Further adventures in 3D printing for tabletop

A while back I wrote an article about my first steps in the growing 3D printing part of the tabletop hobby.  Now a few months down the line, an update on what I have learned and where I am going next with this.

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I’ve said it before, but it is worth reiterating – patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to 3D printing.  Over the last few months I’ve made some great inroads into ‘dialling my settings in’ and getting some great results for scenery pieces and larger models.  I’ve done something I’ve never done before – stripping electrics and re-wiring when a key component broke and I’ve also discovered some fantastic digital sculptors pushing their wares on Patreon.

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Dock side scenery piece by Hayland Terrain

So a reminder, I am running a Creality CR-10S which is a larger bed (meaning larger print sizes) FDM printer.  FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modeling, this is the most traditional style of 3D printer on the market and basically works by layering down melted plastic filament to build up a model.  The material I am using is PLA – this is an odourless plastic based on corn starch (so biodegrable).  Having played around with different brands (which does make a difference) I have settled on eSun PLA+ (in a rather splendid yellow).  PLA+ seems to be a slightly more dense version of PLA (possible with extra additives) and I have found it produces stronger models that are easier to work with both in terms of modelling and painting post-printing.

One of the key challenges with printing miniatures in particular is getting the ‘supports’ right.  Supports are the removable parts of the print, which you’ve guessed it, support parts of the model which overhang and would otherwise have to print in mid-air (as a famous guide book once said – this is of course impossible).  There are plenty of miniature designs out there in the 3D printing universe which have been specially designed to print without supports (more on these in a bit).  The real issue when you are using them is to get them so they provide enough ‘support’ for the model while also being relatively easy to remove without snapping off those important bits that should remain in place.

When taking this into account there are all sorts of different variables and pieces of advice out there.  Most of these relate to how you process the STL file prior to printing in your ‘slicing software’, but many also relate to the physical setup of your machine, brand and even colour of filament used and so on.  Lots of trial and error, lots of visiting Facebook groups, checking YouTube and reading forums – so again patience is a virtue.  For information I am using a piece of software called Cura to process (slice) the files before printing.  Learning and tweaking the settings in here is all part of the fun!

In the end I have got this about right I think and some of the results I am getting for larger miniatures both with and without supports are really pleasing.

But where I am getting the files from to print?  Thingiverse is a great resource – a community of designers and printers and a place to find stuff that is free.  There are specific groups and collections of files on there which are aimed at tabletop gamers. However there is also a growing trend for digital sculptors and designers to use the Patreon funding platform to market and distribute work.

I currently support two Patreon campaigns, where for a monthly charge I get access to a number of STL files each month.  Duncan ‘shadow’ Louca is well worth checking out.  I first came across his work as part of a Kickstarter campaign which was creating tanks and armoured vehicle files for a ‘grimdark’ setting.  However he has since branched out into miniatures which are primarily aimed at the fantasy roleplaying game market.  Duncan is extremely prolific and the level of funding he is achieving each month is quite staggering.  It is worth saying that the quality of the prints I have been getting from his files have been excellent as well.  So both quantity and quality – winner!

Another Patreon I have also recently started supported is run by Rocket Pig Games.  They again focus on fantasy monsters and creatures primarily for role playing (but for me ideal for planning out a Saga Age of Magic army).  The big selling point of their models is the aforementioned lack of supports.  Well worth checking out.  They also run a seperate Patreon campaign which focuses more on Lovecraftian ‘cosmic horror’ style miniatures.

The thing that connects everything I have covered so far is that I am printing big models.  In addition thanks to some recent Kickstarer campaigns and the wealth of treasures on Thingiverse I have been printing lots of scenery.  Again, although often detailed, this is big chunky stuff.  For the most part the models produced are sturdy and where supports are necessary they are relatively easy to remove.

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Pre-support removal and clean up

What about normal sized 28mm scale miniatures though?  I recently volunteered to print our some models that a friend had designed and purchased on HeroForge.  This is a great site where you can design character miniatures for your games and then either get them printed and shipped out to you or receive the STL files for printing out yourself.  It is here that I’ve noticed that you are really stretching the capabilities of a FDM printer.  As you are effectively layering up a model by depositing thin layers of plastic you do get some lines on flat surfaces.  For larger models these can be easily filed or treated post-printing (with plastic putty for example).  Settings can again be tweaked in slicing software to increase the resolution of a print (by reducing the layer height, but thus increasing print times); combined with the ability to swap out nozzles of different diameters this can lead to some stunning results. Of course on smaller models even with a high resolution setting and a smaller nozzle size these lines do become more visible.  Combine this with the issue of removing supports and you do start to get some problems with bits snapping off that shouldn’t or obsfucation of detail.

This very much became apparent when I was trying to print off these models – many came out well, but there were a few where the detail was just too fine and the oft mentioned patience became somewhat stretched.

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Smaller minis are pushing the limits of what I can do on a FDM printer

There is some light on the horizon though.  SLA (Stereolithography) printers are becoming much more affordable.  These work in a slightly different way and although they tend to have a smaller print size and are somewhat messier (they use light to harden liquid resin that is contained in a reservoir to create the desired 3D shape), they are ideal for printing smaller more detailed minaitures.

