Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
 
Printing plastic orcs

At some point in the near future, when I need a plastic orc for a tabletop role-playing game I will be able to use some "Fantasy Army Generator" software to select the model of the orc and his weapons, and then print the miniature on a 3D printer. Theoretically I could already do that today, but there are still some practical problems.

The main problem is that the software "Fantasy Army Generator" doesn't exist. I would have to design the orc with a CAD/CAM software, and those aren't easy to use. And seeing how I can't even draw a decent orc, I don't see me designing one in 3D. Theoretically I could download a CAD file from somewhere on the internet, but it isn't as if Wizards of the Coast are already offering the complete Monster Manual as CAD files. Of the files that are available (and I didn't look), there is also the risk that some are in infringement of some copyright, for example copying the design of Warhammer orc boyz from Games Workshop.

At some point in the future there will be "3D copiers", scanning 3D objects with lasers to create a file that can then be printed. You can already see those sometimes in a mall where you can get your head scanned and transformed into a 3D portrait. But those 3D scanners are still farther out from common availability than 3D printers are. And again you'd be infringing copyright if you scanned an existing plastic orc you bought somewhere and copied it. Maybe some day Blizzard will sell you the CAD file of you World of Warcraft character for 3D printing, but right now they only sell you the figurine. If you look at reports about 3D printing on the internet you'll find people excitedly explaining how they can print replacements for broken plastic parts, e.g. a broken battery cover of an alarm clock. But unless you are really good at measuring dimensions in 3D, I guess it would take you days to get such a piece perfectly right, and then it still wouldn't match the color of your alarm clock.

If you only got a file somebody else made of an orc, and aren't able to modify it, the interest to print that orc isn't all that big. Games Workshop sells you a box with 50 orcs of different types for under $100, and other companies sell you plastic orcs for considerably less, down to $0.20 per plastic orc. 3D printers on Amazon.com are still over $1,000, although there are apparently self-build kits that sell for considerably less. And of course, who would have guessed it, companies are gouging customers on the printing materials. While the markup is less than for printer ink, 3D printer plastic filament sells for $30+ per kg, although the cost to make a kilogram of colored plastic filament is under $3. You would need to print a lot of plastic orcs before your printed orcs are cheaper than the mass-produced ones. Needless to say that printed plastic orcs have the same disadvantage as mass-produced ones: They are mono-colored and you still need to paint them to make them look good.

So today I'm still printing my orcs in 2D on cardboard in 1" squares and then use 1" self-adhesive felt pads (the kind you glue under chair legs) to give make them easier to handle and move over a battle-map. But maybe in a few years there will be that Fantasy Army Generator software, or a Monster Manual 3D printing software, and I might consider switching to 3D printing. If I don't have enough stuff to print to make buying a 3D printer worth while, there are also 3D-printing-on-demand services around. The main problem at the moment is getting from an image in your head to a CAD file of what you want.

Comments:
It's still too early, we just entered the 3d-printing era and everything is subject to change, update and get better.

Costs are obviously high and those devices are still catered to specific customers. Give it some time and this tech will become much much more accessible.

Think about laser printing: it was very expensive back in time... and now? Even a b/w toner costs almost nothing.
 
Is there a business opportunity do you think for someone to offer 3D model generator that could be used by amateurs? I imagine it would be something like the character generator from an mmorpg which allow you to select hairstyle, clothes etc.
 
That might be a chicken & egg problem: As long as few people have 3D printers, there is little business opportunity for software. But as long as there is little software, people are less tempted to buy a 3D printer.

If Blizzard tomorrow offered a "3D print from Armory" functionality for World of Warcraft, sales of 3D printers would skyrocket.
 
I guess copyrights are enough to keep this from being too useful in my lifetime.

OTOH, Amazon now created a 3-d printer section and printers sell for $1300 which is a third the price of my first laser printer.

Staples is putting 3-d printers in stores http://www.engineering.com/3DPrinting/3DPrintingArticles/ArticleID/5662/Staples-First-3D-Printing-Experience-Centre-goes-live-with-Mcor-Technologies.aspx

If I can order from Amazon or go down the street and use one in a store, then 3-d printers have at least moved up a step.

