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Caves of Chaos

KeepontheBorlderlands
Artwork from “The Keep on the Borderlands” by TSR Games

When I first played Dungeons & Dragons as a teenager,  the first adventure was the Keep on the Borderlands. The monsters were in an area of the map called The Caves of Chaos! I have a lot of great memories of those years, so when I started thinking about designing some 3D printable terrain for table-top gaming I naturally started think of those caves….

There are a number of kickstarted companies that are selling .STL files for 3D printing. I realized when I started checking them out, that the gaming community has eagerly adopted this technology, and there might be an opportunity for me in this area.

Before 3D printing, a company called Dwarven Forge was already making a very high-quality hand-sculpted and hand-cast resin terrain for gaming, but it is very expensive. What I noticed right away about the designs from these newer companies is that they were basically copying the designs of Dwarven Forge– The tiles were all 2″ squares, about a half inch thick, in all sorts of configurations to help you layout your dungeon.

However 3D printed PLA plastic is a lot lighter than Dwarvenite resin… So the 3D printed pieces have to be clipped or glued together so they don’t get scattered all over the table. I felt that the designers had failed to approach the problem from scratch with the strengths of 3D printing in mind. On top of that, the Caverns and caves were all rectangular and ugly….

I decided that I would start from scratch. One of the strengths of 3D printing is the ability to create complicated shapes that would be difficult or impossible to create through traditional manufacturing.  I wanted to build complete pieces that were ready to paint and play, with no assembly.  Instead of squares, I started with a hexagon and began to calculate the number of possible passageways that could come in and out of a 6-sided tile.

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The biggest tile that I can print on my Printrbot is 6″, though that is pretty small compared to a lot of FDM printers, which would be big enough to not get knocked over during play. Since it doesn’t have to attach to the other tiles for stability, That gives you the freedom to rotate the tiles and quickly reconfigure the game map.  Because the 3D print is starting from the ground, and there is no need for the additional structure to clip tiles together, I decided to make the floor 1/8″ thick–thick enough to be sturdy, but not wasting plastic.

I kept the 2″ standard for the openings of the passages, and the 2″ overall height (taller than that interferes with visibility of the miniatures).

My wife and I visited Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville Tennessee, which is the largest cave complex in our state, for some inspiration.

Once I was back home in the studio, I opened ZBrush and created a template for the tiles, ensuring that I could make all of the tiles mate up perfectly when printed.

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I ended up creating 22 Hex tiles, which could create and endless cavern across the tabletop. The tiles print with no support, and require no assembly.

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Here is just a quick sample of the types of cavern layouts you can create:

Once I had the pieces sculpted, I decimated the models to create a high-resolution polygon mesh, and exported the .STL files.

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Edit: I have gone back an added some Cave Entrances as well as Hex rings with OpenLOCK and Magnetic connection (because people kept asking for it), and an OpenLOCK compatible dungeon entrance so that you can connect these Caves to the rest of your dungeon:

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If you are a gamer, and would like to print your own endless caverns and caves, you can get the set of .STL files here:

On MyMiniFactory:
https://www.myminifactory.com/object/3d-print-caves-77276

On Cults3D:
https://cults3d.com/en/3d-model/game/caves

On DriveThruRPG:
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/232472/Caves

On RenderHub:
https://www.renderhub.com/zandoria/caves

Bear Cub Martini Glass

This was a custom martini glass of 3 bear cubs climbing a pine tree. The client provided some photos for inspiration and specific volume requirements for the martini. Originally conceived as a 3D printed piece through Shapeways, I designed around the requirements for their process. However, because this was a luxury item, the client opted for using a traditional foundry and had the glasses cast in stainless steel.

Because of the need for precision for the glass, I modeled the basic form in Rhino. Then I exported that Geometry and brought it into ZBrush for the sculpted elements. I looked at a number of materials from porcelain to steel to give the client some options for materials, as each material has different specifications for minimum wall thickness.

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The basic bear cub was modeled in ZBrush, and 3 different copies of it were posed on the stem of the martini glass

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The details of tree bark, branches, and roots were sculpted on the geometry that I created in Rhino

 

The foundry used a 3D printed pattern to create traditional molds and then cast the final glasses in stainless steel.

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I thought that this project was interesting because I was able to combine the precision of CAD, calculating the liquid volume, with the artistic freedom of digitally sculpting in ZBrush. I also liked how well it turned out, as an actual martini glass.

The client was also very pleased with the results. and says that the metal also serves as an excellent heat sink, keeping the martini cool!

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…)

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…

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:

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DIY –3D Printing in Bronze!

So I broke down and purchased my own 3D printer, when I discovered some amazing new materials that are 80% powdered metal. They are Bronzefill and Copperfill, created by a company called ColorFabb in the Netherlands. This is like creating cold-cast bronze, but directly printing it instead of casting it in a mold.

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My first print using Copperfill turned out great. The material cools a little slower than regular PLA, so it doesn’t warp at all. I did increase  the temperature on my extruder to 215C instead of the default 208C. I’m using the Printrbot Simple Metal, which I am very pleased with (that’s an affiliate link, so if you are in the market…). Below are the steps I used to finish my print:

  1. Print your part. I’m using my design, YodaBuddha
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  2. Clean up the print using needle files, sandpaper, and even a soldering iron! This last tip is a great way to weld different parts together! Use steel wool to buff the surface and expose the metal particles.
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  3. Apply traditional cold patina (I’m using Mahogany from Sculpt Nouveau) with a brush or spray bottle. You may want to warm up the print with a hair dryer before applying. Let it sit for 10 minutes and then reapply until you get the darkness you want.
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  4. When the print is dark enough, use the steel wool to gently buff the raised areas to bring out the metallic luster.
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  5. Seal the print with clear wax. I used floor wax!
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That was all there was to it. I hope this inspires you to do some 3D printed bronze yourself!

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