Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Lifting Of The Veil...

by SandWyrm

In Greek, the word 'Apocalypse' literally means 'The Lifting Of The Veil'. Well, it's just about Apocalypse time for Games Workshop. Their whole comfortable little world is about to be turned upside down by the advent of cheap 3D printing. We'll then see whether GW can remove the mask from it's eyes and adapt to this new reality.

Alec Peters, the first bidder on my Tallarn Army eBay Sale, has a couple of interesting stories here and here on his blog about 3D Printing. Which shows that the technology has finally reached it's tipping point. This thing is going mainstream right now.

I first heard about 3D printing back in 1993 when the machines cost a few million dollars each. Back in April of 2010, when I last commented on the technology, the machines were down to around $30,000.

But now you're looking at 40K-themed prints from a device (above) that you can buy in kit form for just over $1000.00.

I'm seriously thinking about buying one. Fablicator has an upcoming ABS printer than can resolve the rivets on tanks (above). Or I could just use a printing service like Shapeways, specify my markup, and let them do all the dirty work for me. There's already various 40K weapons and vehicle turrets available there.

Printed by a Fablicator.

The resolution isn't quite there yet for detailed 28mm sculpts, even from the big expensive printers (above), but it's pretty close.

Here's a nice 40mm Space Wolf sculpt. Of course the designer can just print out a copy at any scale he likes.

So What Does This Mean?

It means that GW is about to lose control of the 40K experience. At first, you're going to see lots and lots of bad/illegal imitations of GW products. Which GW Legal will try and shut down to varying levels of success. But then you're going to see original works appear that GW has no legal right to stop. Such as vehicle upgrade kits and completely original designs that fit their design aesthetic but which don't look anything like their existing works.

This will go on for a while and build up to the point that you won't need to buy GW miniatures to play 40K at all. GW will then have to slash their margins to the bone in order to move product.

Oh, and do you want to play 40K at 15mm scale like Flames of War? Just download a bunch of fan-made Marine models, scale them down by 2/3rds, and hit print. Want to play Pre-Heresy? You can bet those models will appear too. This thing is going to have a depth and breadth that GW can't even imagine right now.


  1. This is pretty awesome, I can't imagine this will go well for the company, but they need to make their products cheaper anyway, so maybe it will be a net benefit, GW will wind up using the same tech because its faster than molding with no lines.

  2. there's a 3D printing studio in house at the University of Illinois, open to the public with minimal cost for use. (last I checked, like $5/hr)

  3. I can't imagine it changing the world. The same was said of VHS and DVD's. While they have suffered some losses, I can't get official DVD's for a buck because there are counterfeits available.

    On top of that, won't folks need 3D modeling experience to make the most of this?

  4. As an enginerring student who's just cover this topic recently it won't change the world of wargamming that much. You may say its just a case of hitting the print button, but depending on the complexity and size it can take from a few hours to a day or so time wise.
    @Ian Logsdon - While I agree GW need to lower their prices this won't make them do it. It is not a quicker process than plastic injection moulding. To make the plastic sprues we know now takes minutes at most for the standard kits, maybe a bit longer in the case of the biiger stuff eg the baneblade. Also due to the the way the process works it doesn't produce prefectly round surfaces, it builds them up in stepped layers, the main gun and the heavy bolters on the leman russ tank been a good example.

  5. Wow, this is awesome. However, I feel that as a creator of stuff myself the theft of copyrighted material, and Intellectual Property is wrong. I think recreating something for personal use is a bit of a grey area, and I'm not sure how companies should handle it, but it may INCREASE the cost of mini's and models if the companies feel like they will lose sales.

    Be creative and create your own original stuff! The ability to do this keeps getting cheaper and faster. Now I need some 3D software!!!!

  6. While I think GW is a bunch of douche-bags I also worry about the future as economies collapse as people stop buying products and start fabricating nearing all the plastic things they need. Where does that leave the countries that rely of exported good? When all I have to do is walk down to my local raw plastic supplier and grab a 50lb bag and make a bunch of things I need that I would normally buy.

    Sorry I don't want to chase the rapid prototype machine to the edge of town and burn down the windmill it is hiding in. It's just the whole rapidly acceleration of technology and the slow to adapt world issue.

  7. Competition of any form is only going to benefit us as hobbyists.
    Bring on the new tech.

  8. I don't see how this is different from people making their own resin molds of existing GW kits, or sculpting their own. I must be missing something. Sure I guess you can download a file and print it on your machine, unlike a resin mold where you can't. But, I think it will be almost as common as dudes making resin molds, as in not that prevalent, and only done dudes with the extra time...I, for one, will still appreciate the convenience of buying a kit, than making one. Plus those models all look like crap. Except for the Space Wolf guy who looks like dressed up crap.

  9. I think real competition from this is a ways off, in any case. Because yeah... most of those models look sh*te.

    It's early, of course, blah blah... but that's the point. It's not there yet. Will it be? Yes.

    Of course, there's still the idea of dropping a grand to pump out all the little model mens you want. It's way easier to plunk down $30 a week until you have an army instead of $1000 up front (plus materials after). Sure, you can sell and all, but only if you design your own unique product (ie, not infringed material) that looks good enough to be comprable.

    That last part is the big issue - there are plenty of other model ranges out there. Many cheaper, many that fit the theme of "futuristic this-and-that".

    How many do you actually see on the table? I'm not even just talking about in tournaments. Even for casual players... it's not all that common.


