3d printing miniatures vs buying plastic miniatures

3D printing is an excellent way for many hobbyists to save some money. From gardening to cosplaying, many hobbies can profit from 3D printing their own tools and parts. What about miniature painters? Is 3D printing your miniatures a good alternative to buying plastic ones, or is it just a waste of time? We will explore the benefits of both approaches in this article, so sit tight and continue reading.

What is 3D Printing?

Commercially available 3D printing is a dream come true for many hobbyists. It is a process of turning a 3D model into a physical object. There are two types of 3D printers for home use. FDA printers place layers of molten filament one on top of the other to create objects based on 3D models. FDA printers require a lot of fine-tuning to make finely detailed small models. They are good for 3D printed wargaming terrains and other surfaces with less detail, but if you want to print beautiful miniatures, you should choose SLA/DLP printer.

3d printer anycubic photon with miniature

SLA/DLP printers, also known as resin printers, use light to cure liquid resin into layers. This technology makes it possible to create detailed models through 3D printing. This type of printer is the best 3D printer for miniatures.

How to 3D print miniatures?

To 3D print miniatures, you will need a 3D printer, printing materials, 3D models, and lots of trial and error. 3D printing miniatures require a lot of tweaking of settings to get the results you will be satisfied with. People often imagine 3D printing as simple as printing text on paper. But 3D printing D&D miniatures requires knowledge and time investment to the extent where it becomes a hobby on its own. First, you will have to learn how to set up your printer. When everything is ready, you will need patience because 3D printing a miniature takes hours to be finished. After a miniature gets printed, you will also have to cure and clean your 3D printed model, which is a time-consuming process on its own. A detailed description of a 3D printing process is a story for its own article. For now, you must understand that it takes time and knowledge to print 3D miniatures.

Is 3D printing miniatures worth it?

One of the main reasons people get 3D printers is for monetary reasons. Miniature prices start at around €10, so painting miniatures can quickly become an expensive hobby. If you are among the people who already realized that, you are probably wondering; how much 3D printing miniatures cost. Materials for printing a miniature cost around 20 cents. Even with increased electricity bills, in the long-term 3D printing is a cheaper option if you are buying a lot of minis.

3d printing bigger miniature

The biggest expense for 3D printing miniatures is the initial cost of buying a 3D printer and other supporting equipment. If you are buying miniatures occasionally, buying a 3D printer is not worth it. However, if you are buying lots of minis, you will save a lot of money by 3D printing minis. You also have to consider how much space you have at your disposal. A 3D printer releases toxic fumes, so you must keep it in a separate room with good ventilation.  

To conclude, if you are a passionate miniature painter who buys lots of miniatures, printing your 3D miniatures is definitely worth it in a long run. However, there are other concerns to consider. I will tell you about other problems of 3D printing miniatures in greater detail later in the article.

Best resources for 3D printing miniatures

The process from finding a 3D model for the miniature to having the finished miniature ready for painting is a long one. Each step in between requires a certain degree of knowledge or outsourced work. To 3D print miniatures, you will have to know how to create a 3D model or where to find 3D models. If you belong to the latter group, you will have to find out where to download 3D printer files. Initially, you should check out Thingiverse. It is an open-source website with a bunch of free 3D models. The best source of high-quality miniature 3D models is MyMiniFactory. It is a website that specializes in 3D models of miniatures, but most of the models on the website aren’t free.

When you have your model, it is time to start printing your miniature. You will have to find ideal settings for 3D printing. This part of the process will depend on the type and model of your 3D printer and the materials you are using. If you are a miniature 3D printing beginner, it is good to check out YouTube channels that focus on 3D printing miniatures and terrains. 3DPrintedTabletop and GeekGaminScenics are good options, to begin with. You will learn a lot from those channels. They cover content from inspirational videos to learning how to clean 3D printed miniatures.

Plastic miniatures vs 3D printed minis

With monetary benefits out of the way, we have to consider other important elements of 3D printing vs buying miniatures. Plastic miniatures are the classic way to get into the miniature painting hobby. They are more expensive, but usually, you get guaranteed quality. On the other hand, with 3D printing, you can customize your miniatures, but it takes time and knowledge to do so.

dnd miniatures plastic and 3d printed

Time

Plastic miniatures are the winner of this category. When you buy a plastic mini, it is ready to use right away. 3D printing a miniature takes 6-8 hours, depending on the 3D printer you use and the size of the miniature. That is not the only time-consuming part of 3D printing miniatures. Once your miniature is printed, you will have to cure and clean it, which also takes a lot of time. Miniatures, especially those used in wargaming, have lots of fine details. 3D printing wargaming miniatures is a long process because you will have more work on cleaning detailed miniatures than simple pieces like terrains.

Quality

The quality of both versions of miniatures varies. Some companies that make 3D miniatures are selling low-quality products, but on average, plastic miniatures you buy will be high-quality products. The quality of 3D printed miniatures will depend on the 3D printer, materials you use, and 3D printing settings. If you have a good printer and know how to set it up, 3D printed miniatures will have excellent quality. In conclusion, both approaches can yield high-quality and low-quality miniatures, but plastic ones are more likely to be high-quality.

Ease of use

Similar to the time category, plastic miniatures are ready to use right out of the box. 3D printing is a hobby on its own. You have to learn how to set it up and experiment until you find optimal settings. Using a 3D printer isn’t rocket science, but it still requires some knowledge and skill.

Customization

Customization is where 3D printed miniatures shine. Although there are places like Hero Forge where you can order customized miniatures, options with plastic miniatures still aren’t limitless. When you are 3D printing miniatures, the options for customizing miniatures are virtually unlimited.  

Painting 3D printed miniatures

Painting 3D printed miniatures takes some extra effort compared to plastic miniatures. Plastic can be painted right out of the box. When you take your 3D printed resin miniature off the build platform, the first step should be washing it with isopropyl alcohol.

how to paint 3d printed resin miniatures

Once you wash the miniature, it is time to clean it up and sand it, as there might be some protrusions and other imperfections. The final part before painting the miniature is priming it to ensure there is no leftover dust from the sanding. When sanding is done, you can paint your 3D-printed miniature the same way you would paint any other miniature. If you are just learning how to paint miniatures, a good place to start is YouTube channels like MarcoFrisoniNJM.

FAQ

How much does 3D printing miniatures cost?

Materials for printing 3D miniatures are inexpensive. Resin needed for 32 mm miniature costs around €0.2, but there are other costs to consider. You will spend some money on electricity, alcohol, gloves, and curing materials. However, the highest cost of 3D printing is the initial one. Buying a 3D printer and curing station will cost you €400+.  

What is the difference between filament and resin 3D printers?

Filament 3D printers print by melting filament and placing it in layers. They can print larger parts than resin 3D printers, but aren’t as good for printing fine details. Resin 3D printers use light to cure the liquid resin.

Do I need a separate room for a 3D printer?

3D printers emit toxic fumes, so they should be kept in a separate room with good ventilation. You should never keep a working 3D printer in your workspace. The enclosed room where you keep your printer should have a stable temperature to ensure the best quality of prints.   

Is 3D printing miniatures time-consuming?

3D printing miniatures is a time-consuming process. Printing a miniature takes 6+ hours. Once a miniature is printed, you have to cure it and clean it. Finally, before it is ready for painting, the miniature has to undergo sanding and priming.  


Author - Ante Radoš

Dungeons and dragonsGames workshop