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"3D printing of miniatures." Topic

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3,198 hits since 3 Jan 2013
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FusilierDan Supporting Member of TMP03 Jan 2013 6:44 a.m. PST

how will this change the hobby? How far off before we can do it at home?

In Lace wars you could change the lace patterns for each regiment.


Angel Barracks Inactive Member03 Jan 2013 7:00 a.m. PST

Depends on if you will accept that models that are printed having less quality than those that are done the traditional way.

Shapeways for example even with FUD has print lines all over them.
You don't get that with greenstuff and traditional sculpts.
There are printers that will print properly smooth, but they cost more.

In time it will be an option but until printers can make models as smooth and robust as metal ones, that are cheaper, require less outlay (a £1.00 GBP figure costs £1.00 GBP, but if you need to buy a £7,000.00 GBP printer first, why not just buy 7000 figures) and can calibrate themselves it could a long way yet..

Also, if traditonal business models are no longer valid, for example model makers no longer need to mould and cast things, that will cut their income.
If I sold files, you would only need one file of a tank to print a thousand tanks.
You can be sure that one file won't be the same price as one metal tank!

Only Warlock03 Jan 2013 7:15 a.m. PST

They are already doing so and will only get better from here. Within 5 more years they will be as available as regular printers in Wal-Mart and almost as cheap as a regular Printer with better quality than is available now.

FYI I am peripherally involved with the FAB movement:

And have a good read on the approaching "Tool singularity" lol.


Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP03 Jan 2013 7:40 a.m. PST

I get the feeling that people think that 3D printing will be a magical box that works by wishing hard and pushing the magic button, the box will instantly produce 24 figures of the most obscure possible unit you had in mind for the price of a song.

A few years from now as companies like Shapeways introduce higher DPI machines we'll get more "gap fillers" models that nobody else makes and aren't economical to produce using classic methods.

As prices get lower, we'll see more conventional figures and models make an appearance.

I don't foresee that home printing will be a cheap and convenient option for a while. It will be useful for printing specific pieces like optional barrels, heads for swaps, weapons etc. Early home printers will be slow, expensive and won't have the quality most gamers expect.

As for the software side of things, I doubt that any software will turn somebody into a Perry brother any time soon. CF the Powerpoint syndrome, where the software forces people to think in limited ways and produce miniatures that make old Minifigs look cutting edge in comparison.

And I would like to issue a challenge, to any TMP member who never sculpted a figure in their life or ever done any 3D work, to use any currently available over the counter software and deliver me an acceptable model file of a French 1815 Grenadier (28mm optimized) with a quality level comparable to early Wargames Factory releases, suitable for printing by Shapeways in less than three months.

Delthos Inactive Member03 Jan 2013 8:08 a.m. PST

Affordable high quality 3D printers are just around the bend. There was a Kickstart campaign for one just recently. $2,300 USD may not seem all that affordable to some people, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Just look at the quality, detail, and smoothness of the examples in the linked kickstarter below.

They will rapidly be coming down in price with bigger and better machines. The same thing happened with digital cameras. 15-20 years ago there just weren't any affordable high quality consumer models. A good high quality one cost thousands of dollars. Starting about ten years ago, you can get better quality pictures from a $100 USD digital camera than you could from those thousand dollar cameras. We are on that edge right now with 3D printers.


As Patrick R says though, people will still have to create good high quality models. I would say that with the resources out there, it will be easier for someone to build an acceptable 3D computer model than sculpt a model in putty. The thing is that once created a file is easily to duplicate. There will be talented amateurs who give away their work for free. There won't be a magic easy button, but there will quickly be large libraries of files for people to download and use.

Personal logo Rebel Minis Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Jan 2013 9:33 a.m. PST

In 5 years we will have machines that work just like Star Trek Replicators. You just say 15mm tiger tank and poof there it is :)

Personal logo Sgt Slag Supporting Member of TMP03 Jan 2013 10:09 a.m. PST

The comedian, Jeff Dunham, created the Achmed's Son puppet by sculpting the face in modeling clay. He laser scanned it, to convert it to a 3-D printer file, then he printed it. When the printer finished, he painted it. He uses that printed doll on stage.

