Got a 3D printer (Ender 3) for my son for xmas (well, we were going to but then his grandma stepped in and technically she got it for him so we bought all the upgrades instead). Originally it was going to be a present for me, I’m not even sure how it became for him. I made sure I got myself a reel of printing material so that he wouldn’t get upset at me wasting his stuff on my experiments. First prints came out really good so we moved on to more challenging stuff and had some issues that would be expected. Some models didn’t have the appropriate supports. We added supports to other models, only to find that they were really hard to remove. Some models are just not possible to print in the one piece that they come as, usually in the stl file. There is a lot of judgement needed in working out what needs to be done, and you don’t find out some of it until you experience failures. So many settings that can be tweaked in both the slicer and the machine itself, but the default ones work so well for a lot of prints.
It’s an FDM printer, so it doesn’t have the high resolution that you can get with resin printers that cost only a little more. The advantage is that PLA is far easier to deal with than resin, no toxic chemicals involved. I never intended to use it for printing miniatures, but it does a remarkable job of it. You can see the layers easily and the very fine detail can be lost, but the few I have picked have come out well. 20c for a Space Marine Librarian is somewhat cheaper than the $35 it costs from GW, although it doesn’t take five hours to buy one like it does to 3D print one. PLA can be cut and filed like the styrene plastic used by most miniatures companies, but it is more flexible - if you are familiar with the Reaper Bones models then I would say it was midway between that and styrene. You can treat it in very similar ways; I’ve pinned models, melted joints together, glued them, painted them.
Time is the biggest annoyance factor (apart from the beeping and squeaking sounds the machine makes) and you can’t really leave it unattended due to fire risk. Sometimes a print will fail partway through for no real reason, so the more often you check on it the less material and time you waste if that does happen. I’m really hesitant to do big prints so I will chop larger stuff up into smaller separate prints if I can. Chopping up models with large overhanging parts is also a good idea since it saves time and wastage that would be used on supports. I plan ahead with the models I design to avoid this (mostly custom cosplay items and pokemon card storage so far).
I would not recommend the Ender 3 for anyone wanting to print an army. It will take forever and look a bit crappy - you are better off using cardboard standees or counts-as models if you want to play wargames with something cheap. If you don’t mind low def models than you can print in ABS (needs a container around the printer to keep everything hot, plus ventilation) and use a vapor method to smooth out the layers. Either way, in my opinion it’s more effort than you should bother with for such a result, and getting a resin printer would be better if you want the better quality although the printer and materials cost a bit more.
For the odd custom piece for your army it can work great, and for scenery it can do really good things especially if you cover up the layers with texture. Designed and made a clip for my laptop stylus so it doesn’t get lost. I need a phone holder for my car that hangs off the vent but doesn’t block the vent - so I’m just designing one that has holes in all the right places for the sockets and buttons of my phone. Well, technically I’m copying someone else’s design and modifying for my own purpose. Some stuff you can buy online for not much more than cost of printing it, but being able to so completely customise it first is very useful, and endless replacement parts is good too.
We used the printer almost non stop for the first week we had it, and now we are down to once every few days. It’s a fun new hobby that is easy to split time between the different areas for only a few minutes at a time and has no setup or clear-up time required like painting. I’ll start posting pictures soon.
Interesting read as someone who’s also pretty recently taking to 3d printing, though I have a anycubic photon, so resin printing. The process/outcome is much different, but I also resonate a lot with your ailments here.
I had that same problem of models falling off halfway through, or sometimes not even connecting to the base in the first place. It must have persisted on for roughly three or so months, and now I have a box of mechanicus, pink horrors, and space marines missing all sorts of limbs and heads, it was really damn annoying. Eventually I tweaked my method of orientation and supporting models, as well as my resin cure and wait times until it finally stopped happening, thankfully.
In contrast though, my favorite part of using a resin printer is the volume I can print at, it might take 4-5 hours to print a dwarf, but I can put 8 dwarves on the plate and have them print all at once, whereas a FDM printer has to do each one by one. My chaos dwarves (~800 pts in AOS) I showed off I printed in less than 3 days(57hrs total + a few minutes setup.), and I can leave it while sleeping, as it doesn’t use heat. I’ve done similar things with dark eldar, mechanicus, and space marine armies in the past. The models may not be perfect, the resin expands and flashes sometimes, but they can be very detailed, maybe even nearing GW, and they lack the layers of FDM.
The worst part is of course the post-processing. Liquid resin being a biohazard, and having to thoroughly clean it afterwards with 99% alcohol puts most people off. Though I’d personally say the outcome is worth it simply because of the level of detail shown in the models. The cost is about double the same volume of plastic, plus the alcohol/containers/gloves/respirator, but still it’s nothing compared to store-bought models.
Sorry if it feels like I’m intruding, but I wanted to share my experience with resin printing for comparisons sake. Can’t wait to see photos of what you’ve printed.
You’re welcome to post here, I had half written this when I saw your post so it gave me motivation to finish.
I agree with you for the most part. I may get a resin printer in the future (yours was the one I was looking at) but for now I am happy with the FDM. I’m really at the stage where I have so many miniatures that the ability to make more isn’t a massive deal to me. I’m going to experiment a little with the smallest nozzle I have to see if I can remove even more visibility of the layers for a few custom weapons and scenery, but I don’t have any plans for printing any wargaming models at all. The Ender 3 is really a hobbyist’s printer because there are so many little issues with it that can be fixed by printing extra parts, but it also produces really good prints out of the box for less than $200. I am very happy with it so far.
I can actually print several models at the same time, I could probably fit up to 16 32mm miniatures on the bed (my slicer is Cura and it can handle as many files as you want simultaneously), although my personal risk aversion personality stops me doing so because I know that if something goes wrong then I’ve lost every single model at once - or at least end up with a lot of legs. Plus it would take forever.
Ah, that’s pretty cool, consumer FDM has come along a lot further than I thought, and I honestly thought the ender 3’s build plane was smaller, if I had the money I might consider getting one for terrain, people at our FLGS would love that I’m sure. The photon has actually been coming down in price, I think it’s like 250$ right now, it keeps going down, but of course you need a whole setup for quarantining it. Though I also hear the newer ones have software that locks out 3rd party slicers, which sucks, the company’s photon slicer is basically unusable for really complex models.
In terms of the advantage of printing multiple models, I meant that resin cures entire layers across the build plane taking the same time no matter how much volume is placed, whereas by my understanding a FDM still has to jump between areas before it finishes a layer. Though I also have come across the outcome of many legs and a flat layer cured onto the resin vat many a time.
Learnt a few things. The Link model legs were so thin that they snapped when removed from the build plate, so I repaired with a paper clip. My kids insist I leave it like a robot leg. I didn’t add supports, so the sword didn’t print properly at all.
The door was an experiment. It swings open both ways, but one layer messed up near the top. I think that side may have shifted on the build plate.