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Are miniature companies in danger of becoming irrelevant?

This is an article that’s been at the tip of my fingers for several months. I have been considering if this thought of mine was worth airing or not, but as of today three very good friends of mine now have purchased resin 3D printers and none of them have any idea about, nor the inclination to learn 3D modelling or sculpting.

Ok, I’m going to open with a caveat. The miniatures I’m talking about here are not gaming miniatures. Game companies that produce their own miniatures will be affected by home 3D printing, but the miniatures themselves are not the sole reason people copy them and print their own. Gaming miniatures have rules attached to them and these rules are always changing and being updated so new miniatures are coming out all the time and with all the best will in the world people printing at home can’t compete with that kind of release schedule. This is a different conversation and won’t be covered here. This s is aimed at the producers of the larger scale miniatures, 54mm and up. So lets set the scene… 

FDM Printer

Over the last 3 years 3D printing has had some major advancements. Gone are the days when the only affordable way to 3D print at home was the self assembly Chinese FDM printer. Now you can pick up a LCD resin printer for less than £250 which, regardless of what some miniature manufactures may tell you, will produce miniatures to a very high quality that I doubt many would be able to tell the difference between a print done on a cheap resin printer and one done on a printer that costs ten times as much. This is a fact. I’ve been in the industry long enough to know a well produced mini from a bad one and I have a resin 3D printer and have seen the quality I can produce. Don’t let them tell you other wise. I bought into the home 3D printing a couple of years ago and picked up a self assembly FDM printer and I still think is a great piece of kit for certain things, but anyone who has one will tell you they are a constant work in progress.

LCD Resin Printer

I’ve upgraded parts to it and before every print I have to level the bed and get everything up to temperature which can take several minutes, before it prints the first 1mm of plastic. But my resin printer is a whole different thing. After the initial setup and bed levelling which you do when you get it, I can now turn it on and be printing within a minute. Print speed is quicker and the difference in quality is astounding. It’s a much more finished product. Printing resin at home still has its issues such as print clean up and handling the UV resin, but as long as you are careful and precise it won’t cause you any problems.

Next we have Coronavirus. Everyone should know that this has affected the miniature industry. Companies are still releasing very nice miniatures and busts, but not at the same rate as before. With the cancellation of all of the major miniature shows the release schedule has to be more spread out over the year or the company could be in danger. For now, the days of almost every mini producer saving three or four new releases for the next show seem a long way off and then we have Brexit. Project fear has become project here. I know of two UK companies who are no longer shipping to the EU and several EU based companies not shipping here to the UK. I don’t blame them, but I hope this issue gets sorted because one of the things Covid has taught me is how precious the mini painting hobby is to me and most of my favourite mini producers are in the EU.

So now I return to my very first point, the friends who have purchased 3D printers, but have no inclination of producing their own miniatures. This is because there are now enough new releases of STL’s (the 3D print file) to feed their hobby addiction. There are Kickstarters, Patreons and companies that sell STL’s. I see lots of them everyday on my Facebook feed, and the prices… £10 a month for a Patreon were I get 10 or more high quality miniatures that I can scale up to seventy five or even ninety millimetres. There are more than enough to satisfy my hobby need and not one of them is from the usual, well known miniature producers that I used to buy from. We’re even seeing a couple of companies release miniatures where the buyer has the option to purchase the resin cast of a mini, or the STL for a reduced rate. Regardless of the virus and the lack of shows, miniature hobbyists who have their own 3D resin printers are living in a golden age. UV Resin is cheap and getting cheaper; the choice of miniatures is getting better and the cost of the miniature is getting cheaper. Again, not one of the usual miniature companies who I used to buy from are in sight. This is why I have to ask, are they in danger of becoming irrelevant?

You can pick up a LCD resin printer for less than £250 which, regardless of what some miniature manufactures may tell you, will produce miniatures to a very high quality.

For years producers have been concerned about IP rights and the problem of recasting. Something I very much support them with, and due to a prolonged and on going campaign we have gotten to a place where it’s not completely stopped, but people are more aware of the long-term problems of buying recasts. So, I feel it’s not going to be much better than it is at the moment. And when speaking to people who buy recasts many of them claim the main reason they buy them is the price. Something which will only get worse in the UK due to the extra costs involved or inability to buy from mini producers in EU countries due to import fees and VAT.

As my friends have found out, for the price of four or five busts from any of the more popular producers from the EU they now have the ability to print their own busts, so why aren’t the well known producers giving them the option to buy from them? One of the reasons is probably the IP and recast problem, but I think home printing might actually curtail recasters even more. People will be less inclined to buy a cheaper, substandard product from a recaster when they can buy a cheaper, print at home, version of the miniature they want directly from the manufacturer. Another reason is that models master. I know some minis and busts are still sculpted traditionally, making them impossible to be sold digitally. But with the advancement of 3D printing there is also an advancement of 3D scanning. At the moment they are still pretty expensive, about the same price as one of those high end 3D printers I mentioned above, but there are lots of companies that offer 3D scanning as a service.

Another reason people buy recasts is because the model is no longer available. This comes from companies not wanting to over produce a miniature. But, imagine being able to bring back long out of production miniature without any of the hassle. Not having to worry about making a mould, how many to cast, having too many to store, or even worse, not enough. Just have a scanned version of the original model available to buy online. Another nail in the coffin of the recaster!

So why aren’t the popular miniature producers making STL’s available? I don’t know the answer but if they want to stay relevant and continue to be a big influence on the hobby they better wise up soon and start giving us that option.

If you have your own opinion about this article, we’d like to hear it so please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Published by sdrozzell

Magazine editor, graphic designer, model maker and miniature painter

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