Let me be your fantasy (miniatures)

The vast majority of my gaming and hobby activity falls firmly under the category of science fiction or pulpy type stuff (be that historical or modern but with that certain twist).

However with the release of 7TV Fantasy last year (including an upcoming gaming day at Board in Brum) and a plethora of 3D printing options open to me (especially via Patreon), I have been delving back into the worlds of fantasy.

Like many, my start in the hobby was inspired by reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in my early teens. It was this that ultimately got me into initially role playing games and then miniatures.

The paperback versions of The Lord of the Rings from back when I first read it (late eighties)

With that in mind I have been slowly painting up a number of fantasy miniatures in between other projects over the last few months.

First up we have a likely pair – a renegade wizard and a sneaky advisor from ‘The Printing Goes Ever On’. These are 3D prints from their Patreon (also available for purchase via MyMiniFactory). I scaled them up by 114% from the default size which is obviously designed to be used with The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game. This effectively changed them from ‘true 28mm’ scale to more ‘heroic’ 32mm scale, which more closely matches most of my miniatures.

Staying ‘old skool’ I have popped them on hex bases. It’s been a while since I completed these and so I cannot remember the exact paints used, but it is a mix between traditional acrylics and Citadel Contrast paints.

From the same range (and similarly scaled up) here is an Uruk-inspired mini. He was painted up from a dark base coat and given a red skin colour as an alternative to the usual green used for Orcs and Goblins.

A servant of the white hand

Next up there is a model obviously inspired by the Dark Lord himself (you know the proper one, not the one that was ‘ROFL-stomped’ by a boy wizard). This is another 3D print from the Patreon of RN EStudio (also available on MyMiniFactory).

3D prints prior to undercoating. These were both undercoated black.

This was a fantastic model to both print and paint. By default this was more heroic scale so I didn’t have to do any resizing. He was given a black undercoat and liberal amount of metallics were then drybrushed on, with traditional highlighting to complete the look. The ‘magic fire’ effect was then achieved using Tesseract Glow from the Citadel Technical paints range on top of a white base.

A big bruiser of an Orc next from the Tusklands range by Rocket Pig Games. This guy is really chunky and I have a bunch of his mates in various states of completion at the moment. Again I have gone for a ‘non-traditional’ Orc skin colour here, with a yellow base coat washed down with various shades.

Finally and still WIP are my ‘lost adventuring kids’ who will be forming the core of my cast for the upcoming 7TV Fantasy event. These are 3D prints of files from Monstrous Encounters. (Not shown is the little Barbarian who had gone off on a side quest at the time of taking this photo.)

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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