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"Will 3-D printers be a bane or boon?" Topic

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1,674 hits since 30 Nov 2012
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IronMike30 Nov 2012 10:49 p.m. PST

I've been keeping an eye on the field of 3-d printers for the past couple of years, and watched as the price has steadily sunk. As the per-unit price drops below $500 USD and the resolution is steadily improving the question has to be asked: will this be good or bad for the hobby?

Personally, I think it'll be great: If you see a figure you like you buy (or more likely lease) a CAD file from the designer, load it into your printer, And go get lunch while it prints out the models you need. When you get back you have models ready for painting. No fighting traffic to get to the FLGS, no waiting weeks for delivery of special orders, and all those other frustrations of wargaming life.

Justin Penwith30 Nov 2012 11:11 p.m. PST

And the less need for a FLGS means more of them will close their doors and reduce the hobby to one where a dwindling few will only ever play in their (or a buddy's home).

Face it, the "need for a designer" will drop as more people become familiar with 3-D sculpting and they will just print their own figures…and likely a number those will be near (or exact) copies of their favorite, more traditionally crafted, miniatures.

Where 3-D printers may be very beneficial is in crafting buildings for smaller scales, or weapons, which may then go on to be molded for metal or resin casting. Things that are very rarely seen in metal or plastic.

Laser cutters are still fairly costly to acquire, operate, and maintain, otherwise we'd see a glut of wood terrain, but we are seeing more and more businesses use them.

I fear for the time when economies of scale reduce the cost of producing 3-D "miniatures" to less than the cost of producing metal or plastic figures.

CraigH Inactive Member30 Nov 2012 11:38 p.m. PST

I think it's great. I really don't see that the technology will challenge producers of Late War WW2 Germans or Napoleonic French Infantry – but what it will allow is people who want figures that aren't economical for mass production (even by gaming standards) to obtain them.

Besides, someone still needs to know CAD or how to use fairly sophisticated graphics programs – as far as I know "SketchUp" ain't gonna get you a 28mm figure. ZBrush retailing for $700 USD just might – and that's only after spending many hours learning the program.

As one real life example – lots of 1/144 WW1 airplanes available on Shapeways – yet Wings Of Glory is still going. People are using the technology to expand the range beyond what the manufacturer has chosen to do.

Personal logo Schulein Supporting Member of TMP30 Nov 2012 11:39 p.m. PST

I am curious to see if some years from now we can see the difference in figure style between hand sculpting and advanced computer design.
I have the nagging feeling that capturing the distinct style of for example the Perry brothers in a design program might be difficult.
I also wonder what design files would cost to buy, ie what would the business model of a sculpting artist be?

darthfozzywig Supporting Member of TMP30 Nov 2012 11:53 p.m. PST

More tools are great. Ideas, talent, and execution still have value, so there will still be a market for good games.

darthfozzywig Supporting Member of TMP30 Nov 2012 11:56 p.m. PST

On the other hand, anything that increases my number of miniatures faster than I paint them is to be feared.

Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2012 12:29 a.m. PST

I think the first use should be the local gaming store using the machine to print miniatures locally. You go in with an idea and they print it out for you and you pick it up in a few days. Basic poses in the machine and just add the uniform and weapons to get the specific figures you need.

I suspect we won't print figures at home until it is pretty easy for the average person and very cheap. I think we will probably print vehicles first. The same program can be purchased to print the Sherman, Tiger, etc in any scale.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek

Timbo W01 Dec 2012 4:39 a.m. PST

I don't think normal 3D printing will impact sales of most ranges, unless the figures become much much cheaper but should allow faster prototyping and production of 'one-offs' that are in too low demand for the figure companies to be worth making. (Though looking at some figs available I'm not so sure there really is such a cutoff!).

I think the greatest impact will be 3D colour printing. See link here TMP link . Still very expensive at the moment, but who knows in future?

It's probably next to impossible, but whoever could make an automatic figure painting machine stands to benefit from a the huge weight of our combined lead piles!

VonTed01 Dec 2012 5:50 a.m. PST

This should be service that a FLGS should look into providing. Rent time on the machines etc….

Personal logo Pictors Studio Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Dec 2012 7:25 a.m. PST

"Besides, someone still needs to know CAD or how to use fairly sophisticated graphics programs as far as I know "SketchUp" ain't gonna get you a 28mm figure. ZBrush retailing for $700 USD USD just might and that's only after spending many hours learning the program."

