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3D Printing Minis

MechaPilot

Explorer
For a while now I've been considering getting a 3D printer and designing and printing my own minis. However, while I have done some research on 3D printers, I really don't know much of anything about how suitable they are for making fantasy miniatures of the size regularly used for things like D&D. If anyone (ideally, with actual, first-hand experience) can educate me on the DPI needed to give the minis suitable detail, the kinds of software that would be used in making a 3D model and converting it into a blueprint for the 3D printer, or any other relevant topics, I'd be quite appreciative.
 

Oryan77

Villager
I have never 3D printed a mini myself, but I have a few of the Hero Forge minis. I believe they are 3D printed? They are pretty darn nice in detail. I have the gray plastic versions which were supposed to be higher quality. The plastic is a bit brittle, so it can't just be thrown into a bag like old DDM minis. They are probably about the same as Pathfinder minis.

However, every single picture I see of a miniature that someone custom printed themselves from home looks horrible. No fault of their own. It's just that I'm assuming the currently affordable printers are still not very good for printing something like a miniature. The texture is always very rough and nowhere near to being smooth like an official miniature. The texture makes them look worse once they get painted. The roughness appears to stand out even more.

If you don't care about the quality and you just want some hunks of plastic to set up on the table, then you would be fine using a 3D printer. Although, take in to account the cost of the materials needed to make them. I figure it's not cheap, but I really don't know. So the time spent designing minis, paying for the printer and the materials, and then painting them might be more expensive than just buying a miniature or even paying $30 for a Hero Forge custom design.

My opinion is that we're still several years away from having an affordable 3D printer that will pump out a good quality miniature for gaming. Still, it's amazing that we can even get what people are doing now. Even if they look rough, it's still neat to make a custom design mini at home.
 

pogre

Adventurer
My opinion is that we're still several years away from having an affordable 3D printer that will pump out a good quality miniature for gaming. Still, it's amazing that we can even get what people are doing now. Even if they look rough, it's still neat to make a custom design mini at home.
I agree. The terrain stuff coming from home 3d printers is very solid. A friend of mine printed a Viking lodge for me recently and it is awesome. I cannot wait to paint it up.

However, aside from mechs or futuristic space marines in heavy armor I have not seen a home-printed character miniature that I would consider painting or using.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Fat Dragon Games' forums have some good threads with tips on this.

I backed FDG's first 3D terrain Kickstarter but ended up not getting a printer. Printing takes a lot of time and you still have to paint the minis or terrain.

Instead, I bought a Silhouette paper cutter. I can quickly print an army of paper 2D minis in full color, front and back. I can also print out minis the night before a game if needed. Also, the paper cutter doesn't take up much space, is easily stored, and I don't have to worry about hazardous fumes. Flat minis also store better. You can have many hundreds in a small box organized in envelopes, or get a hardware or craft cabinet.
 

Imaculata

Explorer
A friend of mine has had his share of bad luck with 3d printing mini's. Turns out that the 3d printer everyone was raving about, also shakes a lot, thus ruining the prints. Plus getting the settings right seems to be a pain.

I'd rather order them from Hero Forge than waste money on a 3d printer myself. Plus those things take up so much space.
 

pogre

Adventurer
A friend of mine has had his share of bad luck with 3d printing mini's. Turns out that the 3d printer everyone was raving about, also shakes a lot, thus ruining the prints. Plus getting the settings right seems to be a pain.

I'd rather order them from Hero Forge than waste money on a 3d printer myself. Plus those things take up so much space.
I have a friend who is getting it down to a science and I plan on abusing our relationship to get as much terrain stuff as possible! ;)
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
One of the guys in our wargaming group is 3d printing houses and they are amazing. Also old US Army jeeps and M2 heavy machine guns and stuff. Look excellent, he hasn't tried a character yet but I don't think he has models for that.
 

Li Shenron

Adventurer
I think this is a great idea!

I am not at all into RPG minis myself, since I always use Lego minifigs instead when playing D&D, but if I had a 3D printer I would probably use it to print unique weapons, magic items and maybe monsters heads and bodies to augment those Lego minfigs :)
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
It seems like there's some conflict of opinion about the quality of 3d printed minis. I know the filament printers typically create lower quality minis, but the liquid resin ones can create finer details than the filament printers. I know they're more expensive, but they've reached a point where I wouldn't consider them prohibitively expensive. I just want to make sure they do a good-enough job before putting out that kind of money.
 

WizarDru

Villager
Speaking as someone with two 3D printers (A Robo 3D R1+ and a Printrbot Simple Metal), I think I can speak a little to this. I have printed some D&D minis and some terrain, to varying effect. I'll try not to go overboard. :)

There are several advantages and disadvantages to 3D printing minis. First, lets break 3D printing down into constituent technologies, specifically FDM, SLA/DLP and Sintering. Without going into too much detail, most 3D printers are FDM, which deposit heated plastic onto a bed, one layer at a time; SLA/DLP uses a liquid resin that is solidified by a laser, again one layer at a time; Sintering takes a fine powered material and applies a glue-like substance to it or uses a laser to fuse it, again, one layer at a time. So 3D printing creates very thin slices of an object, stacking them until you have the object. That's important because it is a limitation of the technology; there are work-arounds, but certain designs are more difficult compared with mold-casted miniatures.

