After discussion amongst some of the Wargame Wednesday regulars if 3D printing has come of age for tabletop wargames and due to having spent a lot of coin on figures over the years, I decided to take a look.
This excellent article summarizes the evolution of the miniature gaming up to the introduction of 3D printing then discusses potential impact to the gaming industry.
For those that are unfamiliar with 3D printing this article is also worth the read. There are a variety of printers available and unlike the one mentioned in the previous linked article they come fully assembled. An interesting comment from the Amazon listing for one printer. It seems that easy printing of one’s own miniatures at home is right around the corner (emphasis on easy).
Even with ease of use one should take into account the cost of consumables. This article breaks down the different plastic filament needed. Note the spools come in various colors but, unlike toner and laser jet printers the output of the print job in monochrome. One must be careful to get a spool with filament of the correct diameter for the printer. A 1kg spool of ABS filament goes for around $24. How many 28mm figures that would produce I cannot say.
This Economist article not only discusses the 3D industry as a whole but also gives us a clue to the cost comparison for materials available to manufacturer and home users: “Material costs are also high. ABS, is the most common 3D-printing material. A mass manufacturer using plastic injection molding might buy ABS in bulk for about $2 a kilo, but as a bespoke powder (note, usually for commercial desktop printers) or filament for 3D printing it can cost as much as $80 a kilo….the difference is due to higher standards of purity and composition required for 3D printing. But mostly it is because 3D-printer manufacturers require users to buy materials from them and markup the price, as with the inks for 2D inkjet printers. Mr Vicari thinks this strategy is not sustainable long term as third-party suppliers enter the business. Moreover, some big manufacturers, like GE, are developing bespoke 3D-printing systems which are not dependent on a single supplier of equipment or material.”
For any 3D object, let alone military miniatures, a design is required using 3D modeling software as described in the article above. Currently, there is a plethora of versions available online and a lot of them are freeware (at least the basic versions). I’d say the barrier for the layman is the same skill level as being good with Photoshop or even Microsoft Paint. Some folks have the patience and skill to master the interface and produce professional level presentations, some (yours truly) can never get beyond the basic stage.
This post mentions repositories such as Thingiverse with many on offer for free.
Here’s a nice example of a Jumbo Sherman Miniature available on Thingiverse.
And a list of fantasy models.
Finally, another article but very specific to producing miniatures.
My conclusion is 3D printing is on the verge of allowing hobbyists to print up an army at home since if the design process is too burdensome for the gamer there are more than enough depositories of designs and web sites emerging allowing one to design a figure. There’s even sites where you can choose a design of your liking and have the company print it for you though the pricing is expensive. My son’s D&D group decide to buy some personalized figures for their campaign and came across this page but due to the price they decided to go with a boxed set from a traditional manufacturer.
When the day comes when the materials are a little cheaper and one can select the color scheme in the design phase and the output is an acceptable “paint job” then I’d say it will burst the hobby wide open.
I was going to say that at this time 3D printing couldn’t keep up with the major companies and their relative economies of scale but this site changed my mind. You can like this guy’s design or not but his prices are competitive.
I’m not a marketing strategist for Warhammer or other large players in the game but I’m glad I don’t have this headache. My thought is that for now, copy right and brand loyalty will suffice but as the cost goes down and the technology spreads I foresee gamers printing up an army on demand for Friday night’s game with imaginations sparked by the last good SF or Fantasy book they read.
Some random links: