3D printing is the most disruptive thing to hit the game industry since Chinese outsourcing. Buying physical miniatures will go the way of slide rules, milk delivery, and coal chutes. This will kill companies that are unwilling to adapt (cough…Games Workshop…cough) and others thrive in a new world of selling designs for printing. That said, 3D printers are too expensive and technically challenging (current home versions need a lot of tweaking and maintenance) for most people to consider owning. The solution is to outsource the printing. Shapeways is one of the largest 3D printing outsourcing companies and they had a booth at Gencon 2017. They kindly provided me with some samples of their capabilities.
I said “capabilities” because Shapeways sells printing, not designs. The designs come from an army of individual creators that post their offerings on Shapeways and share their earnings with Shapeways on each sale. Materials range from softer plastics up to steel and brass, but for gaming purposes, I am most concerned with “smoothness.” 3D printing is additive printing where a machine lays down a thin layer of material to slowly build a model. The thinner the layer, the smoother the miniature looks. Early 3D printers created “Michelin Man” miniatures with clearly delineated layers. As you can see below, there has been some progress…
These particular miniature models come from Heroforge.com, but printed by Shapeways. They are standard 25 mm tabletop miniatures in a high-resolution plastic. With a coat a paint I suspect no one could spot the 3D printed miniature against standard injection molding. And you can customize them!
Shapeways also works in metal. Check out this “Kraken D20” in brass!
This d20 is 3 inches from tentacle to tentacle and is absolutely amazing. Be warned though, metal is significantly more expensive than plastic printing, but the material choice is up to you. That said, I suspect prices will drop in the next few years as the technology develops. If you are interested in something a bit more fanciful (and cheaper) Shapeways also has some colored plastic options for printing. The set below is unpainted.
It does concern me I will see a flood of hot purple paladins at my next RPG game!
Finally, every tabletop game needs dice!
These are a mix of brass and steel print options in a standard d20 size.
Here is a shot of a sample D6 in steel.
It is hollow and quite light. Note the lighter colored “stones” embedded in the die. These are part of the printing process and came right out with a quick brushing. Polishing the dice would likely bring out a nice shine, but I liked the dull, matte finish. The texture is still a bit rough in case you are looking for perfectly smooth.
I am very impressed with Shapeways offerings and I think they will continue to disrupt the tabletop gaming industry.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer