How 3D Printing Is Quickly Changing Tabletop Gaming

3d printer

How 3D Printing Is Quickly Changing Tabletop Gaming

The world of tabletop gaming is undergoing a quiet revolution thanks to the rapid advancement of 3D printing technology. As professional-grade printers become more affordable and user-friendly, passionate gamers, creative hobbyists and indie developers now have exciting new ways to design, customize and produce high-quality miniatures, terrain pieces, props and entire new games right from home.

I have over 20 years experience with miniatures painting and tabletop roleplaying. In this comprehensive guide from the Warhammer Universe team, I’ll explain how 3D printing is lowering barriers and empowering gaming communities while challenging age-old manufacturing norms – and what it could mean for the future of our niche. Buckle up for an in-depth look at the pros, cons and tremendous potential of 3D printing for tabletop!


The Democratization of Tabletop Production

Not long ago, industrial 3D printers costing upwards of $10,000 were only found in university labs and advanced manufacturing facilities. But thanks to cheaper components and expired patents, capable consumer models now retail for under $500 while matching the resolution of their commercial counterparts.

“The last three or four years have seen some amazing creativity in this space,” says Alex Ziff, co-CEO of digital 3D printing platform MyMiniFactory. “That’s all because of lowered barriers to entry – not just access to printing, but also people being able to upskill into CAD software – and thriving online communities drawing newcomers in.”

As the lead designer at Privateer Press summarizes: “We’ve entered an unannounced renaissance where the momentum will only accelerate as costs keep falling.” Soon 3D printing may fundamentally transform how tabletop products are designed, tested, manufactured and sold.

The Benefits of On-Demand Production

For developers, easier 3D prototyping enables iterative design not bound to mass production cycles. Game pieces can be quickly printed, tested by the community, refined and reprinted at little cost. Updates happen reactively instead of launches set in stone months beforehand.

For gamers, 3D printing unlocks greater personalization when decorating miniatures or creating entirely custom characters. Need an obscure miniature no longer in production? Print your own copy! Dream of fielding a dragon army? Model and print exactly the pieces you envision! The possibilities are endless.

Misconceptions Regard Clean, Automated Printing

However, significant manual labor around post-processing persists. Prints must still be rinsed, cured, supports removed and models prepared for painting. “A lot of manpower goes into what’s 90 percent of the work,” Privateer’s Matt Wilson clarifies. “We can manufacture reactively, but that hasn’t yet reduced the cost of labor.” Easy push-button fabrication remains ahead of most consumer reality.


Reception Within Tabletop Circles

Discussions around 3D printing’s impact reveal mixed opinions across gaming subcultures. Purists debate print quality versus traditional casting methods. Big publishers eye decentralization warily. Legal ambiguity leaves many unclear on what’s permissible, especially for protected IPs.

Proxy Culture Concerns Established Brands

Games Workshop in particular takes strict stances against third party models or custom prints at official Warhammer events. Yet inexpensive home printing has fueled a proxy culture producing imitation units sold under vague names to skirt copyright claims.

“We see a lot of misconceptions about the labor intensity of modern 3D printing,” Wilson admits. “People watch a viral video about how easy 3D printing is, and they get the impression that it comes down to loading a program and pushing a button. The reality is, a lot of manpower goes into rinsing, cleaning, curing, removing build structures, and packaging—all by hand—which is about 90 percent of the work. We can manufacture reactively, but that hasn’t reduced the cost of labor. And anyway, that labor comprises human beings we aren’t interested in exploiting for the sake of the lowest imaginable price of our end product.”

Calls Against Overreach by Legal Teams

MyMiniFactory fields frequent takedown requests on behalf of independent creators from IP holders hoping to restrict printing their characters or units. The platform tries mediating these conflicts amicably without resorting to punitive enforcement.

“Let’s let the community judge what’s fair democratically,” Ziff proposes. “I don’t want this company to end up being a team of lawyers, like the bigger companies in this industry. What we want is a better dialog, not more punitive legal structures.”

Asssassin Warhammer40k

Economic Realities for Ambitious Upstarts

Passionate game developers hoping to self-publish new tabletop projects often get acquired and smothered by risk-averse conglomerates after gaining any traction. Ziff laments observing this pattern crush innovation repeatedly across the industry.

MyMiniFactory and Privateer Press aim to disrupt this cycle by empowering creators to succeed independently while retaining control over their content. “We believe in localized manufacturing,” says Ziff. “It’s deeply ingrained in the company’s values. That’s why we want to allow creators as much freedom as possible to do what they’d like.”

Calls Against Overreach by Legal Teams

MyMiniFactory fields frequent takedown requests on behalf of independent creators from IP holders hoping to restrict printing their characters or units. The platform tries mediating these conflicts amicably without resorting to punitive enforcement.

“Let’s let the community judge what’s fair democratically,” Ziff proposes. “I don’t want this company to end up being a team of lawyers, like the bigger companies in this industry. What we want is a better dialog, not more punitive legal structures.”

Keeping Creators Front and Center

As virtual tools enable more disembodied design removed from physical production, MyMiniFactory worries about artists losing attribution, no longer being compensated for derivatives or getting locked out from their own works entirely.

