For the budding putty-pushers, CDO has collected advice and insights from some sculptors around here. If you have tips of your own to share, or questions to ask, then be our guest and go ahead!
I’ve been sculpting about five years now. I originally cast my own figures in resin, after moulding them myself with those cheap PVA kits you can buy on E-Bay. It’s probably a good idea, because it really teaches you what you can get away with casting wise. Air bubbles and miscasts are the norm. Its just basically a cheap way to cast your early amateurish stuff. If you can afford to jump straight into professional moulding and casting services, good for you. Expect some failures however.
Unfortunately there’s no real place you can go and learn all the skills and processes of miniature sculpting and casting. It is a slow methodical process, I should expect it takes about 10 years of hard work to really excell in this field. There’s always the few exceptions, but generally it takes time. I consider myself at the intermediate stage at the moment. I use greenstuff (Kneadtite) generally, I really like working with it. Recently I have started using brown stuff, it has to be bought from the U.S.A. It works out far more expensive than greenstuff. I buy Formula P3 from Privateer Press. It is much easier to work with than the standard greenstuff. Firstly it is less sticky and more importantly it can be sanded to a fine edge when cured. The major problem with greenstuff is that you can’t sand it or fashion sharp crisp edges easily.
I’ve read some sculptors use vaseline to smooth the green. I personally wouldn’t recommend doing that, you have to completely remove the vaseline to get anything else to adhere to it. Horrible really, I use good ol’ top quality “Andy saliva”. Just don’t eat a packet of crisps before filling the spit-tray. An old paint brush is really good for final smoothing, especially in those nooks and hard-to-reach areas. A cheap sculpting tool set works just fine, you’ll select which tools you like using most. It’s a totally personal thing, every sculptor’s main tool is different from the next person’s. A set of rubber tipped tools is a must for smoothness too. I do the main shaping and moving of the putty with my metal tools, then the rubber tools for fine work and smoothing.
Soak everything up like a sponge, check other sculptors’ work and processes. Ask questions, try new tools and sculpting mediums. For really fine work I use a magnifier. It’s just a headband with a light and interchangeable magnifying plates. They are just £15 on Amazon. A decent desktop lamp is a must too.
When you’re finally good enough to take the next step and have your sculpts professionally cast, check around if there’s any local casting companies. It’s probably a good idea to have some other sculptors extoll their virtues. However, it’s great if you can call in and check the place out yourself firstly. A standard 7 Inch radial mould costs me about £70 to have made. It will fit up to 13-14 standard sized 28mm miniatures. I have a template at home to work out what I can fit on one mould. A recent Orc Chariot Set almost took up one full mould. A standard spin of that one mould costs about £7. The price can rise quickly if you’re getting say 30 sets. That’s why sculptors like to have fundraisers like Kickstarters to pay the hefty casting bills early.
The company I use myself is a local firm, Langley Models. They have a two week turnaround. I’ve had about eight or nine full 7" moulds made by them and hundreds of successful castings. Things can go wrong occasionally with miscasts, but thankfully not to me so far.
So I hope this has been helpful. Just take it in stages, have patience, don’t compare your early work with advanced stuff, keep focussed and don’t give up. Its a wonderful rewarding hobby, my only regret is that I should have started decades ago.
Happy Sculpting, Andy T.
My minis are all cast by Paul Naylor at Fire Dragon Games in Yorkshire. He is very reasonably priced and very knowledgeable but has scaled down his casting recently to focus more on bespoke terrain commissions (still worth approaching him though). Firedragon is currently run by him and his girlfriend I believe, they have an etsy store as well as their website and sell loads of gaming accessories, as well as a few miniatures of their own.[align=center][/align]
As for tips on sculpting and casting, this is a huge subject. As far as approaching casters goes, I would just be very honest about what you’re doing and what you want the end result to be. Try emailing a few and see what responses you get. I only really tried 3-4 places before settling on Firedragon.
Griffin Moulds seemed professional, if a bit pricey, and the fact the guy’s name was Stewart Griffin made me chuckle.
Most places charge per spin for moulds, so it is in your best interests to make sure every part of a model or set of models fits in a single mould - even better if you can get multiples in a single mould. This is one of the main reasons why loads of places make character models but not so much rank and file - you can fit 8 awesome characters in a mould and sell them all for £5 each, or you can fit ten troopers and sell them for £2.50 each - not rocket science. The flipside is obviously that people buy troopers in bulk, but that costs more in shipping and packaging and bla bla bla.