Mr. Dunham has given us proof of concept, Folks. 3-D printers are already changing the miniatures market: I purchased two, 1/144 WW-I airplanes from Shapeways for playing "Red Baron" games: very lightweight, easy to mount on a vertical stick to show height, with a 'heavy' Ilya Moromets bomber at three feet up the dowel, without tipping over! Easy to paint, with just enough detail for this scale. These printers will continue to penetrate, and change, our tiny little marketplace… Cheers!

Dynaman878903 Jan 2013 1:14 p.m. PST

The only question is what stage are we in the "dot matrix" stage or the "laser" stage of 3D printing. From one to the other took roughly 10-20 years, 3D printing will most likely be much quicker.

fred12df Inactive Member03 Jan 2013 1:28 p.m. PST

<quote>The comedian, Jeff Dunham, created the Achmed's Son puppet by sculpting the face in modeling clay. He laser scanned it, to convert it to a 3-D printer file, then he printed it. When the printer finished, he painted it. He uses that printed doll on stage.

Why? why didn't he just use the sculpted clay head, rather than go through all the other stages. He had a 3D model to start with, did loads of other steps and ended up with a 3D model – maybe your description leaves something out. Having never heard of this comedian, I have no idea what his act is, so may be missing some important back ground info.

Guinny Inactive Member03 Jan 2013 2:01 p.m. PST

Re: Jeff Dumham – if he has developed an act or routine based around one particular puppet, what happens if it gets lost, destroyed, or is stolen? This way he has a back-up of something important, which can quickly be replaced (if he doesn't have a bunch of spares done already!) It also allows for the final puppet to be made in a lighter, more durable material than clay, and is probably easier to make hollow and articulated than his original sculpture.

WeeSparky03 Jan 2013 4:44 p.m. PST

As soon as they get the automobile perfected, we can get rid of all the horses.

The best use for the printers would be taking scanned files of existing miniatures and reproducing them in different scales.

kokigami03 Jan 2013 7:23 p.m. PST

3d printers, combined with open source data, are a godsend to niche market buyers. Probably not so good for niche market sellers.. You already see some companies creating stl files for sale, rather than finished products. That trend will only increase. Especially in licensed product lines. How easy is it to take a first person shooter model and tweak it to a printable model. (within a few years I would expect to see this as a bonus item on video games and animated blue ray)

Crucible Orc Inactive Member03 Jan 2013 9:35 p.m. PST

For the record, you can already buy low-end printers from companies like makerbot. again, they are more expensive them people would like(around 1000 USD) and they don't produce thing anywhere near master-quality items, but they are already here. there are also the reprap-printers, that you can build yourself with plans from the reprap wiki.

so we already have those low-quality lower price version kicking around. what we will see now is probably slowly increasing quality in the lower cost options.

I don't forsee the price coming down much. the machines are fairly complex, especially for higher quality. I've looked into building one for my final project in my engineering program, and i was told that anything more then a single axis controller is way out of the scope(and time frame) of the project. adding the 3rd axis to any manufacturing system is the really expensive part, as it requires very complex programming and co-ordination.

MongooseMatt Sponsoring Member of TMP04 Jan 2013 3:50 a.m. PST

>>>How easy is it to take a first person shooter model and tweak it to a printable model.

No, I really don't think so.

We have been down this path. After all, we are building a complete library of just about everything that sailed during WWII with highly detailed models. With our contacts in the computer games industry, we figured there could be some interest as we would be saving someone an awful lot of work.

The conversation did not last long. You see, the problem is that computer games rely on textures to get a lot of detail, while we need to use genuine polygons for physical models. Take your average 3D first person shooter model, and you will end up with a very poor miniature. Take one of our models and put it in a computer game, and you will bring it to a grinding halt.

Angel Barracks Inactive Member04 Jan 2013 4:33 a.m. PST

Xbox games are pretty and you can see some very nice doors with lots of features and lighting, shadows and handles, hinges, panels, bolts and rivets etc.
But the door model is flat, the hinges don't stick out, nor do the handles or the bolts.

Think of it as typical PDF printed buildings vs normal resin buildings.
The printed ones will often look better from a distance and straight on, but at an angle it becomes clear they are very flat and none of the detail is there.

