3D printers are a great way to improve your other hobbies – that’s why they go hand in hand with things like radio control and tabletop games like Warhammer and Dungeons and Dragons. If you’re looking to 3D print miniatures for your tabletop gaming, you’ve come to the right place.
This tutorial will help you turn your 3D printer into a miniature factory!
Generally speaking, resin printers are more superior to FDM printers at making miniatures, but resin printers can be expensive and require extensive post-processing. With the right tweaks and settings, FDM printers can also make pretty respectable miniatures.
How to 3D print miniatures: get your layers right
The most important setting when it comes to 3D printing miniatures is the layer height. Layers determine how detailed your model is, and especially when dealing with small models around 28 mm or so in height, layer height will really play a big role in the end result.
What’s the ideal layer height for a miniature?
To get the right layer height for your miniatures, you need to first decide what you’re going to use them for. For figures and characters, you may wish to go as low as your printer can physically manage. This is usually a layer height of 0.1 mm for most budget 3D printers.
For best results, determine your 3D printer’s magic numbers and use a layer height accordingly, so your layer lines are aligned with your printer’s Z-steps.
The main drawback of using small layer heights is the extended print times. Small layer heights take far longer to print than larger ones, so in cases where you don’t need too much detail like terrain or vegetation, you can use larger layer heights to churn those parts out quickly.
Also, if you try a layer height that is too small for your printer to handle, your prints can fail altogether, so you need to experiment and see which works best.
Advanced users can experiment with multiple layer heights in a single model.
For example, you can do larger layers for the base of the model, and switch to smaller layers for more detailed parts like weapons and faces.
Finally, the top layer is something that is often overlooked. Models that have flat tops may end up with gaps if your layer height is too small and there are not enough top layers.
You can fix this by adding more top layers or increasing the layer height for the top layers.
The easiest way to use adaptive layer heights is to use an advanced slicer like Simplify3D.
Supports for 3D printing miniatures
The next setting you want to tweak is supports. Not all miniatures need supports, but models with significant overhangs will print better with supports than without supports.
If you wanted to print a model with spread out wings, the wings would not have anything to print on. The wings would probably collapse mid-print, or they may end up getting printed in mid-air and you’d be left with a stringy mess!
Supports are a double-edged sword, though. They can be difficult to remove, and even after removing them, you may be left with little bits and pieces that don’t come off quite as easily, leaving you with a lot of sanding and post-processing to do.
This is fine for a single model, but for a tabletop game that may require hundreds of models, you’re looking at a lot of work!
Two things you can do if you use Cura to make working with supports easier is to use tree supports instead of regular supports and to use the Custom Supports plugin to let you place supports only where you want them instead of having Cura fill up the whole model with supports.
What print speed do you need for 3D printed miniatures?
Print speed is another one of those settings that are incredibly crucial for successful 3D prints and dialing it in correctly will help you consistently produce good prints.
If you print too slow, your print times will become way too long to tolerate, and the longer print increases the chances of things going wrong. If you print too fast, you can run into issues like poor layer adhesion and warped prints.
So as with anything else, the best place to start with your print speed optimization is what you usually print at and the speed that you’ve had success with in the past.
To make sure your prints are successful more times than not, you can slow down the layer speed for the first few layers to make sure a really solid foundation is laid down for your model before the rest of it is printed.
You should also not try to print too fast as the added momentum can knock or displace a print from the print bed, and the rest of your model will be ancient history!
Finally, since you’re looking to print tiny details, it’s worthwhile to adjust your retraction settings to avoid unwanted dripping and oozing onto your 3D printed miniature.
Cooling settings for 3D printed miniatures
One thing we have not yet talked about is the cooling setting. Cooling is a very important setting because it helps maintain the shape of your model throughout the print.
How much cooling you need depends on the type of filament you use. PLA does require cooling throughout the print, and since most miniatures you 3D print will indeed be PLA, you need to keep cooling enabled.
The only issue is that many budget 3D printers don’t come with cooling fans built in, so you’ll need to print yourself a cooling fan and buy a compatible fan.
You’ll find a compatible cooling fan for most 3D printer models on Thingiverse.
Usually, you’ll enable cooling after layer 2 or 3. This means the base layer will go without any added cooling, and all subsequent layers will be cooled immediately upon being laid down.
In Cura, you’ll have to go to the cooling menu and check the “Enable Print Cooling” box.
Making sure your 3D printer is mechanically sound
Up until now, we’ve discussed a lot of slicer settings for your 3D printed miniatures, but if your printer is not properly calibrated, all the slicer settings in the world will not improve your prints.
Here are things to look out for in your 3D printer when you want to successfully print any model:
Is the 3D printer’s bed level?
Bed leveling is the most crucial part of any print, and if your bed is not level, it will be very difficult for the rest of the print to turn out properly.
Follow the bed leveling procedure to the letter before you start your print, especially if you’re planning a long or intricate print.
Even after finishing bed leveling, one thing you can do is to print leveling squares that will really pinpoint which corner of the print bed is off so you can make adjustments as necessary.
Are the belts tight enough?
Loose belts will result in sloppy movements and unexpected artifacts in your 3D print. A loose bed will make the printer think it has moved the axis as far as it should have gone, but in reality, it will not have moved far enough, resulting in sloppy or altogether failed prints.
Is your nozzle clean?
For intricate prints like miniatures and tabletop models, you need to make sure the nozzle is clean and there are no clogs. Even the slightest clog will result in the 3D printer not extruding as much filament as it should be, and that will spell bad news for your 3D print.
Use a nozzle cleaner or a very fine needle to dislodge any gunk from your nozzle and extrude some fresh PLA to collect and remove the debris.
3D printing miniatures is really easy even if you use an FDM printer. With the proper layer height and print speed, you can be on your way to 3D printing your own little army of Warhammer or Dungeons and Dragons characters!
For more detailed and almost flawless prints, you can also consider getting an SLA printer, though the cost of the 3D printer itself is higher and the resin used to print is nearly double the cost of a roll of filament of the same size.
You can check out our favorite 3D printers for miniatures here.