If you want to try casting up some minis you sculpted, I would recommend getting a pro to do it unless you really want to experience the thrill (and frustration and toxic fumes and mess and financial cost and risk of liquid metal-related injury) of casting your own. If you just want to make a dozen minis for yourself, just get someone to do it - it’ll be cheaper and easier and the results will be better. If you’re an idiot like me, then you could buy some RTV silicone and pewter bars and get to work in the shed… which is what I did before I stopped freelancing and got a full time job. It was fun, but I don’t recommend it
As for sculpting tips for casting, the main advice I can offer is always think of the mould. You can’t have undercuts so if you want very 3D poses, you’re going to have to have multiple parts. I work all this out on paper before I start anything. Also, no one likes multi-part single figure metals - they are a nightmare to put together and tend to explode into all their component pieces if you drop them. One or two separate parts, no problem, but when we get into separate torsos and arms with odd joints and tiny amounts of surface area contact, that way lies madness and despair. Things warp and shrink in the mould and no two casts are the same - for example the casts of Baggronor the Mighty that I get from Paul are slimmer and more athletic than the original model, where he is a bit of a fatty. Most of the time this shrinkage is minimal and isn’t a problem, but when it runs into complex joints it can result in miniatures that just don’t fit together. I’m sure anyone who started hobbying in the '90s has experienced that before Back when GW initially re-released the Dark Eldar (finally after 15 years or something) most of the first wave was in metal - I have a Lelith Hesperax mini where the arm joint is so teeny tiny and pathetic, it could never work in metal (sure enough they switched her to resin a few months later).
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As to my sculpting for casting, it all started with CDO’s resident Dane, Bloodbeard, asking whether I or Rozmax or someone else could have a go at sculpting Hobgoblin head bits for casting. As someone who’d converted my own, my brother’s and our friends’ miniatures for years on end, I jumped at this eagerly. When you only sculpt for one person, only that one benefits, but if you sculpt for casting, dozens or hundreds or thousands can take part of the fruits of your labour.
Said and done, Bloodbeard received the heads and laboured hard for weeks with stinking resin in his spare time. The end results, though surprisingly well cast on the front of the face, were bubbly and miscast. From casting Carolean tin soldiers before jumping into Warhammer (and from reading Warseer pro’s tips), I had an inkling of how difficult casting and mouldmaking can be, so I was happy to let someone else handle this bit. In the end, it’s usually best for everyone involved if the professionals do the casting work. Fastest, smoothest, least bother, best results. Though casting oneself is undeniable interesting!
Oh, and the Hobgoblin heads ended up way too big. This life-long weakness at scale, eye-measurement and size of mine runs constant through the range, though there are some signs it can be overcome in future sculpts. Lesson for budding sculptors: Know your strengths, and watch your weaknesses. Usually they can be overcome or dampened, at least in the long run with enough practice. I wouldn’t recommend anyone from abstaining casting a sculpt they themselves perceive as partially flawed, though, at least if they and others think enough aspects of the sculpt good enough to warrant casting. You have to start somewhere, and usually there is a little market for odd niches and even for miniatures slightly out of scale (if average population heights are considered). Just be clear with what kind of miniature the customers are getting, and point out flaws in e.g. size beforehand when selling it.
Moving on from the Hobgoblin heads, I entered sculpting for casting proper with own investments with a contest entry gone wrong. Czech Custom Made Miniatures got to cast the first mini I sold. It’s a reliable whitemetal caster and CCM might be among the most affordable alternatives around. I recommend them, particularly for small moulds or limited budgets and if you’ve got easy patience to wait if hindrances show up for the company. The guy running CCM, Jan Kral, do it on part-time and have run into hinders before (lately his industrial vaccuum pump broke down and an associate picking up its expensive replacement disappeared without trace), but so far it’s always worked out well and I’ve received casts without problem in the end.
Jan Kral also seemed schocked to find out how big and fat a dwarf statue I had sculpted and sounded of disbelief or even alarm when describing how the miniature would devour 3-4 times as much metal as normal 28mm miniatures (“I don’t think the mould will ever wear out. It’s a chunk!”), but the cost was comparatively cheap in the end and I can even sell the statue as one of the cheaper things in my range, so don’t be easily dissuaded by such talk. They’re only professionals, so what do they know?
