design in a store.
Finding LEGO Pieces
If you have your design ready to go, it’s time to find your pieces. Maybe you can fill out some of them with your current collection, but when you can’t find the remainder, it’s time to start hunting online.
Official LEGO Pick A Brick
Boxed LEGO sets aren’t the only way to buy LEGO pieces. LEGO sells them, direct to the public and one at a time, via the Pick a Brick system. At the time of writing, there are approximately 1500 LEGO bricks available directly from the manufacturer, one piece at a time. You can select the parts that you need, add them to your cart, and have them delivered to you in one or two weeks. Searching by color, shape, or the official LEGO part number (easily found in any of the tools above) is recommended.
LEGO doesn’t sell all of its parts direct to the consumer—quite a lot of them can only be bought as part of a specific set. There’s nothing malicious about this, it’s just that plenty of parts have such a low demand that they aren’t set up for individual sale. Enter third party marketplaces, of which BrickLink is the most robust.
BrickLink connects thousands of individual LEGO merchants, many of which have enormous and well-cataloged inventories, with end buyers. You can shop the BrickLink site for the more esoteric parts that you need, then check out and pay multiple vendors all at once, getting all of your parts delivered to the same place.
Buying via BrickLink is expensive and slow compared to Pick A Brick since different vendors sell parts at different prices and you’ll need to pay separate shipping for each seller. But it’s often the only way to find specific parts, and the systems tools make them easy to find.
If you’re trying to build up a massive collection of your own LEGO pieces, and you aren’t concerned about specific pieces, then bulk lots are what you want. LEGO sells its own bulk bins at retail, in single- and multi-color packaging. But that’s not the best bang for your buck.
The way to build up a massive LEGO collection in the cheapest possible way is to buy bulk, loose pieces. Used LEGO sets are okay in this regard—LEGO pieces are durable, and LEGO sets missing their box, instructions, or even some pieces can be had cheaply. But to really maximize the value and minimize your price per part, look for big lots of LEGOs without any organization at all.
You can find these loose lots on secondary markets like eBay, or locally in pawnshops, garage sales, and flea markets. Compared to buying sets or searching for parts on BrickLink, the value is 5-10 times the amount. Some retail chains, like Half Price Books in the US, are starting to stock loose LEGO as well. Good hunting.
Local Tools and Groups
If you’re in a hurry or you just want to connect with fellow LEGO lovers in your local area, you have a few options.
The LEGO Store
LEGO has become so huge that most major metropolitan areas have at least one official LEGO Store. These stores sell LEGO sets, special limited items, memorabilia, and individual parts separated by color on the “Pick & Build” part wall. LEGO Stores also have access to some exclusive items, and are more likely than regular retail stores to have larger or rarer sets.
The LEGO Store is usually found in malls or in other dedicated shopping areas of major cities.
Independent LEGO shops
LEGO Stores can’t be everywhere, and where they’re not, enterprising independent business owners are picking up the slack. Independent LEGO shops sell authentic LEGO sets and bricks, as well as buy and sell used sets, but aren’t officially affiliated with LEGO. The nearest one to me is Rogue Brick in Fort Worth, Texas. (Incidentally: these shops never actually have the trademarked term “LEGO” in their name.) You can find them by searching for LEGO Stores or toy stores in your favorite mapping app.
Independent shops often have a huge amount of loose bricks for sale, and some even have dedicated play areas where you and/or your kids can simply sit and build with their huge collection, then pay for the bricks you use when you’re ready to leave. Indie shops also function as hubs for the local LEGO community, often hosting displays of custom-designed sets, contests, sometimes even adults-only nights where grown-up LEGO fans are encouraged to come in without kids to distract them.
LEGO fan and student groups
If you’re looking for a local group to share your creations or pick up some tips, check out the social media hubs for your area. Meetup.com and Facebook’s Group pages are popular options. Meeting regularly with fellow LEGO fans can be a great way to meet people and share your experiences. These groups are often called the local LEGO User Group (LUG).
If you attend a college or university, there’s an excellent chance that there’s already a LEGO User Group at your school. If you’re having trouble finding one, check the official LEGO Ambassador Network, a site from LEGO itself offering a directory of LEGO-focused building groups.