Wednesday, November 5, 2014

3D Printing: Would You Play Against This Army?

by SandWyrm

While agonizing over whether to buy in to the Kickstarter for this cool new 3D printer, I came across this pic of a 3D printed Space Marine force. You can see the printing 'layers' if you click on the pic and zoom in, but really... Does it look so bad? Would you even care if it was painted up to a tabletop standard?

It's getting to the point where we're just 12-18 months away (1 printer generation) from the quality being 'good enough' for most hobbyists.

Again, GW could own this market. They could create the iTunes of hobby model printing apps and make huge money doing so.

But, like Sony with digital music, they won't.

Thanks to Tech Swarm for the pic. Go read their story on 3D printing too.


  1. He made it himself, sure I would. Just like if he made from clay, its the same thing to me.

  2. In principle, yes. I've dabbled in scratch-building vehicles, home casting bits and even duplicating whole OOP figures so I'm not bothered by "unofficial" figures. Hell, I'd love to ask questions about how they made 'em!

    Quality here is still not good enough for my liking, though. Print lines will be ignorable with a spray of undercoat but the quality of the faces remains very sketchy. You can get away with flat shoulders or legs, especially on Space Marines, but the faces still look more "board game piece" than "wargaming model" to me. Paint would help a lot but I think the faces would still be a disappointment.

    The vehicles are great, though, and with maybe just a little bit of conversion (say, adding in a few bits from the Chaos Vehicle sprue to add detail) they'd be all but indistinguishable.

    1. I don't think the flat faces are a printer issue. But rather a lack of detail in the original model. He just didn't sculpt them very well.

    2. there is a link from the BOLS discussion about this to some EPIC 40K armies printed with a different type of 3D printer. There are no mould lines, and the detail is amazing, and these are EPIC scale figures! The tehnology is already there, its just the particular printers necessary for good resolution are very expensive.

    3. here is the link, check these out:

    4. I'm thinking that this is about at the level of the resin recasting that I know has been going on for quite some time... Perhaps not 100% the quality of the original for the guy throwing it together in a garage somewhere, but once you get a more professional crew working on it... And as time/tech moves on I think this will become far more common. At this point certainly not a major threat to "real" manufacturers, certainly not on the level of the semi-pro recasting being done out of Asia... But something to be aware of in the longer term I think...

  3. Would I play against it? Sure. Would I want it? Hell no, it looks horrible. I've been struggling with a 3d printer for a few months. It's a pain to get good results on these cheapo printers. Laser printers are probably more user friendly and capable of better results but the build area on this one looks pretty bad.

    Laser cutters have more interest for me atm. Their production speed is much more viable for large scale production (e.g. terrain) and it's not going to produce noxious fumes and drain power for hours while it works. I think with some creativity you can create really amazing shapes even with the restriction of being limited to interlocking 2d planes.

  4. The vehicles look pretty good, the Marines... Less so, but if I'm honest they are probably every bit as good as my old RT era plastics. NOT nearly so good as the current generation of GW stuff, but for tabletop quality? Sure.

  5. It looks like a 3d printed army.

    Sure, I'll play against it once or twice, but if this becomes a thing, no thank you.

    Funny how you guys keep talking about how this 3d printing is going to ruin GW but these pics show that the quality of affordable 3d printers hasn't gotten any better in years. I don't see how they will ever compete with mass-produced (and therefore cheaper) and superior models from GW...

    1. It's a matter of time. These are a lot better (or more affordable) than we saw last year. I give it two years for much better quality.

      Like there was a point where Sony COULD have gotten into Digital music, and defined the media, instead of playing catch up, and losing their dominance.... There will come a time in the next few years where 3D printing is a threat to GW. Not right now, but soon.
      I don't think the models are too bad, with helmets on. They're probably kind of on par with Rogue Trader era models from GW. Maybe even to Putty Marine standards. (sculpted from a single piece of putty, with a pretty static pose)

    2. You haven't been paying attention then, because these prints (and the ones from the link I posted to the kickstarter) are miles better than what was available 2-3 years ago. Quality that was only available at the top end is moving down to $350 machines, and the top end is getting even better.

