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Easy Guide 3D Printing Miniatures for DnD

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I recently became a dungeon master for dungeons and dragons, and wanted to get some miniatures, but found out that buying a ton of miniatures is rather expensive, so I thought why not check out 3D printing miniatures for DnD?

So naturally, I got myself a relatively inexpensive 3d printer, found a great source for the models, and started printing! It was a lot of fun figuring out how the printer works and playing around tweaking settings. I was quite shocked about how long it actually takes to 3d print something, especially 3d printed miniatures since precision is key, some of the prints take multiple days…

In this post, I’ll take you through what I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made on getting starting with 3d printing miniatures.

Default Dog Front

This is the very first miniature I printed, on my Ender 3 V2, it’s the default model that comes with the printer, printed on standard settings. It came out fairly well for a 3D printed mini apart from the layers being a bit too large, but not bad for 3D printed minis.

Components of 3D printing miniatures for DnD

There’s a couple of components that go into actually printing a mini.

  • 3D printer: The actual printer that you will use to 3D print, many types are available.
  • Models: You will need model files for your mini’s that you want to print.
  • Material: There is different material options available to print with.
  • Slicer: The software that takes the model file and slices it so that your printer knows how to print it.

What is the best printer for 3D printing miniatures?

I found myself asking this question, keeping budget in mind of course, and from what I could research, it appeared that you’re much more likely to get great quality from Resin Printers, however since the budget had a role to play I ended up getting an FDM printer instead.

I do sometimes regret not going with an SLA printer since printing miniatures was my main goal, and you get amazing quality with SLA printers.

There’s a bunch of different types of 3D printers:

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) – Filament based
  • Stereolithography (SLA) – Resin based
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP)
  • Selective Laser Sinistering (SLS)
  • Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
  • Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)
  • Digital beam Melting (EBM)

But the main ones we are concentrating on are the FDM and SLA printers.

FDM printers form layers by depositing lines of molten material, whilst in SLA printing the liquid resin is cured by a highly precise laser to form each layer. So you can typically get much finer details using an SLA printer, but it is also much slower and more expensive than FDM printers.

In some of the pictures, I will show you what my miniatures currently look like after hours of playing around and tweaking on the Ender 3.
But if you want out-of-the-box brilliant quality miniatures then I would suggest an SLA printer.

The answer to the question seems to be that SLA printers are the best for 3D printing miniatures.

So it appears that the best 3D printer for Miniatures is an SLA printer…

Best SLA printers for miniatures

AnyCubic is a company based in China founded by a New Zealander, they have warehouses in both the USA and in Germany.

Best Overall

Best Budget

Best FDM printers for miniatures

Creality is another company based in China, and they have received numerous honors from the 3D printing industry.

Best Overall

Best Budget

The Creality Ender 3 v2 has a couple of upgrades compared to the base Ender 3, such as a glass printing bed and a color screen, but you’ll be fine without those upgrades. When I got my Ender 3 v2 it was on special, so it made sense to rather go with the Ender over the AnyCubic, or perhaps I just wanted the additional challenge of playing around to get things perfect, I’m not sure…

Models for 3d printing miniatures for DnD

So now that we’ve sorted out the printers, we actually need some 3D printing models, and if you’re like me and you’re no good at creating your own models then you’re in luck because thankfully there are some brilliant artists out there, and there is software that makes creating custom models easy.

I found this artist who has created and uploaded hundreds of 3d printing models specifically for Dungeons and Dragons. You can check out some of his free models on Shapeways. But if you want access to all of his models consider supporting him as I do on Patreon.

On his google drive, he has categorized all the miniatures perfectly according to the adventure it relates to, and he regularly uploads new models. It’s truly an excellent source for 3d printing miniatures.

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But if you want to create your own custom mini, then I recommend using HeroForge, they have plenty of resources from which you can make your own unique hero. You can either order a physical mini (4 different material choices), or you can purchase the STL file which you can 3D print yourself.

I purchased the STL file for my girlfriend’s character, and I was mostly happy with the results. The STL files go for $7.99 so it’s reasonably priced for using their software.

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Yes, I accidentally broke her legs… And the printing is wasn’t perfect yet, I can still decrease the layer height to get better resolution, but playing with it is working well.

Material for 3d printing miniatures

For both SLA and FDM printers there is a wide range of different materials that they can print, each material normally has the area in which it shines, but we’re concentrating only on printing miniature figures. Always ensure that your 3D printer is able to use a material before purchasing it.

SLA

SLA’s resin is rather versatile, it has the benefit of a wide range of formulation configurations: materials can be soft or hard, heavily filled with secondary materials like glass and ceramic, or imbued with mechanical properties like high heat deflection temperature or impact resistance. Material range from industry-specific, like dentures, to those that closely match final materials for prototyping, formulated to withstand extensive testing and perform under stress.

For miniatures specifically, these seem to be the best resins for printing miniatures out there:

Best Overall

Best Budget

FDM

Filament printers have a variety of different filaments, be sure to double-check that your printer supports them before buying.