  10. has been using this for their products recently. There's a few paragraphs on their splash page here:

  11. What about this for a business model.

    GW manufacturing and retail goes completely online direct for back catalog minis similar to some existing Black Library books. Once you order the mini it's sent to the printers, packaged and mailed out to you. This could be scaled up to more recent releases as technology and economics permits.

  12. if you can create models like this space wolf, then, what can i say, just "Well done". But everything else is piece of crap, i wil not even waste a second for kicking them by my leg.
    So, untill there will be some nice designers with profit GW can't give them it will be you future. But i think GW just can buy them with all crap< so you can't see this preaty awesome models till Kingdome Come

  13. I think where still several years off from affordable home 3-d printing. It's still in the home-brew/hobbyist phase. We're still waiting for the Apple II of 3d printers. I think home 3D printing will become practical at some point, but for now it's an expensive hobby.

    I think there is an opportunity for an enterprising miniature game company to get ahead of the technology curve, but even that is a few years off from being practical.

  14. I've changed my mind about 3d printing. I still don't think it's a viable way to print the end product but it will fundamentally change the hobby.

    I doubt that you will see blisters full of 3d printed figs. The toner is too expensive and valuable, the prints take too much time to complete, require cleanup and fundamentally the material itself is fragile and hard to work with.

    However it's a breakthrough because it lowers the skill ceiling to resin casting.
    Anyone with access to a 3d modelling suite can now make dies for a resin cast.

    Spartan games, who make Dystopian wars, do it that way and their figs are great. It's really significant that I could replicate their casting process in my own home for a really minimal investment.

  15. Great post! I told you this would happen:

  16. @Korona

    Not all 3d prints are suitable for creating casting molds. For instance most of the materials available from shape ways are too soft to have molds made from them.

    You are stuck having to use the more expensive printers or materials for the purpose of creating casting prototypes.

    Using 3d printing is an alternative if you can better generate 3D models than physical sculpts. It is a replacement for the design phase, not the production phase at this point.

    It won't remove the need to have all the other accouterments for the casting process like vulcanizers and spin casters.

  17. @Zanazaz

    The guys who are making imperfect copies of GW's models are clearly in the wrong. But that's not necessarily going to stop it from happening. See pirated music as an example. Piracy has only begun to abate because consumers are now able to get quality digital music at reasonable prices.

    If it one day costs $50 to get a GW injection-moulded kit and $15 to get a reasonable looking printout of that same model at a local print shop in full color, then only the perfectionists will be buying GW's kits.

    That means GW will either drop it prices and embrace digital printing itself, or it will die.

  18. @Steve: HOAD

    You might as well wonder what all the film manufacturers will do now that everyone owns digital cameras. :)

    The future is decentralized production of everything (goods, electrical power, data, etc.) coordinated through centralized information systems. Nothing's going to stop that, so we might as well all adapt to it.

  19. @Tim

    If I make a mould then only I can make copies of an object. But if I design the object on a computer and upload it to the 'cloud', then someone else can make as many copies as they want or modify my object to make something different.

    Imagine combining some Marine models with the heads of all of the Presidents of the United States. The parts are made by different people, but the final assembly/expression is unique and reproduceable.

    Right now the tech has reached the prosumer stage and requires some expertise. But eventually you'll be buying printers and materials for $200 or less from Epson, HP, and others. By that time the software to kick out simple mash-ups will exist. If GW is smart, they'll embrace the customization aspects by providing a printing service of their own that allows access to their IP freely.

  20. @Foodie

    Desktop printers still can't touch the quality of a 4-color offset press for 2D images. But most of the world simply doesn't care. Convenience and control wins out over quality. Particularly when the print runs are small.

  21. @CaulynDarr

    3D modeling is a boon for making molds because you can re-use a lot of the objects you create. If you're making 5 different Marine sculpts, for instance, you can just reuse most of the armor across all the minis. You only have to change the stuff that's different.

  22. Unless you're some kind of master then 3d modelling is better in every single way. It's faster, fine detail and intricate shapes are easy and it's fairly easy to learn.

    I know someone who actually has a 3d printer and he used it to make the rear for a jet-turbine engined Panzer V his scale-modeller friend was wanting.
    There's no company that makes it and a world where the technology is more accessible would mean more people can create these goofy obscure objects.

    They discuss printing-to-cast here:

    It really seems awesome, they want to make minature steam engines and they're using the 3d prints to manufacture tiny cylinders.

  23. @ Sandwyrm

    A bag of army men and a bad of bases will run you about $20 for a full infantry-based IG army (after a few extra pieces for conversions).

    Sure it doesn't have the quality of GW models, but most simply wouldn't care, right? You see those all over the place, yeah?

  24. @Foodie

    There's scale issues there, but if I was still a teenager (GW's marketing focus), sure. I've seen Lego tanks and Humvee toys on the table before. I used to re-purpose board game minis and make my own castles out of shipping tubes, cardboard and modeling putty. Remember the deodorant tank from Rogue Trader? Built one!

    If you have more time than money, that's what you do.

    Now imagine that cash-strapped teenager if they have an ABS 3D printer available at Dad's work or some similar access. They have all the time in the world to search for bootleg 3D files, and to Dad it's a "learning experience" that teaches them to use the tech. So why not spend $15 on 30lb of plastic filament to feed the machine?

  25. Lego is pricy stuff. Tanks made from Lego are more expensive than GW ones and that's saying a lot!

  26. Not if you have the legos already.

  27. I’ve learned a lot from your blog here, Keep on going, my friend, I will keep an eye on it.

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