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"I just don't know how to answer emails like this..." Topic

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2,990 hits since 21 Jun 2012
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Alxbates21 Jun 2012 9:28 p.m. PST

Since I started Forge of Ice, I've gotten a number of emails like this one from a few days ago:

How much would a set of custom minis run me, there would be 4-5 with a run of 500 sets if I do this. You would have full permission to sell them afterwards. Also what material would they be and what would be the price difference between painted and unpainted be?

No hello, no introduction, no more information than that.

I just never know how to answer emails like that. It sounds like it's from someone who is enthusiastic and also has absolutely no idea what he's asking for.

I try to take the business seriously, and I answer all of my emails as promptly and politely as possible, but I just don't know where to start with guys like this.

Here's my response:

Hello M-----,

You're asking a bunch of different questions. I'll try to answer them all.

"How much would a set of custom minis run me" – well, that depends on a LOT of variables. How big are they? 6mm? 15mm? 28mm? 54mm? The price varies greatly depending upon the size and style. Are they fantasy? Sci-fi? Historical? Comedy or cartoons? Those can also affect the price. Will they be multi-part models? How flat or three-dimensional will they be?

Do you have concept art prepared?

You haven't given me enough information to give you an informed response, but here's a general outline.

As for whether the figures would be resin/plastic/or metal, well, that's sort of up to you. Certain figure types and basing styles lend themselves better to one type or another, and they all have benefits and drawbacks (Resin holds detail very well, is materials-cheap but labor-expensive, but very fragile. Plastic is hideously expensive to make molds for, but holds a decent amount of detail and the per-figure price is very very cheap. Metal is the most durable of the options, they hold detail better than plastic, if not as well as resin, but shipping them is relatively expensive as they're heavy, and the per-figure cost is rather high because of the cost of metal). If I knew what the figures were supposed to look like I could possibly suggest a casting material option, but without more information I can't really answer in more detail.

Let's just start with basic costs. I'll assume 5 figures, normal human in 28mm ("Warhammer Scale"), single piece figures, nothing too fancy regarding undercuts on the molds. Sculpting each figure should cost around $300 USD (but could be as cheap as $200 USD or as expensive as $600 USD per figure depending on the sculptor. Larger or more complicated figures will cost more.), so that's $1,500 USD in sculpting costs alone. You'd be able to get 5 figures on a mold, so that's only $50 USD for the Master mold, then another $50 USD for the production mold. Let's assume that I can get two of each figure onto the production mold, so I'll only have to spin the mold 250 times to get 500 miniatures. At $2 USD a spin in labor costs, that's another $500 USD in costs. I'll also assume that metal is cheap, and the materials cost is only .50c per figure (and that's CHEAP… not necessarily realistic). That's $250 USD in materials.

So, your bare minimum super cheapo possibility runs around:

$1,500 USD – sculpting costs
$100 USD – molds
$500 USD – casting labor
$250 USD – materials

That's $2,350 USD at a BARE minimum for five 28mm humans in metal. I frankly don't know enough about resin or plastic to even give you a guess. Your costs with metal figures could easily run up to 7 or 8000 dollars if the figures are larger, more complex, require extra molds, or if you just hire a top professional sculptor (which I am not).

As for painted… if I read your request correctly, you're asking me to personally paint 2000-2500 miniatures? My rates start at $15 USD an hour – and that's for simple figures that I enjoy painting. I charge more for complex or pain-in-the-ass stuff. I would charge something like $40,000 USD dollars (US dollars) at a minimum for a commission like that, and it would take me a year or more. Having that number of figures painted is *not* a job for a one-man operation like me, it's a job for a factory in China. Reaper Miniatures might be able to give you some information about that – they sell pre-painted figures.

Although if you've got the money and really like my work, I'd be happy to talk it over!

