With 3 years of experience in 3D printing, I have a list of things I like to bring up when I am asked about it by someone attempting to break into the hobby.
What do you want to 3D print for your games? Miniatures or Terrain? I find the answer to this question will lead the newcomer to 3D printing down 2 paths.
- Terrain- FDM printing (filament)
- Miniatures- SLA Printing (resin)
I have multiple SLA and FDM printers and I find FDM to be the better choice for beginners to the hobby for the following reasons. The rest of this guide will focus on FDM printing. If there is more interest in resin printing, I will write a guide for it as well.
- FDM printing is extremely affordable for a newcomer with fewer hidden costs than resin. Generally, a printer and a spool of PLA filament (most common used filament) is all a newcomer needs to get started
- FDM can be used for tabletop terrain and even miniatures if you’ve taken the time to get your settings dialed in and select the correctly designed mini files (support free are best for FDM). But you can also use the FDM for other projects you may need around the house IE: missing appliance knob or handle.
- Larger build volume.
- Less cleanup or chemicals to deal with. SLA/Resin printing require a consistent supply of hazardous chemicals (HAZMAT) as well as the proper PPE to handle the HAZMAT. Resin, isopropyl alcohol, degreaser (Simple Green, LA Totally Awesome etc.) should all be handled with care and a newbie 3D printer needs to take into consideration the handling as well as the hazardous fumes from the resin printer and the other chemicals. At a minimum, you will need disposable gloves, eye goggles and disposable masks and proper ventilation These are the hidden cost of getting started in SLA. WARNING: I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT RECOMMEND RESIN PRINTING FOR PEOPLE LIVING IN APARTMENTS OR CONDOS. The risk to yourself, your kids, your pets and fellow tenants is too high.
However, you may want to consider your options. Here is a great video from Danny, from 3D Printed Tabletop on YouTube discussing the selection process. Danny is a professional and creator of “The Lost Adventures Company” focused on this hobby. Note, prices have come down on printers a lot in the last year since the video was taken.
Which should I buy?
It’s also important to remember that most FDM printers on the market are Creality Ender clones (PRUSA being one of the Big Exceptions). If the printer looks mostly like those below, they are probably Ender clones. This means they act almost exactly the same when it comes to the printing of a sliced 3d file (.gcode). One of the main differences is the amount of assembly required. In the case of the Ender 3, a fair amount of assemble is required, but if you can follow directions you will be fine. These 3 represent the 3 most common manufacturers all with relative price points on Amazon as of 31 Oct 2022 ($175-$200 USD). The Kobra and Neptune are 30-38% off at this time and both come with comparable assembly to the Ender 3.
Slicing software: is a software used to take a 3D file and convert it into a machine language that can be read by and executed by your 3D printer (.gcode file). There are several out there, but I primarily use Cura on all my FDM printers as I have the settings dialed into get excellent results every time I print. Cura is a free 3D printing slicing software available for PC, MAC, LINUX. Please note, some 3D printers may allow you to print directly via USB connection, but I have had varying success with this.
My preference is to export the .gcode from my slicing software to the SD or microSD card for the specific printer and run the printer as a stand-alone.
Software Learning Curve.
Cura can be a stiff learning curve. Luckily, a lot of great individuals in the 3D printing community have taken the time to help with the headache of getting your 3D print files optimized for printing on your specific printer by uploading their “Cura Profiles.” That means, if you are using an Ender or Ender Clone, you only need to set up Cura with your specific build-plate dimensions (220mm x 220mm x 250mm for the examples above) and upload the profile. One of the Gurus in FDM 3D printing is Chuck Hellebuyck aka: CHEP on Youtube and in 3D Printing forums. As of now, CHEP’s newest profiles require a $1 or more membership to his website, but I have been using his previous Cura profile for the last 4 months and they work like magic. TOTALLY worth the $1.
Last Note: Bed leveling.
This is EXTREMELY important. Without a print-bed completely level and parallel with the nozzle and gantry, your first layer will not stick and you will have a big mess of melted plastic on your hands. The best options available will be to search for the manufacturer’s instructional video on YouTube, Amazon or their website. Next, search for other professional 3d printing YouTubers for their videos. It’s possible they may be able to provide some additional tips and tricks to simplify the process.
Creality Official: Service tutorial Ender-3 S1 Auto-leveling printing
Anycubic Official: ANYCUBIC KOBRA GO | Your First Auto-Leveling DIY 3D Printer
Elegoo Official: Elegoo Neptune: How to level the platform
CONGRATS!!! Now you are ready to confidently run your first print.
Finally, some great Youtube Resources: Go to the channel and click the magnifying glass on the right to search a topic that interests you.
3d Printing Nerd: Joel Telling is a massive resource of information with tips, gear reviews and Live Streams with Q&A
Tom Tellis has a great channel dedicated to FDM printing for tabletop games. His company, Fat Dragon Games, designs terrain and miniatures optimized for FDM printing. Additionally you can find his free Cura profile on his website in the resource tab on the right.
23 Free Prints For Beginners (That Don’t Suck)
How to 3D print miniatures on a FDM printer (Older video but a great resource)
Thorfinr is a regular contributor on the AAW Games Discord server.