Here's a few things to understand.
  • 3D Printing is expensive
  • 3D priting is not a turnkey solution
  • There are many, MANY free designs out there
  • Different technologies provide different advantages/disadvantages
  • 3D printing is SLOW
  • Quality requires time and/or money
  • Physics can be your enemy when printing

This may sound like I'm telling you this can't be done. I'm not. It totally can. HOWEVER. If you are thinking, 'Wow, I'll just drop $150 on Monoprice and get a printer and I'll be printing orc armies is no time!' that you may need to reset your expectations some. While it has much improved since I started using printers 3 years ago, it is still very much a hobbyist pursuit, like a HAM radio or car tuning. My first printer took me 6 hours to get a print out of (including printer assembly and fine-tuning). My second printer I had going in 45 minutes...but that was a more expensive unit. Regardless, simply be aware that even when you get it running, there will be a lot of tinkering to get your unique settings right for your environment (based on your material, humidity, printer and lots of factors).

Now let's talk the real issues: quality. FDM printers, out of the box, usually only support a print 'resolution' of 100 micrometers (.1MM). That sounds super small, and it is, BUT...when printing a 28MM scale miniature, it is not as small as it sounds. This means your mini may have visible lines for each layer as it prints, possibly preventing the high-level of detail you may be expecting from a molded mini. SLA/DLP printers can go down to 25 micrometers, which as you might expect leads to very high detail...but SLA/DLP printers are much more expensive (I have a friend who has a FORM 2...it retails currently for $3500) and require things like cleanup and curing. In terms of time, for me to print a miniature from HeroForge can take from 3 to 4 hours, depending on the design and resolution. Also, depending on the design, it may not be a simple issue to print it. Characters with out-stretched limbs, for example, require you to print support structures for those limbs to be printed properly (as you can start printing a layer in mid-air).

Now, having said all of that, I can assure that you can do it, it's fun and it's quite possible to get very nice results. I will gladly go on more detail about the topic, share pics of what I've printed and so forth. I've printed some very cool dungeon tiles, for example. But I wanted to let you know you're essentially adopting a hobby to do it and that you're not going to push a button and get a beholder (which is a nightmare to print, btw). There are limitations to what it can do and what it can do EASILY, but the results can be great.
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
[MENTION=151]WizarDru[/MENTION]

Thank you for the thorough reply. I greatly appreciate getting some information from someone who owns a 3d printer and has specifically used it to try to print 28MM scale minis. Also, I would very much like to see some of your results.

I confess I didn't expect a low price range 3d printer to be great for printing minis. That said, I can manage something in the $1,000 U.S. price range, provided it's a one-time capital investment that will last me at least 5 years.
 

WizarDru

Villager
[MENTION=151]WizarDru[/MENTION]

Thank you for the thorough reply. I greatly appreciate getting some information from someone who owns a 3d printer and has specifically used it to try to print 28MM scale minis. Also, I would very much like to see some of your results.

I confess I didn't expect a low price range 3d printer to be great for printing minis. That said, I can manage something in the $1,000 U.S. price range, provided it's a one-time capital investment that will last me at least 5 years.
The funny thing here is that price isn't quite the determiner of print quality that you might think, at least not for FDM printers. At their heart, they are incredibly stupid machines: just a set of stepper motors, a heating element, some rails and some control hardware. That's a large reason that they CAN be that inexpensive. Another reason is that the hardware is pretty standardized AND the control software used by most printers is open-source (a version of Arduino's firmware). Because of those facts, a company like Monoprice, CReality and others can manufacture relatively decent units on the cheap. And because they are open-source, the community supports software that works on most machines (though not universally so). HOWEVER, spending more on a printer gets you both better features, better equipment and actual support, not to mention reliability. A company like market leader/innovator Prusa Research can develop a printer like the Mk 3, which has all sorts of features (filament detection, job pausing, advanced print bed, auto-leveling, quiet mode and more) that an inexpensive printer won't. I purchased the Robo3D R1+ because I was frustrated with the relatively small print bed (and thus print size) and general fidgetiness of my Printrbot. In honesty, the Printrbot has been out of commision for months after a difficult attempt at a hardware upgrade and it's been too much effort to fix it (though eventually I'll get to it).

Now let's talk about the challenges of printing. There are several challenges with printing using FDM. One issue is, as I mentioned, the necessity for support material. When you sculpt something and create a mold, you can afford details like outstretched arms, wings, long necks, pointing swords or whatever...things that stick out from the mini over empty space. They can do this because you're essentially pouring a liquid into a glass (of course you also get mold lines, but that's another story). 3D printing works by stacking layer upon layer to make a composite image (if you've ever seen the anime/manga Gantz, the visually disturbing way that they teleport is essentially 3D printing them). To work around this limit, software creates supports...think of them as scaffolding for the parts of your print that have gaps beneath them. Supports are designed to give your print something to start a layer on, but then be removed. This works well for difficult prints...but it becomes much more complicated at 28MM scale, where the supports tightly intertwined with the print and hard to remove (and possibly as big as the print itself). Removing that material will also leave with you a surface that will need cleaning like a traditional mini, possibly involving sanding and other methods.