If you're looking to find a sculptor to work with, I suggest that you start with specific information ("I want miniatures made in ___ scale, here is detailed artwork for each figure"), and then ask on a public forum (like the 1listsculpting on Yahoo,, or Frothers UK) about sculptors who are looking for work. If there's a sculptor out there who you are already a fan of, they're pretty easy to contact – many are on Facebook or have their own websites. If they've done work for another company, you can always contact that company and ask to be put in contact. Sculptors rates vary a great deal depending on how good they are, how experienced they are, how busy they are, and whether or not they're interested in working on your figures (for example, someone who specializes in sculpting sci-fi Space Troopers may not be interested in making a set of Muppets for you… on the other hand, maybe they're sick of making sci-fi troopers and will be excited to do something different! It never hurts to ask)

Once you've got the sculpts worked out, then contact a casting company (I'll reccomend the one I use – Dark Platypus Studio, but the Rodman brothers have a good reputation with Fortress Figures, and Troll Forged Miniatures has been doing some interesting stuff with spincast plastic lately).

For getting that many figures painted, I don't really have much to tell you… I'd contact one of the companies that already makes pre-painted figures and ask them. There are painting services overseas that may be able to do that many at a reasonable rate (some in Sri Lanka, I think – check the "painting services" directory on The Miniatures Page, there should be more information there.)

Hope this at least points you in a few directions to look. Best of luck to you.

-Alex Bates
-Forge of Ice

I answered as completely and as honestly as I could based on my own limited knowledge and experience… did I succeed? I tried to not be condescending or dick-ish, but I'm not sure if I succeeded.

What do the folks here on TMP think?

-Alex in Alaska

Long Valley Gamer Supporting Member of TMP21 Jun 2012 9:38 p.m. PST

Very nice of you to take the time to explain everything in detail. I would of got his phone number and talked to him first. You would have gotten a better idea who you were dealing with….

McWong7321 Jun 2012 9:50 p.m. PST

That's an excellent reply, at the end of the day I've found its best to give more info than less if there's difficulty understanding what the original request is. Also you gave an answer, many folks would reply "I don't understand you". Full marks.

Jovian121 Jun 2012 10:40 p.m. PST

You did him a great service.

Personal logo Grelber Supporting Member of TMP21 Jun 2012 10:54 p.m. PST

I found it very well thought out, and very informative. You explain what you would need to know, and why you need to know that specific item to provide the requested cost estimate. You've also been up front enough that he should have a vague idea of the cost, even if he wants something significantly different than what you described. I think it is quite professional.

The fact of the matter is that I, too, have projects I'd like to see put into production in a if-I-ever-win-the-lottery kind of fashion (don't we all?), and this really gives me a good idea of just how much I'd be in for. So, yes, I found it very helpful.


Angel Barracks21 Jun 2012 11:04 p.m. PST

OMG you published my letter in public!

Everyone knows I am starting a sci-fi 6mm line of figures.
So sad now…


Seriously though, it does help shed light on what is involved to those that are unaware.

BrianW21 Jun 2012 11:10 p.m. PST

Thanks for posting that. I've always wondered how much that sort of thing costs (no plans, just idle curiosity about that part of the hobby) and now I know. It's both more expensive and cheaper than I thought.
Thanks again,

Billiam21 Jun 2012 11:17 p.m. PST

Remember to save that one in a file somewhere, to copy and paste for the next one.

basileus6621 Jun 2012 11:18 p.m. PST

Well, I don't know if your customer got the info he wanted, but I can tell you that I did!

bsrlee21 Jun 2012 11:34 p.m. PST

Maybe we could get this 'answer' placed somewhere permanent, along with the model railway scale = figure mm scale FAQ.


NoBodyLovesMe22 Jun 2012 1:53 a.m. PST

I think you have responded "above and beyond".

My answer would have been a lot shorter, working on the basis that if they can not be bothered to think about what they write, then neither can I !

WarrenB22 Jun 2012 2:02 a.m. PST

What do the folks here on TMP think?

I think you've got the patience of a saint.

As for painted… if I read your request correctly, you're asking me to personally paint 2000-2500 miniatures?

This made me chuckle.

Great informative speech. I'll second Bsrlee: would you mind if I copied and pasted this for another forum? (Clearly cited of course) On a similar note…

then ask on a public forum (like the 1listsculpting on Yahoo,, or Frothers UK

It's only small yet, but there's another place.


Warren B.

Personal logo chicklewis Supporting Member of TMP22 Jun 2012 2:22 a.m. PST

Alex, I admire you, you did the guy a great service.

But you wasted your time.

Anybody who would send out a query like that with so little information is a effing quarterwit. He sent the same query to thirty little manufacturers.