“Contractual agreements can lock artists, painters, and writers out of control over their creations,” explains Ziff. “We hate to see that. We want creators to go on being known so long as their work is visible, and for them to keep being paid on that basis.”

Revenue sharing aims to better support the many contributors behind tabletop projects so corporate owners don’t undervalue or exploit them. Games thrive thanks to the collaborative efforts of passionate teams – not faceless companies.

3d Printer

Adapting to Market Changes

3D printing has arrived faster than many expected. “The ability to match the quality of something sold in-store with 3D printing arrived sooner than I anticipated,” admits Wilson. Yet substantial consumer cost savings haven’t materialized quite yet either.

“We’re not yet at a stage where printing from your house results in any cost savings. That may well happen soon, but for now, we’re behind the cusp of it.” At-home fabrication can complement but not fully replace traditional manufacturing pipelines, at least until the next wave of advancements.

Filling Gaps with Larger Scale Prints

Interestingly, Elegoo noticed customers printing far larger figurines than intended for the photorealistic tabletop quality its resin printers achieve. Gamers enjoy crafting the big statues or articulated models more commonly associated with collectors editions due to greater creative freedom.

Standard kits only offer so many canonical character poses. But 3D modeling software empowers fans to capture their favorite heroes frozen mid-action scene exactly as envisioned. Printing commercial-level 12” models at home finally makes that possible.

Focusing on Software Improvements

Rather than chasing even higher resolutions, Elegoo now prioritizes streamlining the printing pipeline around software automation. Co-founder Kevin Wong explains: “In the future, we will keep investing more on the software side. It’s not only the built-in system but also the slicing software, so we can make sure that the whole experience is perfect.”

The goal is to eliminate failed print jobs almost entirely while keeping the workflow simple enough for newcomers. Wong believes improved software will prove more impactful than any hardware enhancements going forward.

3d Printer

Expanding Applications Across Tabletop Gaming

While 3D printing already facilitates proxy pieces for wargames like Warhammer 40k, its potential extends much further – from RPGs to revival of vintage systems to indie passion projects. Custom miniatures generation makes the hobby more accessible for all types of gamers.

Personalized RPG Characters

Online services like HeroForge and desktop tools such as Blender empower roleplayers to design highly customized avatars for their characters down to precise facial structure and equipment loadouts. Need an ancient gnome wizard leaning on his oak staff? An intimidating dragonborn mercenary armed to the teeth? Anything imaginable can now come to life!

Getting attached to characters across campaigns has never been easier when you control their sculpted appearances instead of relying on premade options. 3D modeling skills further let you fabricate matching props and scenery to theme full encounters.

Space marine using PC

Salvaging Abandoned Game Systems

Out-of-print miniatures pose challenges for players still passionate about older rulesets no longer actively published. Availability bottlenecks make purchasing existing metal casts difficult. But 3D printable designs help fan communities carry niche games forward rather than letting cherished systems fade away entirely.

Mordheim sees continued tournament play thanks to fresh proxies modelled after the original aesthetic. A few Warhammer Fantasy stalwarts keep rank-and-flank formations marching on tabletop despite Games Workshop shelving the franchise. As interest persists, 3D printing gives players means to sustain play.

Inspiring Indie Tabletop Innovation

Traditionally, new games compelling enough to debut at retail still required significant upfront investment into injection molds for unit production. But now independent creators can focus more on tight gameplay mechanics while leveraging existing miniature model stocks or contracting 3D artists.

Reign in Hell explicitly supports players raiding other company fantasy lines to find appropriately thematic forces instead of attempting to launch yet another competing range alongside the rulebook. That revolutionary economic modelONLY works because home printing tranquilizes the production barrier to embody any new idea later.

Passion projects on crowdfunding see higher funding success and content flexibility when developers incorporate 3D printing as an expected means of acquiring needed miniatures after release. Backers know they won’t get left without pieces to play. The scene better fosters indie innovation.

3d printer nozzle

The Future of Tabletop Begins at Home

3D printing pulls tabletop gaming closer to fully decentralized, grassroots design, turning passionate fans themselves into co-developers. As costs drop further and usability climbs, adoption will only continue growing. And we believe that collaborative energy and creativity long suppressed by restrictive manufacturing gates will soon thrive as never before.

The revolution takes shape within garage workshops and home desktop studios as motivated hobbyists take imaginative risks on releasing exactly the kind of niche games or specialist miniatures with limited mass market viability but unlimited joy for their intended audience. For the first time, that’s financially viable while retaining independence. What will they make? We can’t wait to see!

The final frontier no longer looks so distant – not with consumer-grade 3D printers and modeling software bringing GitHub-esque version control to table building. The means of production have escaped central control. So let this renaissance unfold! May a thousand boutique etsy storefronts serving highly specific tastes bloom!

If you found this guide helpful, be sure to check out my YouTube channel with even more 3D printing tips, painting tutorials, game session recordings and the full range of nerdy antics here at Warhammer Universe. Feel free to subscribe for regular updates on all our latest projects in the works. And as always, happy gaming out there!

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