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The 3D Printed Alternative to Traditional Tabletop Miniatures

I was thinking about sculpting miniatures for tabletop war games, as an opportunity for freelance work, and I made a list of all of the companies launching new games or miniatures on Kickstarter. There were dozens of successfully funded projects, and the money raised was significant–it looks like tabletop war gaming is booming.

But along the way I discovered that the companies producing these games and miniatures are not paying very much for the original sculpts used to mass-produce the figures. Maybe it is the high-cost of traditional tooling for injection-molding or spin casting that makes the business model so lean, or maybe something else… For the producer, the sculpt is just one of the expenses, along with molding, painting a sample for marketing, etc. ( They pay about as much for the custom paint job as for the sculpt!)
This kind of blows my mind, because the sculpture is the whole product! Without the sculpt, there is nothing to produce.

If you want to freelance for a miniature company, you will be offered only $350-$400 for all rights to your work, and your native ZBrush file… No royalties, just that small amount of cash. If you spent a whole week on a miniature, you would be working for slave wages….

So I had to sit down and rethink… clearly there is a demand for tabletop miniatures, but the traditional approach is not going to work for me. I can’t see how it works for anyone!

When a traditional company wants to manufacture a mini, they will use a high-resolution DLP 3D printer to build a master copy, that they will cut up and prepare for molding. Whether the miniature is manufactured with spin-casting or injection molding, the customer will have to clean up the parts ( seams, flashing, sprue marks) and assemble the final product like a tiny model kit.

But there is an alternative to the traditional model. With Shapeways, an artist has access to the same high-resolution 3D printer used to print the master copy. Instead of making a mold of that master, you can sell those 3D prints directly. An artist maintains all of the control of their copyrights, and has a product that is superior to what can be molded. There is no need to cut it up into pieces. With 3D printing, you don’t worry about undercuts, or assembly, or seams.

The customer will still do a little bit of cleanup. There is a support scaffolding that is generated when the sculpture is printed, that has to be removed, but this is easily accomplished with a few minutes with an exact-o knife. Most of this support is cleaned-off by Shapeways.


The same DLP 3D printer that is used to make the final product, as is used to create the “master” copy in the traditional process.

Shapeways calls their black resin “BHDA” for Black High Definition Acrylate. I think they could come up with something catchier like “Dark Matter”.. But whatever you call it, this is clearly the way forward for producing a line of miniatures as an independent artist.

I’ve done a few pieces as tests, so that I can confirm the quality for myself. I will be adding more to my Shapeways shop as I move forward. Now I just have to let people know about them (marketing…)

Scroll of TAR Graphic Novel

I’ve been working on a graphic novel based on TAR of Zandoria. After developing a technique using Procreate and my iPad, been laying out the pages and script, blocking out the whole story. 

Here are a couple of pages that I went ahead and finished, to get a feel for how the style works on a comic page. I’m pretty happy with it, since I can draw it, letter it, and color it all from iPad. It is the closest feeling to working traditional–except I have LAYERS and UNDO! 


I’ve started a Patreon page where you can see all of the pages for the Scroll of TAR graphic novel as I upload them:

https://www.patreon.com/Zandoria

TUSK

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Tusk is the elephant watchman at the oasis of Lund. He keeps the peace around the waterhole and watches the gates at night. He can often be heard teaching his son Rollo about life. Tusk is rumored to have been a gladiator for the Blue Faction in the arenas of Kor–prior to Kor’s destruction by the Chiktakk Horde…

Comic book lettering on iPad

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I’ve been working out some techniques for creating a graphic novel on my iPad Pro. One of the things that I didn’t want to do is go back and forth between my iPad and computer just to do lettering in Illustrator…

So I did a little research, and found that you can install comic book fonts to your iOS devices using an app called AnyFont. Now I can simply format my script in Pages using the font that I want for my balloons.

I’m doing the artwork in Procreate. I import a screenshot of my Pages document into a new layer, and use select and transform to move the dialog into position.

My template document is 2100px x 3150px so that I can create 7″ x 10.5″ @300dpi. The trim size is 6.75″ x 10.25″

iPad technique

This is a technique that I’ve been experimenting with on my iPad. Using Procreate and an Apple Pencil I start with a basic charcoal sketch over a 50% gray background.

Working with only black or white I refine the light and dark values on a layer set to “hard light”. This means that everything that is darker than 50% gray is multiplied while everything lighter than 50% gray is screened on the layers beneath. Switching to color with an airbrush, I fill in the color values on a layer beneath my hard-light layer.

The values that were painted in grayscale interact with the color to give the final result.

Here is a time lapse video!

3D Printed Custom Jewelry

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One of the cool things about using a service like Shapeways is that you can get 3D prints made in materials like metal–even precious metals. This clasp was a commission for fashion designer Katie Bickford-Sawkings. It is printed in polished silver from a model created in ZBrush:

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Shapeways first prints the model in a castable wax, then uses a traditional lost-wax process to cast the final piece in metal.

Each material has it’s own design constraints, which has been a sometimes frustrating learning experience for me, as I’ve had to keep tweaking things to create something that will print successfully and pass through multiple steps to become a finished product….

Sometimes a customer wants text engraved or embossed on a small piece of jewelry. While I can model it as small as I want–there are limitations to how fine a detail you can get. The smallest detail that you can get is about 0.3mm, so when you model the text you have to think about the thickness of the strokes and serifs rather than the height of the letters. You also have to be aware of the space between letters!

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On this jump ring, the customer wanted the word “C.U.R.E.” in a font that had thin serifs. To scale the text up so the serif was 0.3mm would make the word too big to fit on the ring! So I had to go in and modify each letter, offsetting the original curves to create letters that would make it through the process.

But even though there are some design constraints with this process, there is also a lot of freedom when it comes to sculpting digitally and then reproducing that piece with 3D printing.

An example is this Bahamian conch shell. The client wanted this specific type of shell in a piece of jewelry, and airmailed me an actual shell so that I could use it as a reference.

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I used a Structure 3D scanner to capture the basic geometry of the shell and then imported into ZBrush.

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The scan data gave me a pretty good base mesh for the shell, and I had the actual conch shell in my lap as I went in and sculpted the details. This 3D model of the conch was then incorporated into a custom pendant.

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For Shapeways and other services that offer custom jewelry from 3D printed wax, there is a minimum feature size that affects details that are engraved or embossed. Because of the lost-wax process that the design must go through, the smallest feature for polished metals is 0.35mm

For an example, look at the ring above. The strokes of the letters in the text “One Ring To Rule Them All…” is scaled to 0.35mm. The ratio of width to depth is 1:1, so it mustn’t be deeper than it is wide…It is possible to print details in wax 10 times smaller (.03mm), but it will be rejected when it comes to manufacturing.

If you would like some help turning your idea for a custom jewelry piece into reality, you can contact me on the Designers for Hire page at Shapeways. I would love to help you bring your dream to life!

3D Printed Miniatures

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I’ve been doing a lot of commissions through Shapeways this year, many of which are miniatures.

There is a new material that Shapeways is testing called High Definition Acrylate, that is ideal for miniatures.

email-blog-hi-def-acrylateSo now I’m thinking about creating a series of miniatures myself and offering for sale… What about a series of 54mm miniatures inspired by my Dark Lead sketchbook?

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or maybe something like this Alice in Wonderland piece that I made for my daughter?

Here is a sample I just got from Shapeways at 54mm height:

Photo Apr 16, 1 53 24 PM