That would make for a very poor model compared to what we get now from conventional means.

kokigami05 Jan 2013 12:51 a.m. PST

@ mongooseMatt.. understood. But I should think that going from a print model to a game model could be done with a simplification algorithm. Going the other way I admit, would be time consuming. Trying to learn to build models now, as I have a printer coming in a few months. I find I keep thinking in game model mode.. frustrating.

Turtle Inactive Member05 Jan 2013 7:02 a.m. PST

Some things to note.

The current methodology for modeling for high end games involves making a lot of high polygon models, then "baking" this high polygon detail into lower resolution textures that fake the detail using special algorithms.

Most of the time, if you want to print something, use the high poly model. You can also recalculate the high poly model from the textures by turning them into displacement maps. It's a complex process and not really supported overall.

As for 3D printing, it will change things, but not for another 5-10 years. The low cost printers are just too low detail, too expensive, and generally still only for hobbyists.

In 5-10 years though, I'd imagine being able to sell printable files online to decent resolution home 3D printers. Likewise, factory 3D printing will get fast and affordable enough that it gives real competition to the expensive plastic moldmaking process.

Personal logo Sgt Slag Supporting Member of TMP05 Jan 2013 9:03 p.m. PST

Guinny is correct: the 3-D printed dummy is much lighter than the clay master. He is also correct in stating that Dunham can re-print a new head any time he may need to. (If interested, search YouTube for "Jeff Dunham and Achmed Junior".)

With regards to printing miniatures for gamers, a decent resolution printer is about all that is currently missing from the equation: take a traditionally sculpted master model, scan it with a 3-D rendering laser, and you would have an accurate software model file. Then print said file with a higher resolution 3-D printer, which produces product at a profitable price, and the industry will be transformed.

This process could eliminate inventory storage, other than printer resins, in liquid form. This is a small, niche market. A profitable printer, of high enough quality, would be all that was needed, aside from a computer to run the software, along with a higher resolution laser scanner system. After that, you would only need the master sculpts to scan (sculptors could even sell digital scan files themselves, and hold onto the master sculpts, selling printing rights for limited amounts of time, allowing the sculptor to sell them to the highest bidders, if they like…), and resin to print, on demand, every order that comes over the Internet. No more molds, no more casting machines, no more metal market price shifts to deal with.

Shapeways is already set up close to this business model. They don't have the laser scanner system, as far as I know, but they do offer a dizzying array of WW-I & WW-II airplane models, in various scales, and various materials (resins, and aluminum, even). The 1/144 models are decent resolution, extremely lightweight, and very easy to paint. I think we are closer to seeing this paradigm shift within five years, rather than 10 years. Time will tell. Cheers!

LTC Fraiser Inactive Member03 Feb 2013 6:33 p.m. PST

There is a ready-to-use 3D printer costing about $600 USD, which advertises a tenth of a mm (.1 mm) 'resolution' in the vertical axis. The description does say that .3 mm is the 'ordinary resolution'. I've been watching the 3D printers for several years now and they're at the point where one needn't be a computer or electronics wizard to use them successfully. I've read the posts here about issues with surfaces not being smooth and with lack of detail and I have to say that while Shapeways is a fine company with a good product, the method used by them creates the sort of pebbly surface complained of, while the fused-filament method used by many of the hobbyist 3D printers does not. As for the lack of detail, one needs to a learn a bit of 3D modelling to be able to tweak the computer file, adding bits of detail which will aid your painting. Shortly, I will be buying one of those 3D printers and attempting to produce hard plastic (it's ABS filament) miniatures in 15, 20, 25, 30 and 40 mm scales for my solo skirmish gaming. Why all the scales? I want to experiment with the finess of the surface as well as the amount of detail one can achieve. Besides, it'd be simple you see to take a 'humanoid figure' model and add fangs, etc, then scale the 3D model down (using Blender for instance) and printing it out in a smaller scale, thereby creating 'pixies' or 'imps' or 'small flying reptiles' or 'rodents of unusual size' for such a skirmish game. My initial estimate is that I can expect in excess of 200 figures in 25 mm from each 1 kg. roll of plastic stock, giving a cost per figure of approximately 12 cents (USD). When my experiment is launched, I shall post a blog with photos, etc, sharing my frustrations and successes with the universe at large. (I ignore, of course, the depreciation on the equipment, my time, etc. What am I? A tradesman? Of course not!! I am one of nature's aristocrats: a war-gamer!!)