Jokes aside, I often turn to Zealot Miniatures for fine resin casting. They preserve detail excessively well! Pricey, of course. Helpful as well. Much of the time they’re speedy with handling times. Warmly recommended. If you sculpt things they’re currently releasing ranges for, chances are they might even order some freelance bits from you! And if customers ask for some specific bit or bob that they themselves don’t plan on attempting anytime soon, they’ll often point said customer to some sculptor they work with whom they would recommend for the job. Zealot Miniatures are great for small moulds as well and possess quite some know-how.
As mentioned, Griffin Moulds JJP do good whitemetal spincasts. If you have got a lot of character models, a whole chariot, several rank and file troopers or the like to fill out a spin mould, then Griffin Moulds will handle this fine. They’re reliable and well worth recommending.
They do things differently, however. E.g. with other mouldmaking companies you pay for each new replacement mould as the old one wears out, but with Griffin Moulds this is an automatic service included in the original mould order. Their business lingo is different from that of Zealot Miniatures or Custom Cast Miniatures, as well. With Zealot and CCM I was used to ordering “units”, that is, one unit equals a full batch of miniatures/bits from one mould. With Griffin, they read this as individual miniatures as opposed to batches, so after asking which terms they themselves use, I now order spins for full batches.
This isn’t a hassle and it isn’t a problem, but it can be worth asking around for more rather than less when contacting a casting company to have everything clearly pictured. Of course, for small orders and if you’re not on a tight budget you’ll simply discover everything for yourself as you go along with the casting company.
Another thing to ask for, is whether or not the casting company put VAT (20% in UK last time I checked) on top of their fees or not. Griffin and Zealot do, CCM don’t. It’s always useful to have some extra margin of money you’re prepared to invest into moulds and castings should something unexpected turn up. As a green amateur one do now know all the workings of casting companies so unforeseen expenses shouldn’t come as a schok. From my own experience: Fear not. Established casting companies run on trust and reliability, and it’s highly unlikely any scam would take place. If the professionals think something special has to be done to handle your latest special order, then trust them.
When venturing upon odd casting projects, expect small complications to eventually occur. Recently, when sending some wall relief plates in to Zealot Miniatures for resin casting, it turned out their thin size caused issues. It’s probably down to suction in the mould over such a large flat area. The solution chosen by Zealot was to drill small holes in undetailed areas. Easy to fill for hobbyists, but not ideal. You live and learn.
Tip: Always make a master mould for your sculpt! Even if production-mould-only is cheaper, and even if you doubt you’ll sell much enough to warrant a master mould to be able to produce new production moulds as the old ones wear out, you might be surprised how large a demand for little odd niche products there is, given time to sell it primarily via Ebay.
Casting isn’t horribly costly when dealing with smaller moulds. If you’re curious how much it could cost to cast your latest sculpt which you’re proud enough to sell, then ask around at various firms. You might be positively surprised.
As for sculpting, AtomTaylor and Baggronor have given ample good advice above. My toolkit is limited. It extends to a normal sculpting tool (sharpened in a workshop to allow finer detail), needles for fiddly work, hobby knife for rare occassions, and dentist tools. Whenever you are at the dentistry, ask them if they’ve got some tools to be disposed of, which you could take instead for sculpting. They have always had such around when I’ve asked, and a few tools have proven greatly useful for sculpting certain tricky areas. Particularly the ones ending in a small metal ball at the end. When sculpting the basis for the aforementioned wall panels, a wettened plastic ruler was the tool of choice for much of the time! For the most part, though, an ordinary sculpting tool will carry you far indeed.
When it comes to keeping size and scale, Jan Kral shared a trick: He keeps a perfectly scaled wire skeleton master around for 28mm human-sized sculpts, which he tries to mimic when building new wire skeletons for fresh sculpts. Length can be added or subtracted from it according to individual height variation, of course, but aping the perfect master skeleton will help keeping correct scale in sculpts. One could have various master wire skeletons, for humans and dwarfs or orcs, but the idea is the same. Also, going by the Renaissance proportion formula of 8 heads making up the full length of a human and other such tricks can be useful as well.
The key thing when sculpting for casting is to take everything in steps. Keep it managable. It’s pretty easy to master a small area before moving on. Let it dry, don’t risk ruining a good result. Sculpt on several parts or miniatures in succession if you’ve got time to spare and to spend while waiting for something to dry. Sure, it takes a lot of time doing everything in small steps and working for hours to get an area just right, but one eventually gets speedier even at tricky stuff given enough practice.
Sculpting for casting is highly rewarding. To see the fruits of your labour showing up in the collections of others is joyful. To spread your work is great. To see others tinker with it, convert it and paint it in their army colours is a real treat.
Best of luck! :hat off