3D printing has been known to be a valuable method of manufacturing products, but people wonder whether it would be cheaper to 3D print miniatures.
Yes, it is cheaper and more cost-effective to 3D print miniatures rather than purchasing them. The initial investment into getting a 3D printer and the materials is relatively high, but the cost per model is significantly lower if you are planning to create a good number of miniatures.
This is the basic answer but keep on reading for more details.
How Much Do Normal Miniatures Cost?
A normal miniature can cost anywhere from $0.50 a piece up to $200+ for custom miniatures that have been professional done. You can get simple, generic unpainted miniatures in bulk at cheap prices. The Wildspire Townsfolk Set is around $40 for 58 miniatures which works out to be around $0.70 per miniature.
The cost of a miniature can vary quite a lot based on what you want, but for just a standard unofficial one that is comparable to a resin 3D print, you can get these for pretty cheap, but the quality won’t be the best.
A good quality official miniature could cost between $5-$10, depending on whether it’s part of a set, individually sold. The price of miniatures can vary greatly depending on their model, size and complexity, and on whether they are painted or unpainted.
You can find officially licensed miniatures for your tabletop game, or you can buy miniatures from independent sellers who print unofficial designs. I found a pack of 30 Unpainted D&D Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures Wave 16 for $170, which works out to $5.70 each.
A Pre-Painted D&D Icons of the Realm: Sahugin Warband Set costs around $47 and provides you with 6 miniatures, working out to be $7.83 per miniature.
This Warhammer set of 10 figures with additional body parts costs around $47. That is roughly $4.7 per figure, without the price of the paint, since official Warhammer miniatures come unpainted. Artist painted ones can be found on websites such as Etsy.
In the case of this set, the price of an individual figure can rise to roughly $9.1.
There are also medium-sized and more detailed individual figures such as Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden – Xardorok Sunblight ($10) and the Frost Giant Ravager ($40), much pricer than standard unpainted miniatures.
Lastly, you can order custom miniatures starting from $19.99 on websites such as Hero Forge.
How Much Do 3D Printed Miniatures Cost? Filament & Resin
3D printed miniatures can cost just around $0.06 for an individual filament miniature in just materials, while a resin miniature would cost you around $0.21 in materials. If you don’t have the 3D printer set up already, you can get a decent filament or resin 3D printer for as cheap as $200.
The cost of a 3D printed miniature is going to vary depending on the size and type of material you are using. There are some specialist filament and resins that cost more so there will be an increase in the costs of each miniature, but not too significant.
Buying the material in larger quantity should reduce your costs.
One Reddit user bought a 250ml bottle of resin for $25 and used it to print 31 models and still had enough resin left over for another 4-5 models. That makes the cost of one model around $0.70 in this case.
The resin he used was quite expensive, coming to $50 per 500ml bottle. You can get a 500ml bottle of Anycubic Resin for just $17 from Amazon which is about one third of the price.
This would reduce the price of each model to just $0.22, or $0.19 if you bought the 1L bottle, though prices can fluctuate slightly.
Another aspect for the cost of resin miniatures that you may come across is the price of the STL model file if you get a premium object. You can buy these individually or get them in packs/sets, as well as on a monthly basis from a dedicated Patreon page.
These aren’t usually too expensive but I have seen some premium designs that cost upwards of $20 for one high quality STL file model. The usual prices you’ll see for miniatures if they are premium is something like $5, while plenty of them are downloadable for free.
Another option you have is to actually sculpt your own models, either from scratch or from some kind of template in a software like Blender. This is a great option if you are a creative person and like to do things yourself, though it does take a lot of practice to get to a decent level.
In terms of the material needed for each miniature, a standard model should only use about 3 grams of filament for a 32mm model, a common size for tabletop game miniatures.
PLA costs on average $20/kg. That means that this model would cost $0.06. Many people who 3D print tabletop miniatures do use PLA since it’s a cheap material that’s easy to print, but it does have issues with durability and flexibility since small parts can easily break off.
Resin is a better choice because you can use a mixture of normal resin with a flexible resin so the parts have more ‘give’, making it less likely to break. A 32mm miniature made from resin would cost around $$0.21 with a 1L $30 bottle of resin.
The resin estimates pointed at the bottom of the picture don’t seem accurate so I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that. According to real tests, users can print around 100-140 miniatures with 1L of resin which comes to $0.21-$0.30 per miniature.
For filament 3D printers, there’s not much you’ll need to produce some high quality miniatures, just the filament and an assembled 3D printer. The Ender 3 V2 is a great machine that costs around $250.
For resin 3D printers, you’ll also need a method of washing and curing the models which can be done fairly cheaply. The Elegoo Mars 2 Pro is respected resin machine that costs around $250 as well.
You’ll need a:
These can all be picked up for about $65 in total.
If you buy a $250 resin 3D printer, then spend the $65 on the accessories, along with a 1L bottle of resin for $30 (which can print around 140 miniatures), you’ll be paying around ($345 / 140 minis) = $2.46 per miniature.
After the initial costs, each miniature would reduce significantly down to just the materials which would be $0.21 per miniature.
On the other hand, large models would use more material, especially if they are printed with supports or in parts. Have a look at this breakdown of how many miniatures you can print with 1L of resin to have an idea of how much different miniatures may cost as well.
Is it Cheaper or Cost Effective to 3D Print Miniatures? Worth it or Not?
You can 3D print a miniature for just $0.06 per model using filament, while buying one costs around $2 for a basic low quality miniature.
We’ve gone through the resin costs already, so let’s look at the basic costs for filament miniatures.
For printing using filament, the main costs are:
- Filament 3D printer: $250 for a basic machine
- Filament: $20 for 1kg of filament
- 3D printer cleaning tools: $35
- Sandpaper assortment: $10
Another thing you want to look at with 3D printing miniatures is the painting part. A good set of paint to get for painting your miniatures is The Army Painter Dungeon and Dragons Official Paint Line Adventurer’s Paint Set.
Another thing to take into consideration is the potential failed prints, especially if you are new at 3D printing. This shouldn’t be too significant since you can usually stop models that look like they are failing, or if the model doesn’t adhere to the build plate, it doesn’t actually waste much resin.
Reprinting models might be time and be material consuming sometimes, however most of the time you won’t have many issues with failed prints, especially in the case of small models.
There are arguments that the quality is higher when it comes to purchasing professional miniatures, but the quality of resin 3D prints is increasing all the time, and it’s hard to tell the difference these days between 3D printed miniatures and professional miniatures.
In terms of filament printing, it is true that models are more prone to stringing and the overall quality is not as good, however they are also cheaper than resin miniatures, and with patience they can be polished to look great.
There is also the cost of the STL file design as well, as mentioned before, if you decide to buy a model online or subscribe to a Patreon page for custom designs. Or else you can choose to print free models or design the models yourself.
3D printing your own miniatures gives you with a level of customizability that you can’t get when purchasing the miniatures, unless you pay a designer and get it custom-made, which would be very costly.
Instead of doing this, you can simply pay a designer to make adjustments to an existing 3D model, or even create your own custom models using various 3D model software.
From the design, all the way to creating the model itself, it’s a lot more cost-effective to use a 3D printer to create miniatures.
Is 3D Printing Miniatures Hard?
For a complete beginner, 3D printing miniatures may be hard at first. You have to choose the right printer, calibrate it, and buy the right material. It will take trial and error but there are many guides that make it easier to 3D print miniatures. You can start with basic miniatures at first.
Sometimes prints can fail and you have to start all over, but once you get some experience and knowledge, it becomes a lot easier to 3D print miniatures.
There are many tutorials online for any issues regarding 3D printing, from set-up to lesser-known problems that can cause failed prints, and you can also access Patreon community Discord servers where you can discuss printing.
Creating models using resin is a bit of an elaborate process, in the sense that you have to post-process the prints before being able to use them
However, people generally prefer resin 3D printers for miniature due to the higher quality of the prints.
Although 3D printing in general takes time, it took the user in this video only 3 days to print and paint 46 models, while another user mentioned that he printed a 2,000 part army in under a week, without the painting.
Material-wise, however, you have to be careful not to come in contact with uncured resin, as it is harmful for your skin and eyes. One user warned that some resins can have side effects even when breathed in, so you should always read the labels carefully and prepare appropriately.
This is why you have to consider the space where you will put the printer and the curing station, which has to be well ventilated and preferably not in the same room where you sleep in.
Here is a video discussing how difficult it is to 3D print your own miniatures using a resin printer for the first time.
This video sums up some pros and cons of 3D printing miniatures yourself.
Filament printing is more straightforward than resin printing. However, the set-up can take some time depending on what machine you purchase. Some 3D printers come 95% pre-assembled and only take 10 minutes to put together, while some require plenty of assembly and can take around an hour.
Manufacturers are getting better at creating pre-assembled printers, but for cheaper ones like the original Ender 3, you’ll have to follow the instructions and assemble it carefully.
Once the assembly is done, you want to look into calibration, especially bed leveling. It’s pretty easy once you understand how it works but initially, it can be a bit of a challenge. You can find automatic leveling 3D printers out there as well.
FDM printing can be easier because there is less post-processing involved, except some polishing with sandpaper and removing supports if you have them.
Nonetheless, the quality of the prints is not as high as it is for resin, so sometimes the polishing process might take a bit, which is why people choose filament printing only for large props or terrain.
Filament is also much less toxic than resin, although it is still good to ventilate the room well while printing. An FDM printer takes less space than a resin printing station, and is easier to clean than a resin printer, as one user pointed out.
Here is a video looking at filament printing props and terrains as a first-time user.
How Much Does it Cost to 3D Print a Warhammer Army?
You could print a 47-model army for just $17.33 if you use free STL files. For a more premium Warhammer Army, you can purchase the STL files and 3D print them for around $95. At the same time, buying a different set of 16 official models from an official website will also cost you around $95.
Let’s break down the cost of printing your own army.
I explained throughout the article that it is cheaper to print miniatures yourself.
I will use a full army designed by One Page Rules as an example. This can be purchased from MyMiniFactory for $78 and contains 47 models of various sizes at time of writing. You can make the bases yourself or purchase compatible ones.
You can also decide to exclusively use free files from various sources to put together an army, case in which you only need to consider material costs.
Let’s have a look at the estimated material costs for the chosen 47-model army:
- 35 models at 28-32mm – $7.35
- 10 slightly larger models up to 52mm – $7.50
- 2 larger models at 64mm – $2.48
Total cost in resin: $17.33
By adding the cost of the STL files we reach close to $100 for these 47 models, similar pricing to the 16 models set, but you’d have to post-process and paint the miniatures yourself. Make sure to factor in the time commitments also.
Of course, this is just a rough cost estimation for one of the many armies you can find for printing.
Here is another estimation for printing a different army.
As I mentioned before, the final price depends on how large you want the models to be and how many models you want to print, so it’s hard to approximate and give a generally valid price.
The cost also depends on how expensive the STL files are, if you decide not to design all the models yourself or mix and match free STL files found online (the possibility of finding an entire army for free is quite low).
Just keep in mind that if you decide to start 3D print your own miniatures with consistency, you will end up saving money and perhaps find an enjoyable hobby as well.