This is only true until someone can scan in a 3D image of an existing model. As soon as you can do that easily then manufacturers could just sell scans of their figures for people to print.

Meiczyslaw01 Dec 2012 7:38 a.m. PST

This is only true until someone can scan in a 3D image of an existing model.

That scanner is closer than you think.

Jay Leno replaced a 1907 Steamer part using a 3D scanner and printer.

Personal logo Steve at The Vault Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Dec 2012 7:43 a.m. PST

Mongoose is already offering STL files for 3-D printing at home;




Jishin Inactive Member01 Dec 2012 8:09 a.m. PST

You're right, SketchUp won't do the job for figures. That's what Poser is for, and basic Poser is cheap at $250. USD It's also substantially less arcane than a fully-featured 3D program.

There is a free semi-fully featured 3D program out there, but Blender is a disaster of open-sourced proportions. (; (I say this mostly because I cut my teeth on 3DS Max, and Blender does not have some of the things I consider basic, like being able to simply input the number of faces per side that you want a default object to have.)

CraigH Inactive Member01 Dec 2012 9:38 a.m. PST

@Jishin – so Poser will allow you to create a figure and modify it ? I was always under the impression it was meant more for manipulating (i.e. posing) figures that already existed – i.e. adjusting lighting, etc.

I keep looking at zBrush but keep thinking that it is way beyond my capabilities. Not saying Poser is easier – but at least less financial risk.

Personal logo MrHarold Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Dec 2012 10:38 a.m. PST

Staples is reportedly starting a 3d service next year:


You upload the 3d file and then pick up the print at the store.

Mako11 Inactive Member01 Dec 2012 4:38 p.m. PST

I suspect a bit of both.

Hopefully, the good will outweigh the bad.

Mako11 Inactive Member01 Dec 2012 6:57 p.m. PST

I imagine though, that many of us will pine for the "good old days", when miniatures were hand sculpted, by true artists, rather than "printed" by a machine.

Personal logo Fergal Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Dec 2012 8:51 p.m. PST

I imagine though, that many of us will pine for the "good old days", when miniatures were hand sculpted, by true artists, rather than "printed" by a machine.

I think you are getting the art and the medium mixed up. An artist sculpts a green and an artist will create the 3D model. I play games with figures cast from a green or figures printed from files.

To my knowledge, not many people play games with figures sculpted by an artist. Those would have to be one off figures commissioned by a very lucky person. The rest of us are playing with copies.

Sure you could whip out a figure with one of the programs mentioned above, but it would look like you bought a cheap program and whipped out a figure not knowing what you were doing. I could mix up some greenstuff into a person shaped blob and play games with it, even cast it up and play with multiples. It'd still look like crap. There will always be a market for someone that has skill to make an attractive figure. The only question for the future is how we consume those.

Personal logo Fergal Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Dec 2012 8:55 p.m. PST

Face it, the "need for a designer" will drop as more people become familiar with 3-D sculpting and they will just print their own figures…and likely a number those will be near (or exact) copies of their favorite, more traditionally crafted, miniatures.

There will always be a need for a designer. I teach 6th graders how to use 3D software and should have 3D printer at my school by the end of the month. Artists are in no danger of loosing their jobs to me. You still need skills to create with 3D software. Anyone can buy greenstuff, but not anyone can create beautiful miniatures with it. 3D sculpting software is no different.

Justin Penwith01 Dec 2012 9:30 p.m. PST

@Crossover Miniatures

My point was that pirated figures will become more prevalent. It will take little skill to scan in figures and then be able to turn around and use a 3-D printer.

That article about the Japanese company scanning people and turning those scans into figures is current technology that could be used to do the same thing with Perry sculpted miniatures (or anyone else's).

As the costs associated with 3-D printing, and eventually scanning, come down, then less honest people will go find their favorite sculpts, scan and print those, and then have no real need to buy new figures. This will first become true with premium priced models (GW) and will then later occur with even the least expensive metals.

Scale issues will be a determining factor for a while, until the printers become more sensitive to fine details at 6mm and 10mm.