Ooops….

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World Enemy Number One

My long running Action Force in 28mm scale project has suddenly got a bit more focus.  I am attending the next 7TV campaign day at Board in Brum in Walsall in September.  This requires a 40 ratings cast and having fielded Space Force last time, I figure it’s time for the Enemy this time round.

Baron 3
Action Force will never succeed in eliminating the Baron! (A classic illustration from the pages of Battle Action Force Issue 508 January 1985)

In addition to the cast I am also putting together a table layout for the day, which is going to be themed around said cast – so Red Shadow secret base it is then.

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They will come like a red horde from the shadows!

I’ll be documenting my progress over the next few weeks.  The casting is mostly complete, so most of the focus will be on the table.  What this is allowing me to do is also stress the 3D printer with terrain and vehicles for the Baron!  I’m not planning on including any vehicles in my cast, but I figure any secret base worth its weight is going to have a pretty well stocked motor pool.  So a great excuse to go wild and finish off a number of things I have had part completed for quite a while.

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Bits of base – all 3D printed – all work in progress

First up is a 1:43 scale die cast World War 2 German Puma.  Following a black undercoat I airbrushed on some successively lighter layers of red and a picked out the basic highlights on the tools, metalwork and other features.  Decals wise I was lucky to chance upon some custom ‘Enemy’ decals from eBay a while back.  I applied these on top of a gloss varnish and subsequently weathered up using a sponge chipping technique.

All in all I’m pretty pleased with the outcome.  The WW2 German aesthetic fits the Red Shadows well (the original figure being based on the German Stormtrooper).

Next up are the Hyena tanks (known more commonly by GI Joe fans as the Cobra HISS tank).  I’ve got a stash of gift style toys released a few years ago that are perfect for 28mm scale and have previously painted one up, but I want a whole squadron for the motor pool.  This also gave me the chance to experiment with the new Citadel Contrast paints on a vehicle rather than a miniature.

Decals were from the same source as the ones used on the Puma.  The contrast paint went down well, but I have to say (as many others have commented) I feel it works much better on ‘organic’ models with plenty of folds and creases.  The paint tends to pool on flat surfaces and although it does run into panel lines it is not as effective as a wash.  I used Flesh Tearers Red over a white undercoat and ended up doing some dry brush highlighting afterwards in order to bring it up to a better and more consistent finish.  Interesting note, wary of some reports of the adherence of contrast paints not being as good as standard acrylics, I did seal the model with Dullcote between these steps.

Finally on the vehicles I needed Shadowtraks.  The eponymous Red Shadows vehicle, from both the toy line and the pages of Battle Action Force.

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The original toy

Luckily a fellow fan and wargamer has produced an excellent 3D model and made it freely available on Thingiverse.  I’ve printed this at 160% and made some ‘after print modifications’ to get the wheels positioned correctly.  A few more of these will be rolling off the Baron’s production line shortly.

Featured in one of the photos above is a new Baron Ironblood miniature I am working on.  I’ve previously modelled a Baron using a 7TV ‘not Blakes 7 Travis’ figure, but all in all wasn’t that pleased with the outcome (mainly on account of the rough job I did on the helmet using some very basic greenstuff skills).

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Classic take on the Baron I am keen to emulate in miniature form

While purusing my bits box a few weeks ago I happened across a figure I’m still struggling to identify.  Helmet wise I’ve gone with a ‘welders mask’ head from the Crooked Dice 7TV henchmen set.  Revel ‘Plasto’ putty has been used to make the mask into a full helmet.  I snipped off the right hand which was holding a hypodermic needle and replaced this with a fist from a random plastic sprue and added some electrical wire as a whip.  In honour of the original action figure I’m arming the Baron with an UZI which I sourced from an old Dreamforge Games Eisenkern Troopers frame.

Painting is yet to be completed but I’ll be using it as an opportunity to try both the black and white constrast paints.

More soon, including the plans for the rest of the base.

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What lies within?

Blood for the Baron!

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A portent of things to come

Cold War Miniatures 3D Printed Rocket Part 1

“Dispatch war rocket Ajax to bring back his body”

A while back I enthused about the wonderful retro science fiction figures available from Cold War Miniatures in their Princes of the Universe range.

Cold War Miniatures - Episode 4 - Attack of the Hawkmen

At the same time as picking these up I also purchased a set of STL files to allow me to print out a suitably retro rocket ship using my newly acquired 3D printer.

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An example print as featured on the Cold War Miniatures website

The model was provided in parts to print up, clean and assemble.  It features a detailed interior with a removable roof and the option to model with steps up or down.  Once put together this would provide me with a great centre piece to go with my Flash Gordon cast for 7TV Pulp.

The print time was fairly long across all the different components.  I didn’t track it exactly, but when adding everything together I’d suggest that it probably took well over twenty four hours.

