SparkmakerFHD was a Kickstarter that I backed last year, for a low cost resin printer. Though I had vowed never to pledge on another 3d printer kickstarter again, I couldn’t resist… I worried when it didn’t ship when anticipated, but eventually it arrived!
I had never used a resin printer before, so I was a little intimidated. I read through the manual a couple of times before I began. I bought nitrile gloves and lots of isopropyl alcohol, and watched some YouTube videos. Eventually, I overcame my fear and turned it on!
For my first print, I loaded up some of the miniatures that I had sculpted for my Patreon into Chitubox (the slicing software), used “Auto supports” and clicked SLICE.
I assumed that I would get some failures, and that I would use that experience to learn how to improve my prints. But when I came back and checked on it a couple of hours later, it was done printing and everything came out perfectly!
When I had first shown these designs on Facebook, someone said that the weapons would be too thin, and these same models uploaded to Shapeways got flagged as unprintable, because the blades and crossbow strings violate their minimum feature sizes…
I have had some experience with Shapeways, because I was one of their Designers-For-Hire and had done some contract modeling for them as part of their Design with Shapeways service… Their minimums are put there to make sure they they never have a problem (and have to reprint or refund), so they are meant to play it safe (for Shapeways)…
But as you can see, the blades and crossbow strings printed just fine.
My next print was to see how big I could go, so I scaled up Conan the Cimmerian to 120mm and let it print overnight. I added some more resin to the tank before I went to bed (I was paranoid that it would run out).
I was totally impressed with how this turned out! This is on a resin printer that was only $250 on Kickstarter (it is $349 on their website)
Now that I’ve got this printer, I am thinking that I can use it to produce physical miniatures for sale. The level of detail that can be achieved is far superior to what can be done with injection-molding. There is no tooling cost, and no inventory, everything is print-on-demand.
I’m weighing this idea vs just selling .STL files, since even though it is pretty simple to do, there are many more gamers and painters who would rather just buy a mini, rather than printing it themselves.
3D printing is enabling everyone to create their own miniatures, rather than buying mass-produced ones. This leads to a problem with scale, when all of these miniatures are on the tabletop.
Like most artists, I learned proportions using “heads” as a unit of measure, and the human figure as the reference.
Most of the Ral Partha, TSR miniatures that I have in my collection are 25mm scale–which for traditional wargaming, means that the figure is sculpted so that it is 25mm from the bottom of the feet to the eyeline. The actual height of the miniature might be 28-30mm depending on the headgear….
Games Workshop and others started making what is called “Heroic Scale“, and others have started use the term, but it is not consistent between companies, and with the dozens of artists creating 3D printable miniatures, the scale and proportions seem more confusing than ever….
This is a sample model from Hero Forge, A company that lets you configure a miniature and then order a print or download the .stl file to print it yourself.
Though this is a nominally a “28mm” figure, you can see that it is 32mm tall (28mm being the distance to the eyeline). I have heard some people give the advice to a new sculptor (wanting to make miniatures), to just base it off a 32mm figure, But that is not enough direction…look at the proportion of the figure based on HEADS–it is only 5-1/2 heads tall!
When you look at a normal human figure at 32mm tall, the head is much smaller compared to the “Heroic Scale”. It is only 4mm, compared to 6mm. So even though the figures are the same height, the normal human figures look tiny….
This is true, even when you put this same figure on the table next to the old 25mm metal miniatures. The average size of the head on those old minis is 5mm.
At 5mm head height, a normal proportioned human would stand 40mm tall (if standing upright), and the Hero Forge model would be a dwarf (as far as proportions go), but at least they would look right on the tabletop.
Since I am beginning to make miniatures myself, I needed to figure this all out and create a template for my figures that will work for my miniatures and look good even next to someone else’s miniatures…
A 7-HEADS figure with a 5mm head, is 35mm tall (standing upright). But when posed in an action pose, will stand a little shorter (28-32mm). This is the template that I came up with, after trying variations in proportions, that I believe will look good on the tabletop, even when mixing between traditional miniatures and 3D printed ones from different artists.
If sculpting smaller races, such as Dwarves, Gnomes and Halflings I will alter the proportions (4-HEADS) appropriately, so that they are shorter on the tabletop, but keep the heads 5mm.
It may be a non-issue, since whenever you are 3D printing, you can scale a model however you like… Whatever proportions or style of miniature that you prefer, if you are mixing and matching sculpts from different artists or companies, if you keep the skull sizes the same, they will look better on the tabletop.
One of the strengths of 3D printing is the ability to create shapes that cannot be manufactured with traditional methods like injection-molding. I want to try and create miniatures that take advantage of this, rather than cut up the model as if it were going to be molded.
Since my last project was 3D printable Caves for tabletop gaming, I decided to create some miniatures to populate those caverns, and to design them for small SLA printers like Anycubic Photon and Sparkmaker to take advantage of the amazing level of detail that they can reproduce.
The “Drider” is a creature familiar to players of Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. It is part dark elf and part spider. Driders are often portrayed as a “spider centaur” with the upper body very human (or elf), but I decided that my cave driders were especially cursed–even their faces transformed into a spider!
I have 3 different weapon poses, and also a Dead Drider option–so that the Dungeon Master can switch out miniatures rather than tipping over the dead monsters.
This Bundle of STL files is available for only $10 at Cults3D
Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.
This is the opening paragraph of FL-108, from the US Copyright Office… There is some confusion that I have run into on online forums regarding 3D printed miniatures for games, where there was a concern about being sued for violating the Intellectual Property rights of companies such as Games Workshop or Wizards of the Coast by creating miniatures for their games without a license.
IP rights are Copyrights, Trademarks, or Patents. There isn’t any other type. You can’t copyright a game–only the art or text within it. Ideas are not protected by copyright, only their artistic expression in fixed form. Some people think that the rules (game mechanics) are protected since they are within the copyrighted rule book, but that aspect of the work is specifically not protected by copyrights:
In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work
This is from a ruling on a cloned tabletop game, where the judge ruled summarily that there was no infringement. The artwork and story can be protected by copyright–The rules cannot.
This issue came up in 2011 when an artist created 3D printable versions of pieces for the game Settlers of Catan and made them available on Thingiverse. The 3D printed tiles are not based on the printed tiles from the game (which could make them derivative work), so are perfectly legal in regards to copyright.
Trademarks are a different type of intellectual property, that identifies the source of a product or Service. Games Workshop has a trademark on the term “Space Marine” as the name of a product:
The Trademark (word mark) identifies “Space Marine” as a product of Games Workshop. This trademark identifies the source of the product–specifically the tabletop wargame. It does NOT mean that Games Workshop owns the word, except as the name of a game.
The actual miniatures and illustrations from the many Warhammer Codexes are protected by copyrights. To create your own version of these pieces, if based on them, would be to make a derivative work–a violation of copyright.
However, there is nothing preventing an artist from creating miniatures intended to be used as space marines, which is why you see miniatures from 3rd parties such as Scibor Miniatures:
As long as your sculpture is original and not based on a copyrighted drawing or painting, it is not a violation of anyone’s intellectual property. As stated above, games are not protected under copyright.
There is an “Open Gaming” movement, which I have an issue with–The copyright holder granting you a “license” to use their rules to make your own content! Wizards of the Coast started this with their D20 System, to encourage 3rd parties to create content that was compatible with their game.
But game rules are not protected by copyrights, there is no need for permissions at all. The OGL license does not grant the right to use any of Wizards of the Coast’s copyrighted artwork, so it is essentially granting a license where none is required. Maybe this is a way to relieve 3rd party creators concerns that they could be sued, and to encourage them, but it also creates an illusion of “IP Rights” that don’t exist….
In this new era of 3D printed tabletop games, an artist could not only create a line of miniatures for 3D printing, but also publish stats (warscrolls) for playing them in Warhammer 40K, Hordes, Warmachines, D&D or Pathfinder!
Another possibility is to create standardized tabletop rules, where players can bring in their armies that they have bought, built or printed and play them against any army–regardless of the setting they were originally created for–A Multiversal Wargame™
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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…)