Tobold's Blog
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Printing plastic orcs - 4 years later

4 years ago I made a post about printing plastic orcs, explaining why I was printing cardboard squares in 2D instead of making the monsters for my tabletop roleplaying games by 3D printing. Most of what I wrote at the time is still true: There still isn't software available which generates models to print with a selection of postures and weapons. Well, the software exists at Heroforge, but they don't give you access to the models for home printing.

One thing that changed is that at the time a 3D printer was $1000, and now I got my printer for less than half of that, and there are models below $300. A spool of PLA is still expensive, at least $20 per kg. For the printer I am using the nasty trick by XYZPrinting of using an RFID chip to only allow proprietary PLA to be used raises the cost to about $50 per kg ($30 per 600 g spool). I even wasted more money because Amazon wasn't very clear about what XYZPrinting spool is compatible with which XYZ printer, and I ended up buying a spool for wrong type. (Pro Tip: If you need a spool for an XYZ da Vinci Junior, the part number needs to start with "RFPLC...", not RFPLA... or RFPLB...). However the price per 1-inch scale miniature is still very cheap. The printer automatically makes hollow figurines, so a typical plastic orc ends up being just 2 grams. Even at $50 per kg that is just 10 cents per orc. Compared to a Reaper Bones miniature that is actually very cheap.

The other important thing that changed is the availability of models that are legal to use without copyright. My main source in Thingiverse, But there is also an artist who released the whole Monster Manual worth of miniatures on Shapeways, and you can find blog posts with lists of D&D miniatures or search engines. So while I still don't have an editor to create models, I got quite a lot of choice of different models to print to use in my game.

One limitation of printing miniatures is that with a PLA filament anything you want to make needs to be at least 1 mm thick. I wanted to print some skeletons as a typical low-level monster appearing in D&D, and a lot of the models available couldn't be scaled down to 1-inch tabletop scale, because the bones were too thin. Finally I found one with a "solid" rib-cage, which printed just fine. One thing I learned is that most of the time it is best to print miniatures with the "supports" on. That prints sacrificial extra stuff around your miniature which supports the parts that hang in the air, like outstretched arms or weapons. But even with supports, miniatures designed with thicker parts come out a lot better than minis with a lot of fine details.

In summary, while printing orcs and other monsters for D&D is still a niche application, the current state of the art of 3D printing is well up to this task and produces usable results at an okay price. While printing is somewhat slow, at least 20 minutes per mini, even on my small printer I can easily print out several models at once and just leave it running while I am at work or asleep. So I have a growing army of miniatures for use with my upcoming 5E D&D campaign which I am quite happy about.


Manufacturing orcs at only 10 cents per orc sounds like something a lawful evil mastermind villain would say :)
Printed paper miniatures are even less hassle and they are in color!

We're having fun with these in our current campaign: Printable Heroes
Tobold can you post some photos of your printed stuff? And some setup/in-progress album would be cool too!
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