Company D Miniatures Supporting Member of TMP22 Jun 2012 2:36 a.m. PST

I would save your reply-= you will probably need it again.

Must have taken you a while though.

Company D Miniatures Supporting Member of TMP22 Jun 2012 2:38 a.m. PST

Minisculpture is a great site- I like it very much

Chef Lackey Rich Fezian22 Jun 2012 3:50 a.m. PST

Points for trying, but I doubt the time you spent answering all that will be rewarded. I get some odd ones myself now and then and they never seem to amount to anything but time-wasting. Still, better to be polite and try to help when you can – never can tell when you're trading emails with an eccentric millionaire, y'know? :)

Rapier Miniatures22 Jun 2012 4:02 a.m. PST

Yep about right on costings etc, can we all copy this at need?

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP22 Jun 2012 4:11 a.m. PST

Very interesting information (and you took a lot more time answering this than I would have done).

Dave Crowell22 Jun 2012 4:17 a.m. PST

Hey, that's great! How much to duplicate these oop space marienesmI've got?

Seriously though, even people who should know better can send out queries like this. I once got one from a major telecommunications carrier asking prices on a bulk order of custom cell phone bags. That's all hey gave me to work with. "We want cell phone bags to give away as a promotion". Ummm, size, style, colour?

Personal logo Virtualscratchbuilder Supporting Member of TMP Fezian22 Jun 2012 5:12 a.m. PST

Back on my scratcbuilding for hire days I used to get lots of emails like that fom folks who thought I could reads. At least once a month I'd get

" How much for 40 ships?"

Or something like that. Scale? Starships? Ironclads? Galleys? Ironclad? Painted? Never mind I had a FAQ on how to ask for an estimate.

Personal logo Virtualscratchbuilder Supporting Member of TMP Fezian22 Jun 2012 5:17 a.m. PST

Then there was the guy who asked me for a bunch of star trek ships, who upon finding out I do those in balsa, asked if they could be built in somthing that would survive the mold- making process. Sorry – you don't get to profit from my work.

mbsparta22 Jun 2012 5:29 a.m. PST

You spent way too much time on this e-mail!

Interesting information though.

Mike B

elsyrsyn22 Jun 2012 5:50 a.m. PST

As others have noted,

you've got the patience of a saint


I would save your reply-= you will probably need it again


Samulus22 Jun 2012 7:21 a.m. PST

That was incredibly informative and It must have taken you an age to write, full marks for service!

Ambush Alley Games22 Jun 2012 8:02 a.m. PST

Great customer service, sir! You got the info across without sounding condescending, which is definitely praiseworthy!

Btw, $40 USDK to paint 2500 miniatures seems cheap to me. I'd be contemplating death by pointy end of the paint brush after the first 500 . . . ;)



Angel Barracks22 Jun 2012 8:04 a.m. PST

I painted and based 2500 ACW 6mm Baccus once for a customer.
I so nearly cracked.

oldgamer22 Jun 2012 8:36 a.m. PST

Angel B,

You are an Angle, or at least a Saint to have taken the time to answer that message so completely. Perhaps you might want to add an hourly consulting rate to your pricing scheme.

Dr Mathias Fezian22 Jun 2012 8:53 a.m. PST

Good answer, at the very least you cleared away some cobwebs.

I get emails like that all the time from my students, from addresses like "". I have no idea who is asking the question, and sometimes I have on clue what they're asking… I've saved a couple good ones.

J Womack 9422 Jun 2012 9:02 a.m. PST

A+, old boy.

wehrmacht22 Jun 2012 9:10 a.m. PST

Good letter Alex.

The time in composing it wasn't wasted as you now have it "on hand" to respond to future inquiries.


Sundance22 Jun 2012 10:08 a.m. PST

I think you did a good job, Alex. I have say, though, that I think someone who had seriously contemplated the job would (a) have been more thorough in what they were asking for and (b) already had some inkling of the huge undertaking (and cost) they were requesting.

Don Manser22 Jun 2012 10:32 a.m. PST

While there a number of processes for this type of situation here's one that works pretty well: C-A-N-I.

Clarify the question being asked or position of questioner/responder Focus / islolate their real needs

Acknowledge the importance of their questions / needs Empathize with their concerns

Navigate through your potential offerings to satisfy their need

Influence their final decision with your best solutions / offerings for their need(s).