Jishin Inactive Member02 Dec 2012 12:04 a.m. PST

@CraigH -- yes and no. Poser is mostly for animation, true. I had to go look at my manuals -- I have it, but have only touched it a few times. You can create and work with a limited number of primitives, but you can't do anything super-creative with just Poser. You can do a reasonable amount of adjusting the premade figures. If you can get your hands on a .obj file from another piece of software, you can assign it bones and turn it into an animatable figure complete with extra fancy hair and cloth objects. The caveat here is that I have Poser Pro and do not know if the import-and-use-other-object feature is available in regular Poser.

bsrlee02 Dec 2012 3:19 a.m. PST

I'm just waiting for the 3D printer company to actually produce the first working 3D printed firearm (they are trying, just waiting for the paperwork to 'officially' become a firearm manufacturer in the US).

Then we can look forwards to all the high resolution printers being 'licenced' and 'registered' with the various levels of government, like printers capable of making bank notes. You will still be able to get low resolution printeres like the ones that 'Make' magazine sell, just not the high resolution ones that can work in metal or high strength plastics.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP02 Dec 2012 5:04 a.m. PST

I'll be blunt and put that it's still much more convenient to just get some latex mould rubber and resin and get a good quality copy of nearly any figure.

The overwhelming majority of people who do use 3D printers will simply do what so many are doing today, find a torrent and just print away files they found online, most people won't bother trying to scan or sculpt their own figures in 3D.

When 3D printers finally do make it to most homes, it's likely the first generation will be the equivalent of old 8-pin printers, which will crank out low-res figures, very slowly at a cost that makes Foundry and GW seem cheap.

So we'll have to wait for the equivalent of a cheap colour laser printer to get acceptable high quality figures, but until then I'll just pick up a box of plastics or order a unit pack.

Poser and other software will not magically turn somebody into a third Perry or a new Meier, Hicks etc … Most such figures will most likely look like very poor relatives of the less successful early Wargames Factory sets.

PS bsrlee, it's perfectly possible to make a firearm from scratch using CAD milling machines which are increasingly common in workshops.

Jishin Inactive Member02 Dec 2012 9:45 a.m. PST

Like anything else, it depends on how much work you want to put into it. Right now I'm working on video game art and have several 3D classes under my belt. I know someone else who's done incredible things with Blender and the Uru Live engine.

I agree that a lot of people are going to print and play, but I think that 3D software and printing is going to open up doors to people who wouldn't otherwise sculpt. I'm a lousy by-hand sculptor, but digital's a whole different ballgame, and much more forgiving of errors.

Space Monkey Inactive Member02 Dec 2012 10:42 a.m. PST

So, I'm pretty good in Maya… is that a program I can use to produce these sort of files or would I need to learn something else?

Jishin Inactive Member02 Dec 2012 1:16 p.m. PST

Yep, Maya is a great tool. Typically all you'd need to do with a Maya file is export it in the format that the printer can handle. (:

boy wundyr x Inactive Member03 Dec 2012 8:06 a.m. PST

I do a lot of gaming in small scales – 2, 3, 6mm, and think the 3D printers will be a boon for things like buildings and other scenic pieces. Some are already doing vehicles in those scales with 3D printers, either selling straight from Shapeways or to print masters for resin or metal.

In general anything with straight lines, like buildings and vehicles, will probably always be easier to do and look better in the end than more organic shapes (like human figures).

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP03 Dec 2012 3:00 p.m. PST

Another problem is that 3D printers are not exactly ideal for mass production. I suspect that home printers will be quite limited in the volume and speed they can produce something, so it will be useful for small scale projects, but cranking out a full division is probably not going to be realistic.

Angel Barracks Inactive Member04 Dec 2012 11:23 a.m. PST

Also professional 3D printers need to be properly calibrated, Joe Schmoe is unlikely to be qualified for such a task.

(Phil Dutre) Inactive Member06 Dec 2012 3:42 a.m. PST

First of all, despite some strong efforts, there are still a lot of problems with 3D printing, both technologically and financially. It will still take a few years before your 3D-printer-at-home will be able to crank out quality product. Compare it to the evolution of the printing industry. We'll probably go through a phase where you go to your local 3D-printing shop to print out your own stuff.

On a higher level, I doubt it that ppl will start to design their own models. A few will, probably the same bunch that sculpts and casts their own models now as well. And that's a minority.

I can see a market where you can print a special figure that you'll need only once, and buy the file from the manufacturer. But for mass product (rank&file troops, of which you need dozens or 100s), I doubt it. After all, we are not all printing our own books in mass quantities, do we? We still go to a print shop for that type of work.

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