  • PLA – Polylactic Acid and it’s the classic filament people 3D print with
  • ABS – Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and it’s an amorphous polymer used in 3D printing
  • PET – Polyethylene terephthalate is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family
  • PETG – Polyethylene terephthalate Glycol is a clear amorphous thermoplastic that improves PET by making it stronger and more durable
  • TPU – Thermoplastic polyurethane is a rubber-like material used in 3D printing to produce semi-flexible parts
  • PC – Polycarbonate is a thermoplastic polymer containing carbonate groups in its structure that makes the filament much stronger and a nice alternative to ABS
  • Nylon – Nylon is a material with a good reputation for prototypes thanks to its great mechanical properties
  • ASA – Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate and it is a thermoplastic originally created as an alternative to ABS
  • ULTEM – Ultem is a group of branded materials used on some professional FDM printers

Quite the mouthful… But don’t worry, for printing miniatures, you really only need to know about PLA. and if you feel like getting a bit extra durability and quality go for PLA+ a variant of PLA enhanced through the use of additives beyond PLA’s traditional composition.

The best PLA/PLA+ filaments for 3D printing miniatures

Best Overall

Best Budget

I actually went with the eSun PLA+ but found that my quality declined, since the PLA+ typically prints a bit hotter, you will just have to redo your slicer’s settings.

My Slicer Settings

3D printing slicer software essentially acts as the middleman between the 3D model and printer.

As with anything these days, there is a multitude of different paid and free options available. I am using the Ultimate Cura slicer, I found that a lot of people are using Cura, so I decided to stick with it.

In order to try and get better quality prints I ordered a smaller nozzle, thus I am using a 0.2mm nozzle instead of the standard 0.4mm nozzle, and I’m using ESun PLA+ as a filament, so bear that in mind if you’re going to use my settings.

Tip For Printing Miniatures With an FDM Printer

FDM printers have quite a few drawbacks over SLA printers for 3D printing miniatures, no matter how much you tweak your printer you’re unlikely to get the quality that you will get from an SLA printer, but hopefully, these tips will help you improve your printing quality.

Bed-levelling

Maybe an obvious one, but you have to ensure that your bed is leveled properly, use the tried and tested paper method or I suppose any method you want to really, but ensure that your nozzle is the proper distance from your plate at all areas, double-check your center after checking the corners.

Also, check that your extruder is properly tightened, when I first started printing, mine was quite wobbly, so try tightening yours so that it’s no longer wobbly, but also don’t over tighten.

Nozzle Size

Typically speaking, the smaller your nozzle the more detail you will be able to print, the Ender 3 comes with a default nozzle size of 0.4mm, I suggest trying out a 0.2mm nozzle, you can find some ender 3 nozzles here on amazon.

Layer height

Proper layers heights are important, first identify what your stepper motor is geared to, for the ender 3 it is 0.04mm. Always use this increment in deciding on a layer height, I.E 0.04mm, 0.08mm, 0.12mm for the Ender 3.

Normally the smaller your layer heights the higher the level of detail will be, but the printing times also increase quite dramatically.

Top Layers

If you are printing at such tiny layer heights, I would recommend that you increase the number of top layers to something between 5 and 10.

Temperature and cooling

Cooling is very important when it comes to printing miniatures, your cooling needs to be enough to essentially print in thin air. since the model will have a lot of small overhangs.

Be sure to run temperature tests for each roll of filament, so that you are using the perfect temperature for your filament.

Ensure that you don’t have a minimum layer time. And for smaller minis, try printing more than one at a time, to allow additional time for cooling. For tiny minis like kobolds, you can print 4-5 at a time.

Lastly, each printer is slightly different, the temperature regulators aren’t 100% perfect, so play around in 5-degree intervals to get your temperature setting perfect.

Printing Speed

Print very slow, like 30% of your normal speed slow… Likely to be somewhere in the region of 20-25mm/s. It gives each layer more time for cooling, which is the goal here.

Supports

For minis, supports are pretty important, too since there are so many large overhangs, think weapons. The default supports are difficult to remove, so you’re almost always better of creating your own supports.

You can try out the Cura plugin “Cylindric Custom Support”, which allows you to precisely place supports that are fairly easy to remove.

Retraction

Your retraction needs to be near perfect, you’ll end up doing a ton of pillar tests to achieve optimal settings, you can try starting off with 3mm at 25mm/s.

Summary

Printing miniatures on FDM printers is much harder than printing them on SLA printers, but it can be done with the proper tweaking. Again I would recommend going with an SLA printer to avoid some frustration. In the future, I am definitely going to get an SLA printer and use that instead of my Ender 3 v2.

My first attempt at 3D printing miniatures

Promise not to laugh? I sort of figured out the hard way that you need to use supports when printing, otherwise, the printer will try printing in the air…

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All in all, apart from his mangled hand and broken staff it didn’t turn out that bad right?

Overview

In conclusion for the best quality with 3D printed Miniatures, rather use an SLA printer instead of an FDM printer. But if you already have an FDM printer then there are some good tweaking that can be done to get the print quality near what you get from an SLA printer.

I still have a bit to go with perfecting the tweaking on my printer, hence me wishing I rather went with an SLA printer, but to be honest I am 3D printing miniatures and I can use them in my dungeon mastering, so I am happy.

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So that’s it, the complete journey of 3D printing miniatures. If you have any tips or tricks that I missed, I’d be happy if you post them in the comments.

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