Some posit that the Kinect camera in XBone might be the 3-d scanners of the future. Didn't Sony have some test tech that put your face on an in-game character? Imagine if the rogue miniature had a face evocative of the human playing that rogue? Or if the ogre resembled your boss and all the orcs your ex? At a certain age/ego/disposable income, that is more appealing than $2 each in bag units ...

Blizzard won't sell 3-d models of my characters due to copyright. But perhaps in these D&D ver x vs Open ver y rules battles, it could be that better 3-d software models would help? If you play this ruleset/campaign, then 3-d pritable software models are available.

...

It's been decades since I D&Ded, but I find your descriptions interesting. The long-term solution to maps might be when a 50cm+ touch screen machine/laptop/tablet could lie flat. But perhaps with 3-d printers you could have map squares/hexes that you assembled. So you could just arrange generic room squares or decide that it was important enough that you were going to print a special one with a fireplace in the corner.
 
Well, that's the same situation we faced with cellular phones, smartphones, inkjets, lcd screens, laserjets, laptops, etc.

With time, printers will lower the price. Of course a 3D printer will always less sell than -say- a cellular, so don't expect to print 3D figurines for few cents anytime soon.
 
Yes, 3D printing is still a novelty right now. Some people know CAD really well and can make good use out of it but most people have to rely on others to make the 3D models. The only practical use right now is printing replacement parts, which in the US are for the most part not a violation of copyright (they are usually standard sizes).
 
You know, Google Earth uses crowdsourced models to create 3d buildings on their landscapes. You can download free modeling software that they designed, called SketchUp, and use it to generate models which you can then send them. I think some kind of voting process chooses the best model for a particular building. So people who are local to the area and have some artistic talent can help to voluntarily populate this database full of buildings that has grown an awful lot over time.

I suspect that when the 3d Monster Manual arrives, it will be generated on a site very much like that... a repository where hobbyists can share their stuff.
 
You know, Google Earth uses crowdsourced models to create 3d buildings on their landscapes. You can download free modeling software that they designed, called SketchUp, and use it to generate models which you can then send them. I think some kind of voting process chooses the best model for a particular building. So people who are local to the area and have some artistic talent can help to voluntarily populate this database full of buildings that has grown an awful lot over time.

I suspect that when the 3d Monster Manual arrives, it will be generated on a site very much like that... a repository where hobbyists can share their stuff.
 
You can probably make standing cardboard things like in card hunter too. I don't think those plastic bases are very expensive, may need to shop around board game producing companies for the best deal though. :)


 
It's amusing. It reminds me of the whole, "You wouldn't steal a car..." anti-piracy advertisement.
"Yeah, but if I could burn a copy..."

Can you imagine what will happen to all these industries where suddenly the uniqueness of their property and their primary source of revenue is bypassed by new technologies becoming available, which may well be cheaper, easier, faster, and nigh-undetectable?

What on earth could they possibly do? Why, they might have to change their business model... Gasp.

Snark aside, it'll be interesting to see how advances in quality and affordability of 3D printing affects various industries. The 'free to play' or 'always online' monetization/enforcement strategies aren't going to work for most physical goods.

I foresee government intervention through litigation before any actual market adaptation.
 
3D printing is incredably wasteful. You should be using the 3D image files to create life-realistic holograms instead of using non-renewable resources to create a pile of limited use plastic.

Alternatively use a 3D touchscreen (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23132678)
 
Back in time I remember at some point we decided to print monsters and charactes from ... PC games. We took screenshots from titles like "Pool of Radiance" or "Curse of the Azure Bonds" and then edited them inside Paint Shop Pro.

Laser b/w printer, some paper... and we were ready to go. Lots of fun.
 
Actually, there are quite a few 3D scanners available for free, as phone apps or web apps (see Free123D or My3DScanner). All you need is a series of digital photos taken from certain angles, and the software can render the object as a 3D model. So you could replicate that plastic orc, but like you said, it wouldn't do you a lot of good. Now, the fun part would be making a 3D model of yourself, and printing THAT as your mini!
 
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