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The majority of the parts printed

I printed the parts a few weeks ago when I was still tweaking the settings on my printer, overall however they came out with the need for minimal cleanup.  I used a bit of plastic putty in some areas to smooth over rough parts of the print.  As there are quite a few curved surfaces I also spent some time sanding.

Once I’d cleaned up the parts, assembly was straight forward.  Superglue was used to assemble the components, all of which were printed using PLA filament.  The roof is designed to sit loose on the model to allow miniatures to be placed inside and I also chose not to permanently attach the steps so these could be swapped out with the ‘ramps down’ version in future.

In terms of painting the plan was to go full on chrome and silver, however right at the last moment I changed my mind and went for a striking red and gold colour scheme.  Although retro-styled to the 1930s pulp serials (as is the majority of the Princes of the Universe range); I wanted at least a nod to the classic 1980 Flash Gordon movie and this colour scheme fitted in well.

To further minimise print lines on the body of the ship I tended towards over spraying both when undercoating and base coating.  I also wanted a glossy look to the paint job and just so happened to have a can of Humbrol Red Gloss acrylic lying around.  By spraying closer to the surface that I would normally I was able to get a smooth finish on the (albeit not too course) surface of the print.

Other block colours were done using a variety of bright metallics in order to maintain the shininess.  Black was used to pick out the windows and fine details.

In the second part of this article I’ll detail the interior and look at other similar models that are available for 3D printing.

 

 

Aliens APC in 28mm scale (3D printed)

For an ‘Aliens obsessed’ friend I recently completed printing, assembling and painting the iconic Colonial Marines Armoured Personnel Carrier.

Aliens APC - movie still

There were no shortage of models available to browse and download on Thingiverse.  The once I settled on, based on being both pre-scaled and available to print almost in one piece (a big advantage of the large print bed the CR-10S gives me) was this by Iava808.

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APC in 28mm by Iava808 – one piece chassis.  Wheels and turrets printed separately.

Overall print time was long!  The chassis alone took nearly a day, however the resulting model was well worth it.

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Printed components ready for assembly and painting.  SunTop Silk PLA filament.

Using a base of PSC German Field Grey from a can and a bit of drybrush highlighting followed by a wash of Citadel Athonian Camoshade did the job nicely.

APC painted
Painted with Prodos ‘Unicast’ marine for scale reference.  Top turret and door are movable.

As the nice gentleman said: “Game over man, game over…”.

Hobby 2.0 – 3D printing for tabletop gaming

I’ve been sitting on the fence when it comes to 3D printing for a couple of years now.  This has partly been down to funds, but also in no small part to the time investment required and ease of use of both hardware and software.

However this last Christmas I took the opportunity to pick up a 3D printer for the first time.  After a couple of months of sitting in a box I finally got this up and running over the last couple of weeks and have started my journey into what I am calling ‘Hobby 2.0’.

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The printer I chose is a Creality CR-10S – a good budget printer with a large print bed

Let’s get things straight from the off, 3D printing at home is by no means a ‘plug and play’ experience yet.  Yes, the affordability has put this technology within the reach of most now (in the same way as other new technology over the years has gradually got both more affordable and more powerful over time).  The key thing to accept though is that 3D printing at the moment is a hobby in its own right.  It requires time and patience and a willingness to fail in order to get better.

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My very first 3D print – a cobblestone base.  Start small in order to test and tweak settings.

There are plenty of great articles and resources out there on the internet for those wanting to get involved for the first time, so the purpose of this article is not to present a detailed guide to getting started, but to offer some advice and share my experiences so far as a tabletop gaming hobbyist trying to get into this new and exciting technology.

My main takeaways from about a month of 3D printing for tabletop gaming so far are as follows:

  • Don’t expect miracles (be patient and take stock) – prints will fail and in some cases may not turn out exactly as you planned, but bear in mind just what we are now able to achieve in our own homes!
  • Expect to do more work after the print is finished – you are not going to get a tabletop ready model straight off the printer.  Some clean-up will be required (but then that’s half the fun of being a hobbyist isn’t it?)
  • It takes a long time – prints can take hours or even days – again, however just consider what we are now able to do in our own front rooms!
  • Little things can make a big difference, be that ‘bed leveling’, temperature settings or the type and make of filament you are using.
  • Get a buddy or a guru if you can – I’ve been very lucky to get some great support off a fellow 3D printing gamer via Facebook.  Ask questions on forums and social media, watch YouTube videos, read articles, but accept that everyone’s’ experiences and setup can very.
  • Get on Thingiverse and have a browse!  Can’t recommend this site enough for free model files.
  • In order to process 3D print files (STL) for you printer you will need some ‘slicing’ software.  Find some software you like and can get on with.  For me Cura has proven ideal, is widely used in the community, is relatively easy to use and has some good features.

So as I say this isn’t a detailed ‘how to’ guide, but I hope it offers some perspective on what to me is a fascinating new aspect to the tabletop hobby.

I’ll be doing plenty of articles moving forward on taking my 3D prints to the tabletop, so stay tuned.  You can see some of my efforts so far below: