3D printing is disrupting the miniature industry

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Tabletop gaming miniatures are a booming industry with one of the biggest companies, Games Workshop, expecting a profit of nearly $190 million in 2022. Gaming miniatures aren’t just used for war hammer and other similar games, but also for board games, card games and even video game characters. The market is expected to grow even more over the next few years with the release of several new movies based on popular culture franchises such as Star Wars, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones.

Many factors have contributed to this growth, including the rise of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and the growing accessibility of 3D printing technology. 3D printing has come to the fore and is a disruptive technology changing the way miniatures are made. It is clear that 3D printing is here to stay and will only become mainstream in the years to come.

The conventional and time-consuming process of making miniatures

Conventional methods of producing miniatures involved many labor-intensive processes, such as carving, molding, and casting. That changed with 3D printing, which offers a much more efficient and cost-effective way to produce miniatures. To better understand the impact of 3D printing technology, below is a brief overview of the traditional pipeline from concept to product in the miniature game industry.

The first step in producing conventional scale miniatures is the design stage, during which an artist creates a drawing of the model. It can be a hand-drawn illustration, a digital rendering using 3D modeling software, or a physical sculpture. Once the concept is approved, we move on to the next phase. Here, the concept is refined and translated into a 3D model that can be used to create the casting mold.

Traditionally, the 3D model or master is sculpted using clay, organic or synthetic epoxy or other malleable materials. This master is then used to create a mold (or negative sculpture), which is usually silicone rubber or vulcanized rubber. Molten material, usually resin or tin, is poured into the mold to cast the final miniature product. Of course, there are many conventional ways to produce a miniature, but this is the most common way to make scale miniatures.

The process is extremely laborious and often requires the use of toxic chemicals. It also leads to a lot of waste, as there are often multiple failed attempts or broadcast errors along the way.

3D printing technology transforms miniature production

This is where 3D printing comes in. 3D printing offers a more efficient and accurate way to create miniatures. It is also less labor intensive, which means the overall cost of production is lower. Notably, it also allows accessibility to hobbyists and independent makers, who might not have the skills or resources to create miniatures using traditional methods, to the miniature making process.

With 3D printing, the miniature pipeline from concept to product is streamlined. Instead of a clay sculptor manually creating the “master” to make a mold, a digitally rendered model can be sent almost immediately to a 3D printer. The 3D printed model can either be the master to create molds for mass production or the final product and sold directly to consumers.

The future of miniatures is 3D printing

The benefits of 3D printing don’t stop at increasing miniature production. Because 3D printing is an additive process – it accumulates materials rather than cutting them out – it is possible to create much more complex designs that would not be possible with traditional methods. Additionally, 3D printing offers a level of customization that is difficult to achieve with other methods. For example, a customer can order a specific model on which his own face is sculpted.

Finally, 3D printing also offers “on-demand” manufacturing potential. Xometry, for example, has an instant quoting engine that allows users to quickly upload a model before getting a quote and putting it into production. This means that miniatures can only be produced when ordered, reducing waste and inventory costs.

Creating thumbnails is no longer labor intensive

It is obvious that 3D printing is revolutionizing the miniature game industry. What was once a labor intensive and expensive process is now more efficient and cost effective. This technology also offers new design and customization possibilities. As 3D printing technology continues to develop, we can only imagine the new possibilities that will be offered for the production of miniatures.

Image Credit: Niferure / Shutterstock.com

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