    3. In one sense, 3D printing already exists among hobbyists and it remains something of an anomaly. Hobbyists can easily attain resin molding and casting equipment a produce copies of GW models. The process is analogous to 3D printing but it differs in that it is relatively low tech. I have no idea what the cost comparison is to 3D printing, but it’s important to point out that this remains an anomaly and has not seen very much innovation in recent years to make it easier or cheaper.
      3D printing is different in that the equipment is much more technologically complex and therefore we can expect that it will always be more expensive than purchasing equipment for resin molding and casting. Production however is quicker and more efficient (less wasted material) and easier to control. Despite these advantages, it is hard to imagine that this technology will compete with GW’s models.
      From a system perspective, home-made 3D printed models represent decentralization of the production of miniatures. Decentralization, while attractive and seemingly cheaper on the micro-scale, in the bigger picture decentralization is less efficient, because there is more energy and materials used up on a per unit basis.
      We can also expect it to be more costly overall, because materials are not bought in bulk as in centralized production. Buying in large amounts is always cheaper for the producer.
      Therefore on a per unit basis, 3D printing by hobbyists will always be more expensive than a company producing models in bulk at a centralized facility.
      With this in mind, it is hard for me to see how 3D printing will compete with GW, who have centralized production and can also attract some of the best digital designers in the world for their models.
      On top of that, if 3D printing ever does become more affordable and better in quality, why wouldn’t GW operate 3D printers in their hobby centers? Or what if they even started producing 3D printers built specifically for printing their armies?
      Also, it is difficult to compare 3D printing to the music industry because music is immaterial in a sense. It can be transferred as bits, rather than as physical units. Therefore, the cost of reproducing, making copies, and maintaining systems for distribution is much cheaper.
      You’ll note that the digital designs for 3D printing are also bits of information that can easily be transferred, which is why I don’t think the barrier to 3D printing will be the design process. However, the end product is a material thing that you can hold in your hand. Therefore it will always be constrained by costs of materials and energy. Then you have to consider upkeep of the machines and troubleshooting when things go wrong.
      All in all, I just do not think that 3D printing represents much of a threat to GW.

    4. Tim,

      People used to do offset printing in their basements too. But digital 2D layout/printing pretty much killed that market entirely. Quality printing in 2D is so trivial now that I’m making prototype game cards/tokens using my bog-standard HP all-in-one printer. The same one that my wife uses for printing out coupons and work-related forms.

      Yes, mass-production plastics will always be cheaper to produce in volume (just as mass-production 2D printing is), but can GW survive without the huge margins they currently enjoy? The margins that already make many of their unassembled, unpainted models more expensive than your typical ready-to-play X-Wing blister or box set from FFG? Because 3D printing is going to force them to compete on price more and more.

      You’re also missing the marketplace that will pop up around 3D printing. Someone (not GW) will build the iTunes of 3D printing, and anyone will be able to sell their work on it. Think of the iOS app store, and imagine a huge market of models. Each of which can be tweaked easily for size, pose, bitz, custom heads, and yes… COLORS.

      So you’ll be able to buy unassembled sprues for half or less of GW’s current prices, or print (or have printed for you) custom full-color ready-to-play models for what GW charges now.

      You might think that GW can just jump into this anytime they like, but that would be the Sony strategy. You know Sony, the company that had all the hardware, software, and content expertise, but failed to beat Apple at creating the first digital music marketplace? There’s no rewards for 2nd place on this.

      If GW waits and lets someone else do all the work, then people will be buying their wargaming models from the 3D copy-shop down the street, or printing them at home, instead of walking into their stores.

      They need to be co-opting this technology NOW.

    5. I don't know..I'm still not convinced either way, I feel like you are automatically assuming that a) 3D printing is going to become cheaper. If it does become cheaper, it seems you assume that there would be 3D copy shops everywhere.