LeonAdler Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Feb 2013 11:44 p.m. PST

Oh no not again! ( to quote the bowl of petunias')

Ivan Agram Inactive Member04 Feb 2013 3:04 a.m. PST

Similar to comic book, illustration and animation industry I don't expect traditional sculpting/molding to vanish in miniatures industry.

LTC Fraiser Inactive Member04 Feb 2013 10:35 a.m. PST

I don't expect that the traditional sculpted/molded figures either plastic or metal or even resin to disappear. Neither do I expect to achieve the surface smoothness nor the sharpness of definition of cast plastic/metal figures with 3D printing as the technology currently exists. What I do expect is to produce figures which will satisfy my (perhaps too low?) expectations for use in my solo skirmish gaming, with the ability to produce a sufficient number of figures to meet my requirements for those games more cheaply than by purchase of the traditional plastic/metal figures.

In addition, I anticipate that I will enjoy the tweaking, fiddling adjustments and frustrations which will inevitably! accompany my use of this method of figure production. It is entirely anticipated that I shall spend a lot of time puzzling out the software which controls the printer as well as making adjustments seemingly without end to the printer settings. I have already travelled the trail of travails associated with learning the basics of using the Blender program (open source btw) to create 3D models in my PC and find that I enjoy that finicky and irritating! process. So, you see, to my sensibilities, the deficiencies in 3D printing of war gaming items are "features, not bugs", thereby adding to my enjoyment.

I'm retired and my wife of 46 years is recently deceased, so I have a super-abundance of time and require a hobby which will require my utmost focus and attention, thereby diverting me from my loss and I hope! providing me with pleasure. I've been a gamer for over 50 years and am certain that I shall enjoy the gaming; it is my fond hope that I shall likewise enjoy the "features" of 3D model-creation and printing of my gaming figures and accessories.

In addition, it is barely possible that I may be able to again enjoy the discussion etc which accompany the hobby, always supposing that I am not exposed to such a degree of ridicule here and in other fora that I will again withdraw into my "solo gamer shell", distaining to "cast my pearls before the swine", so to speak. Do wish me luck, will you?

GriffinTamer Inactive Member09 Feb 2013 6:57 a.m. PST

I for one wish you luck. As someone with a little experience in both 3D computer modeling and traditional sculpting, I expect things will sort out eventually such that CAD / 3D printing will become the preferred method for creating models of non-organic forms (vehicles, mechs, dice and so forth) while traditional sculpting will never quite be equalled for modeling living creatures. In the meanwhile it will take a bunch of folks with your sort of dedication to the learning process to elucidate the potential of the new technology. But I expect there are many skilled traditional sculptors (as well as casters of traditional sculpts) who are watching the development of 3D printing with some anxiety, which I can certainly understand. The thought of someone with a scanner pirating your work, for one thing, is certainly not a pleasant prospect.

LTC Fraiser Inactive Member09 Feb 2013 7:43 a.m. PST

New technology always presents more opportunities for the unscrupulous and those lacking in moral fiber. Thank you for your good wishes. And I share your opinion that 3D printing will become the method of choice for modeling inorganics and traditional sculpting and molding with remain the method of choice for living things.

For anyone who is interested, I have begun my blog and while not yet ready for 3D printing yet, I'm testing "Long Rifles" as a rules set for my skirmish gaming in the black powder era. oh, yes, the url is .

Elenderil11 Feb 2013 4:22 a.m. PST

In the short term is there going to be a gap in the market for High Street/Shopping Mall stores with all the equipmant to scan your master, create the file and print the product (either from your own master or a purchased file)? I'm thinking of a parallel to the photo copy shops which sprang up before we all had printer/scanners available at home.

Obviously there would have to be a bigger market than just us wargamers, but across all of the various hobbies that use complicatedly shaped items as part and parcel of what they do will there be a market? Or will it stay on line with product being mailed from central locations after being printed to order?

LTC Fraiser Inactive Member11 Feb 2013 9:38 a.m. PST

Elenderil: Honestly, I have absolutely no idea what a successful business model would look like for 3D printing of miniatures .. or of anything else, for that matter. What I propose is simply to make a 3D model in a graphics program and use that model to instruct the printer to create the plastic figure. Then, of course, use that plastic figure to play a wargame. Business? Not my intention or purpose.

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