Hope this helps. Looks like you need to follow up with a number of questions to get started in the right direction. Often it's a little difficult not certainly not unsalvageable.


corporalpat22 Jun 2012 10:53 a.m. PST

Excellent letter, but far too generous of your time and information IMHO. I would have given a more abbreviated response simply asking for more information before proceeding. You're a better man than I. And thank you for sharing your efforts here.

XRaysVision22 Jun 2012 12:14 p.m. PST

Like others, I thik your letter is very well written. I hope that you saved this for future us. Publishers of perodicals and books always have "writer's guideline" available for people who want to freelance or submit manuscripts. I don't know of many that will accept material without first being asked for the guidelines.

Similarly, I think that commission work like sculpting would benefit from similar guidelines for people requesting a quote. You letter is a pretty good start.

MST3Klover22 Jun 2012 3:54 p.m. PST

I think your answer was great! But I think I would have asked for more information first. It might have saved a lot of time, and it could be that the person wants something that is beyond your business to provide. Still, great service on your end.

Personal logo Condotta Supporting Member of TMP22 Jun 2012 6:20 p.m. PST

Your passion for your art and desire to provide a thorough and helpful answer get full marks in my opinion. Your response gives me better insight into the costs and effort involved in producing a miniature as well. Thank you.

Alxbates23 Jun 2012 1:33 a.m. PST

Thank you everyone for all of the kind comments. If anyone wanted to re post this message you are certainly welcome to. I'm glad you all seemed to think my response was appropriate. I do not really expect the guy to follow through, but as I said it earlier I do attempt to answer all of my business emails as thoroughly as possible – and as Chief Lackey Rich said, you never know when an eccentric millionaire is calling!

-Alex in Alaska

John D Salt23 Jun 2012 2:25 a.m. PST

In the interests of promoting controversy, Mr. Picky would like to point out that your choice of thread title is wildy inappropriate: you obviously know *exactly* how to answer e-mails like that.

All the best,


nico le fay24 Jun 2012 7:40 a.m. PST

This made me laugh a bit :) – very informative though.

Thanks for sharing; You seem to be a patient man, I wouldn't have bothered to answer that detailed to someone who doesn't even care enough to properly say "hello".


Alxbates25 Jun 2012 2:30 a.m. PST

Hey – he responded to me!

One word:



The utter lack of basic courtesy on his part is irritating… but I'm still glad I sent him such a long answer.


Personal logo chicklewis Supporting Member of TMP25 Jun 2012 10:22 a.m. PST

So he has proven himself a RUDE effing quarterwit, then.

darclegion25 Jun 2012 1:54 p.m. PST

Your answer was a kind one, and very informative at the same time for me.

Always wondered what it would cost to have figures sculpted. May call you up one day in the future.


Kayl MacLaren14 Aug 2013 8:34 a.m. PST

Some of these people making requests have no true concept of what's involved…and some are resistant to being informed of the realities of the situation. Your response was well-phrased, thoughtful, and considerate.

Joes Shop Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2013 3:04 a.m. PST

You provided exceptional customer service.


J. P. Kelly

DJD Miniatures Fezian22 Aug 2013 7:49 p.m. PST

Hi Alex,…When I first saw his initial mail to you I suspected he was in the weeds and wandering. So as a result while you were being very nice and proactive with a potential customer the end result was a big waste of your time.

Think about directing the customer to your web site and having a sheet they can fill out and submit to you for a quotation. This saves a great deal of time.

Panfilov23 Aug 2013 2:43 a.m. PST

Wow, really great reply for the clueless; Please save the text.

Critique: Profit Margin? Say cost plus 10% (minimum); You seem to be quoting actual costs, the IP rights aren't that valuable, There are LOTS of niche products out there, you need your UKP 15/Hour for your labor WHILE executing the commission.

Suggest quoting a higher price for the production metal (What is the cost of tin these days?). Actual production cost per piece, 2500 pieces, total …..

And shipping, it is FOB your "loading dock."

Suggest quoting 50% (Cash) up front before any work will be done. Plus progress Payments.

And I'll keep your services in mind if I win the Lottery…

25mm Sub Roman Orcs?

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