Selling Miniatures is the Past–Selling Miniature CAD Designs is the Future

For centuries people have used miniatures for a variety of games, from complex battlefield re-creations to tactical movement in a role-playing game. In either case the miniature fabrication process is the same. A sculptor carefully crafts a master miniature and then creates a negative mold. That mold is then filled with a malleable material (plastic, pewter or lead) and mass production begins.  Recent advancements in rapid prototyping now lead me to conclude that this ancient method may fade into obscurity.
Popsci has a great article and picture of an HP 3D printer that is the bleeding edge of what I believe is a revolution in miniature production. The printer precisely sprays thin layers of plastic to create small, plastic prototypes. At $17,500.00 the printer is clearly meant for professional engineers and others that need a physical item to speed their development process.  That said, almost everything in our homes from the modern age started out incredibly expensive. Early PCs were luxury items with huge price tags. Now a decent computer is only $500.

Someday, not soon, perhaps [pullthis]10-15 years from now 3D printers will decorate every desktop [/pullthis]in America. At the very least, a local “3D print shop” offering inexpensive printing will be nearby. In either case the current business model for selling miniatures no longer functions.  Rather than fight the inevitable, miniature companies need to evolve and start selling their designs for these devices, once they become ubiquitous. So instead of buying a box of soldiers, you buy an “Army CAD Pack” and  “print” the miniatures yourself.

Sadly, I fully expect some hidebound companies to seek legal remedies and not adapt to this new model (cough..Games Workshop…cough). A quick 3D scan of any miniature instantly allows you copy the miniature precisely. I am certain restrictions to  prevent “piracy”  appear in the law books written by terrified intellectual property holders 10 minutes after the first consumer unit ships. Conversely, individual sculptors that no longer need the casting and retail infrastructure of a miniature company will sell directly to consumers.  Selling open-source sculpts that are free of any legal entanglements.  Personally, I see amazing sculptors at every miniature event I attend that simply do not want to do it full-time or cannot make a living at it because their fan-base is too small. No more. Much as digital publishing opened a floodgate of gaming products, 3D printing allows everyone to get into the miniature business.

I usually do not make predictions because I am so very often wrong, but this time I am extremely confident. 3D printing is simply too useful to disappear like Betamax. The industrial applications alone are legion and that drives innovation. Innovation that eventually leads to me printing out a new army.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

4 thoughts on “Selling Miniatures is the Past–Selling Miniature CAD Designs is the Future

  • April 20, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    My boss has one of the open source versions of these that is mentioned in the article: a Makerbot.

    He’s incredibly smart and always tinkering with the latest gadgets. It cost him $900 and a few evenings to put it together.

    He brought it in and we were instantly talking about making Dungeon terrain with it. But honestly, it needs a few years to get the right look. Currently, the plastics extrusion process causes the finished product to have the right shape from a distance, but when you get up close you see that it has a texture that looks like a bunch of tiny wires squished together to make the design. (Which is essentially what it is doing.)

    But as you say… in 5, 10 or especially 15 years, who knows what is possible.

  • April 20, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    In fact there are 3d printers costing only $5000 already. And they don’t have the mentioned problem with their texture.

  • April 22, 2010 at 2:41 am

    Have a look at a book called “Makers” by Cory Doctorow. It is available free at his webpage as a Creative Commons download.

    It extends the concept even further and looks at the impact of being able to print machine components and the impact on business etc.

    A very entertaining read.

  • April 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    There’s also the RepRap project, which does the same thing.

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