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Getting started with 3D Printing for Tabletop Miniature Gaming

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January 28 2013

Download the Legends of Kalidasia 3D Models Here.

In the near future, 3D printing will radically alter or destroy many of the business models that companies take for granted today. Among the first to face this challenge will be the tabletop miniature gaming industry. 3D printing is a family of technologies which allow for a digital computer model to be automatically built into an actual physical object. It is not a new technology, but within the past few years, various services have made the technology accessible for the average person. Within the next few years, it may be possible to print a model for cheaper than it costs to purchase a figure from the gaming company. In this series of tutorials, I will take you through the steps of using 3D printing for tabletop miniature gaming.

The tools you will need to create 3D miniatures includes a 3D printer, 3D modeling software, and 3D models. Lets take a look at each of these tools in detail. The video below provides an overview of my 3D printing workflow.

The 3D Printer

The 3D printer is getting cheaper, but the reality is that a good 3D printer is still out of the price range of most people. In order to get the detail needed for tabletop miniatures, you are looking a printer in the $10,000 or more price range. The MakerBot, which costs under $1000, is a cool product, but at the time of this writing, it does not have the detail level for game miniatures.

Fortunately, you do not need to own a high quality 3D printer to produce tabletop game miniatures. A variety of online services allows you to upload your digital models and as long as the models can be printed, the service will produce the models for a reasonable cost. Shapeways is the company I am the most familiar with, but there are other services, so be sure to look around.

The 3D Modeling Software

3D Modeling software is what you will need to produce the 3D models. Most of people reading this article will be using Blender because it is free to download and use for any purpose. Of course there are other excellent commercial 3D modeling software packages available, but they are very expensive. Regardless of which 3D modeling software you choose, you will find that these pieces of software are very confusing to use. I wouldn’t say they are difficult to use, but it will take a lot of time to figure out how to build a model in them. In the future, I will certainly be publishing some tutorials on using Blender.

The 3D Models

Most of the 3D printed miniatures you create will be ones built from scratch, but it can be helpful to start with an existing model. Many websites offer 3D models for free and many others have models for sale. Thingiverse is a great online community which offers models for download. Shapeways hosts a store where creators can offer their 3D printed models for sale, but this store is for the actual 3D prints and not the 3D models. My company, Kalidasia Media Productions, offers all of its production miniatures 3D models available for download here. As for other miniatures companies, most do not offer their models for download, but a clever Internet search will turn up many community created models.

Those are the tools you will need to get started with 3D printing. Be sure to check back in the future as I will create detailed tutorials on how to use many of those tools.