Thursday, August 22, 2013

Shapeways and a new era of miniature gaming

Some time ago I was introduced to Shapeways 3D printing service due to my involvement in a couple of games (War at Sea and Wings of Glory).  As gamers we all have a desire for miniatures that are not yet produced by the traditional gaming companies.  Apparently 3D printing is a solution to that problem.  The issue is 3D printers are very costly, so along comes Shapeways.

As I understand it Shapeways either owns a bunch of 3D printers or out sources their work to 3rd party printers (I suspect a combination of both).  Either way they allow individuals who have knowledge of the CAD software to upload their designs and then print them on demand.  Once a design is uploaded and approved anyone can order it.

The buzz started about Shapeways on gaming forums I am a member as gamers started to turn to it as a source to create new minis or obtain hard to find collectible minis.  I was skeptical for some time and resisted trying it.  Now that WotC has more or less abandoned one of my favorite games, War at Sea, and there have been two new fan produced "sanctioned" card decks I decided to give it a try.

Once ordered the models arrive in about 10 days give or take with a flat shipping charge of $6.50 no matter how many models you order.
Two orders placed close together arrived on the same day
WOW, am I impressed.  The minis do not come pre-painted and do require a little work.  You can order products in various materials which increases the detail, but also how fragile it may be.  So far I have only ordered white strong flexible (WSF) which when it first arrives appears to have a grainy texture. 

First Shapeways minis I ever ordered upon arrival

After some trials I can now produce minis that are hard to tell apart form the factory made ones WotC produced and in most cases the detail is much better.  Most importnatly it is a means to get models that are playable in the game that no comapany has produced or are not easily proxied with existing models.

This is the basic process I currently follow to produce my desired results:

Some of the products I use
1. Brush the model with a soft bristle tooth brush to remove all excess material that may be present.

2. Blow of the model to ensure all residue is gone.

3. Brush on two heavy coats of matte varnish (Currently use Vallejo).

4. Spray on gloss coat of clear finish (currently use Rustoleum)

5. Spray on Gray primer (Again use Rustoleum)

6. Paint desired colors

7. Apply black wash to desired affect

8. Spray on Gloss coat

9. Dry brush to desired affect

10. Spray on 1-2 coats of Tester's "Dull coat" matte finish

Step 1 and 2 complete and models sorted with their stat card
Step 3: Two coats of Matte Varnish applied
Step 4&5: Gloss Coat and then Primer applied top and bottom
Here are some completed examples:

Super Yamato "Tsushima"
B-14 Flying Fortress
HMS Roberts (Monitor)
Once completed using the above method the Shapeways models looks and feel just like the WotC factory produced ones.  I will admit a very small amount of detail is probably lost due to the many coats of varnish and primer, but this completely eliminates the issue of the model having a grainy finish that some complain about.

Obviously this is not for everyone.  If you have no desire to paint what so ever than 3D printing is not for you.  The process is pretty easy now that I have it done.  I can get a batch of models to the prime stage in one evening.  Then I can paint to completion several at a time.

Here is a video on how it all works:

My guess is many will have questions about cost.  So far I have found the cost comparable more or less than most WotC models.  In some cases they are much cheaper due to the collectible nature of the WotC models.  A few I have avoided because the cost seemed a bit high to me.  Over time my guess is the costs will start to come down as the 3D printing process is further refined.

Later on I will likely replace some of my duplicate WotC models with Shapeways and sell the WotC version which will cover several shapeways models due to the highly collectible nature of some of the WotC models.

In the end I am very happy with the results and 3D printing has opened up a entirely new realm of possibilities for my gaming.


  1. Best regards from question have you trying to smooth WSF models...using acetone vapour on a thin can...It seams to be able to improve those grainy surfaces...

  2. Hi there,

    Your blog entry was recommended reading by a shapeways vendor (DireWolf's Depot) as a great set of instructions on how to prep WSF. Would it be possible to repost the pictures? I'm very interested in seeing how they relate to the instructions you posted above.