The smaller scale of a mini means that you're not going to see the same level of detail that you might see from a traditional mini sculpt. To compare a highly-detailed bones sculpt with a 3D print will often be unfavorable to the 3D printed one. Part of this is due to the nozzle size: an FDM printer is basically a hose. Plastic filament is fed directly through to the 'hot-end' which is exactly like what it sounds: a metal tube that melts the filament to a liquid. The stepper motor feeds the filament into the hot-end at a careful regulated speed, which pushes the liquid plastic out the nozzle, which by default is .4 mm in diameter. This is the reason you are limited (usually) to 100mm for a layer. A resin printer can go down to 25mm...so it can create a much more detailed print. FDM printers do support additional nozzles which allow you to go down to that size, but we encounter a different problem there: speed. A 3D printer needs to go much slower with a smaller nozzle, because the smaller hole means it can force less plastic through it in the same amount of time. So the higher detailed print goes up dramatically in terms of time.

I'm going on about all of this only to give you an idea of the challenges that you can face. I LOVE 3D printing and think it is AMAZING. There is a big community of gamers making game stuff in 3D printing, from bespoke board game accessories to minis, 3D terrain and all sorts of accessories. You can do a lot. But it is not always easy. There are moments when you want to throw it out a window. And then you figure it out or fix it and life is good. But it's not a turnkey solution.

So here are two examples of mini prints from Hero Forge I've done, provided to me by people at my game meetups:

harpist.jpgpaladin.JPG

The character in white took three prints to get right. His coat and sword required extensive support material, which is why he looks so rough around the edges. Some sanding will be required to make him look 'table-ready'. This paladin (sorry for the black filament) took 5 prints to get around this level (I later figured a way to make him look better, but don't have a pic handy). He has Assimar wings, which were a challenge due to the support material ripping off his wings when removed and his hammer over his head often turned into a gloppy melted mess. I did better.

So as you can see, you can do them; you just need to expect that unless the mini was designed well or with 3D printing in mind, it may need a lot of work to get a successful print. With some paint, flocking and TLC, you can produce some really nice output:
groot.JPG
 

WizarDru

Villager
Here is an example of some attempts to print a new mini and the difficulties therein. Note the support material.
Also note that one of the minis has a melted glob of plastic for a head, poor guy.

 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
If you want an inexpensive way to build armies, consider buying a paper-cutting machine like a Silhouette or Cricket.

You buy the print files from someone like One Monk Miniatures or Paper Heroes (both on DriveThruRPG), you print them on card stock, you then feed the printouts into the paper cutter and it will cut everything out.

Most of the better designers will provide the front and back in one piece that can be folded over. I useually glue together with a glue stick and I may touch up the edges with a sharpie--but that's entirely optional.

You can buy bases made for 2D miniatures from litko or you can print and cut your own. One Monk provides the base designs and cut files with his miniatures. For durability and to save on crafting time, I prefer just buying a bunch of Litco bases.

I'll print 50 zombies the night before a game for the cost of paper and ink. You have to replace the cutting blade in the cutting machine now and then but i've had mine for well over a year and have not had to replace it yet.

The intitial calibration and testing to get the best and fastest cut for the paper can take a bit of experimentation, but for the most part the software makes it pretty simple.

Another benefit is storage. I can put large number of 2D miniatures in a a small plastic drawer in craft drawer that could only hold a handful of 3D minis. I have so many 2D minis now (both printed by me and plastic 2D minis from Arc Knight) that I have a large box and have the minis in envelopes placed in the box in alphabet order. I carry many hundreds of minis in what is basically a large shoebox.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Hey, guys this forum is really cool and useful as for me and I hope you could help me too! Does someone use/know the best things how to organize time? Nowadays this is hot topic I guess but I couldn't find the info on this forum's topics..thus I decited to ask here..maybe I'm old one and I still use onplanners.com notebooks
 so it'll be interested if you could suggest smth:) maybe app
Do you mean tracking in-game time?

I use the Time Tracking Tool available on the DM Assistance blog: https://olddungeonmaster.com/2016/08/20/dd-5e-time-tracking-tool/

It is a simple print out that makes it each to check off time. You can track up to four days on one sheet. I only use this when I need to track effects or otherwise determine how long they have spent in a location or doing certain activities.

For campaign tracking, I just use a spreadsheet. I used to use RealmWorks for my prior homebrew campaign, but now that I'm running a published AP, I find that more work than it is worth. Much easier to jot some notes in a spreadsheet. Actually, I do less than that now. For my Curse of Strahd campaign I use the time wheel print outs and write general notes on the page regarding what happened, when certain things will happen, etc. After the game, I'll quickly jot down some session notes and notes for beginning the next session.
 

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