      Is there really a big enough market for 3D printed items, apart from people like us? Coz you'd have to appeal to more than just wargamers in order to run 3D printers at your business, no?

      I mean...would these 3D copy shops be able to make money from people outside of the niches of gaming, architecture and rapid prototyping?

      I don't mean to be argumentative, I enjoy this topic. But anyway, can you see what I mean by those assumptions? It just seems you are making assumptions on what has happened in the past, but how sure are you that this will hold for 3D printing?

      Could the materials needed every go up in price? What about the energy to run them? We are seeing a decline in energy prices now, thanks to fracking, but will that last long? Will that make 3D printing a limited endeavor?

      Its interesting because you and I have different views about the nature of technology, so it is a nice challenge to discuss our ideas. I think you would really like the book, "What Technology Wants" by the co-founder of WIRED magazine, forget his name. In it, he kinda shows that these trends of progress are very common, but not always work out in ways that we would expect. Check it out -you'll dig it- or at least read a review, if you don't have time. Here I found a link for you:

    6. Tim, I don’t know what will convince you then. 3D printing prices have already come down DRASTICALLY from what they were just 2 years ago. Seriously, a .350 micron resin printer that works off batteries and fits in your backpack for just $350? All that’s missing is full color printing, a feature that’s already existed for YEARS on the $20K+ high-end.

      This is happening dude. As fast or faster than it did for desktop publishing.

      “I mean...would these 3D copy shops be able to make money from people outside of the niches of gaming, architecture and rapid prototyping?”

      I suggest that you check out Shapeways sometime:

      Scroll through their catalog, and you’ll get some idea of what’s in store for more than just gaming.

    7. No worries, I am naturally skeptical, but even more so about predictions of the future. :)

      We'll just have to wait and see. For what its worth, I hope I'm wrong.

  6. Certainly. You can tell what they are and if they were painted up nicely it wouldn't be too obvious from a distance. For me it's the game play, not the specific models, that matter. And sticking it to the man (GW) goes a long way to convincing me too.

  7. Always a threat to GW, never any of the other mini manufacturers that you love...

    GW is already in the process of committing suicide, by the time this comes to fruition will GW even matter? No worries though, when 3D printing annihilates the mini gaming industry (you so gleefully predict GW's demise, why wouldn't the others go to?), we can just make our own rules to go with our 3D printed minis. Yay.

    And no, I wouldn't play against the above army, it looks horrid. If I want cheaper fakes of the 'real thing' I need look only to our Chinese friends who make CHEAP knock off minis, and our Russian friends who upload the accompanying rulebook PDFs for FREE.

    Wait, which was the threat to GW again I'm confused?

    1. I’ve said before that Battlefront is, if anything, even less well positioned to fight this technology. As they have done so little to get their own plastics production going. Let alone the types of quality CAD-modeled, digitally machined plastics that GW is currently capable of producing.

      Check out Knight’s link:

      Those epic-scale tank prints are miles better looking than Battlefront’s (larger) resin/metal tanks. While being 99% as good as BF’s hand-tooled plastics. Only the Plastic Soldier Company’s digitally designed/tooled plastics are going to be able to compete on quality, and they’re currently both the cheapest AND the highest quality minis that you can buy for Flames of War. That puts BF in a very bad position.

      GW at least has the capability (if not the will) to move 3D printers into its stores and co-opt it as a new revenue stream. Time is running out, but they could do that. Not an option for Battlefront or Privateer Press.

      As for Fantasy Flight, I’m sure that once color 3-D printing is cheaper than paying for production on semi-hand-painted plastics, they’ll switch right over without shedding a tear.

  8. Yeah I got no issues playing against a bootleg army if I can see some love in it.
    I don't care where you get your models...Unless you like, stole 'em from another gamer. #rd party figs, 3D printed figs, whatever.
    I'd actually probably have questions for the 3D printer dude.

    I actually have more of an issue playing against a 'flavor of the week' army that is hastily purchased and slapped together and then maybe not even painted or whatever. There's no love there. I'm not feelin' that.


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