By: Chad Christian (TapRackBang)
Tabletop RPGs and wargaming have been taking over the scene lately, and that’s not new info. There are more resources now than ever to make your game unique, immersive, and visually impressive. You can buy all kinds of minis and tiles and terrain, but printing your own is another option to add to your piles of unpainted plastic. 3D printing isn’t necessarily a new concept anymore, but you may still be thinking that it’s too involved, too much hassle, and just too expensive. That’s not quite the case anymore!
I recently picked up my own resin 3D printer on sale from Anycubic, and it’s time to share what I’ve discovered with this growing technology. I bought the Photon S, and I was immediately overwhelmed with all the information out there about all the settings and configurations and necessary products, and the list goes on. Once I got started printing, though, I discovered that it’s not half as difficult as it may at first seem, and the options of files available out there to print are incredible. After basically running my new printer nonstop for a month, here’s what I’ve learned so far.
First, we’re talking about printing for tabletop gaming here. In this realm, a resin printer is the direction you want to go. I don’t personally own a filament printer, but I do know this: resin will get you finer detail on your minis, especially when printing on a 32mm scale, will leave less of those visible layers you get from filament. It is also much less involved when it comes to configuration and settings. You also don’t need to break the bank if you’re looking to keep things on the “miniature” scale. Sure, you can spend upwards of $800 on a printer with a massive build plate that will print more at a time (and faster) like the Photon Mono X or Elegoo Saturn, but if you’re ok with something a bit smaller and aren’t trying to print in bulk all the time, you can get away with spending $200-$300 to get you started. Right now, Anycubic is still running a big sale on their machines; the Photon S has dropped from $379 to $219 currently, and it’s been working like a dream so far for me.
So what else do you need to get started? I can’t vouch for other companies, but Anycubic does send a 500ml bottle of resin with the printer to get you started. Beyond that, Amazon sells the same bottles for $16.99 and 1000ml bottles for $34.99. You’ll also need some PPE as resin, and its fumes are toxic. You’ll need a mask/respirator of some kind, safety glasses or goggles, and nitrile gloves. Resin can still seep through latex and vinyl gloves, so a good reusable pair of nitrile is the way to go here. Microfiber towels for cleanup are recommended over scratchy paper towels, and you’ll need some 90+% isopropyl alcohol. Lastly, I can highly recommend getting some version of a wash and cure machine. I picked up Anycubic’s Wash and Cure 2.0, and yes, it’s another $100 or so, but it makes the post-printing process so much easier. You can get away with cleaning the prints on your own and setting them out in the sun to cure, but if you can spend the extra cash, do yourself a favor.
Past the physical items, the last thing you’ll need is some kind of slicing software to take your STL files, prepare them, and convert them into “sliced” files that your printer can read. It sounds more daunting than it is. Anycubic has its own software, but it’s not very robust compared to others. The program that still seems to be everyone’s go-to is called Chitubox. It’s free but has a paid option with more features. However, being an exception for me, it ran slowly on my machine for some reason. I found a newer program called Lychee Slicer, and it has been amazing - also free but with a paid “pro” option. It’s very intuitive, has everything you need from start to finish, and runs very smoothly. One of those two should be all you need to get going.
Here’s the last grab-bag of tips and tricks here before I’m out. Again, resin fumes are no good - make sure you print in a well-ventilated area. Also, I don’t care what they say; you do not need to drain and clean your resin vat after every print. Just fill it back up to the fill line, mix it around a bit and get back to printing. There are also some great places to find free STLs to print until your shelves are overflowing. If free is what you aim for, check out thingiverse.com. You can find tons of minis and OpenForge Dungeon tiles and so much more on there without having to pay a dime. However, if you’re looking for some quality minis and terrain geared specifically toward TTRPGs, check out Loot Studios and Archvillain Games. They have monthly subscriptions that provide new themed sets every month, and their designs are quite literally out of this world in creativity and detail.
That’s all I’ve got on the subject so far. If you decide to dive into the world of 3D printing, I wish you luck and to have fun printing custom minis for each member of your adventuring party!