With the advent of affordable, easier to use, resin 3D printers, and Games Workshops late 8th edition rules for Custom Chapters and Regiments, the time has never been better for people to produce at home their own bits.
At our gaming Clubhouse, we have been on the cutting edge of consumer grade printing for quite a while now. We have a 3D printer dedicated for the Clubhouse’s use, for those who buy-in and don’t have one of their own. We have fairly sizeable group of people with their own printers, both Filament based and Resin, at their own homes. Seeing custom bits and decorations, and for non-Games Workshop games that are miniature agnostic, whole models, isn’t uncommon.
The old argument is trotted out in some circles about 3D printing killing the industry and your local store. For the industry, the argument is complete hogwash: Forge World has been doing their masters in 3D printed forms for years now, and my Iron Hills army for Middle Earth has noticeable, if extraordinarily minor, layer lines (these get covered up by paint quite easily, and are unnoticeable at all on the finished model). While it does unfortunately have a part to play in the decrease of hand-sculpted models, at the end of the day, technology marches forward. Games Workshop and several other companies have weathered the storm, and smaller, boutiques miniature lines now either specialize in classic hand-sculpted models, or have CAD designed, 3D printed masters of their own lines as well.
For your local store, this is a more subjective take, and is entirely based on the culture your gaming store encourages, and if they can readily adapt to the changing tides. Our local store, The Giddy Goblin, in Hanover, Ontario, has done so quite well; Sales of hobby supplies, miniatures, and related miscellaneous gaming related stuff, remains consistent. This is both due to a very loyal customer base, who despite embracing 3D printing quite widely, continue to shop there, and buy most of the new Games Workshop releases, and the fact they themselves don’t seem have any real issue with 3D printed bitz in their store. This is just our case where we live, but other stores have had issues with this in the past, either with their player base abusing it, or store management not understanding it. For this argument, I’ll leave it here. But just be aware, that at least here, we aren’t hurting our ‘mom and pop store’.
To move onto the meat of things; making your army unique is a difficult task. While Games Workshop has improved things somewhat, with the upgrade kits for the Space Marines, this task remains hard for those not of a first founding chapter or even worse for custom chapters. While some of us have innate skill to freehand chapter logos, or to make do with creative kitbashing, a 3D printer can be had for under $500 Canadian dollars now, and I’m talking about resin ones, and with a suitable printer and resin, one can produce a near endless variety of bitz. Tyler, our newest 40k player, has made his Salamanders the envy of us veteran hobbyists, with his first 40k army(and army in any game, as he stuck to warband sized games before this) look better then most our current ones, mine included.
If you can work with CAD, or know a guy who does, you can even produce your own chapter symbol, like Paul has with his Sons of Apollo on this website! A combination of great bitz, a great painter, and a strong theme, has made for a incredibly unique force.
With bubble helmets, a cool NASA theme, and stark, spacesuit armor, these guys look very cool! He is writing some stuff about these guys, so be sure to keep an eye out here for them!
Now of course, this is all Space Marines so far. But what about literally everyone else? Well, for the armies that lend themselves well to customization, there exist many options. For Guard players, you are almost spoiled for choice with 3rd party bitz already, and adding printed STL files to that radically increases that. Reptilian Overlords moved from a resin bitz production model, with STL’s being a Patreon bonus, to an entirely STL based storefront, with a subscription model for ‘points’ to spend on files. I highly recommend them, as their ever growing Guard bitz are perfect. As well, Anvil Industries, another famous 3rd party Guard supplier, now has Anvil Digital, where via subscription you can get excellent Guard models. For players who want something different then Cadian or Catachan, you can do little wrong with either site.
One of our player’s uses Makers Cult Feudal Guard tanks, a line-up that looks particularly good, and suitably archaic. These represent the classic Imperial tanks well, and could easily be a local, Mechanicus approved pattern!
Orks obviously also benefit; the slapdash nature of their equipment makes for easy conversions already; Now it is even simpler to find suitable ‘Shiny Gubbins’ to put on your Boyz. Chaos as well benefits easily from a wide variety of bitz, as most Games Workshop kits are positively anemic with weapon options, and being able to fix that issue is welcome. As well, the classic Black Legion look that the Chaos models made by Games Workshop have is very distinct to that Legion, and not all traitors fight or dress in the same fashion. Cody’s Alpha Legion is a great example; with very few exceptions, none are actual Chaos models, only Imperial ones with heavy conversion work and kitbashing, 3D or otherwise.
Now of course, other games in Games Workshop’s stable could also benefit. Age of Sigmar may have very clearly defined armies, but the room for inventiveness is quite large. Nathan is our best example here; His Stormcast army is unique to the extreme, and a lot of those parts used in the kit-bashing process were his own, CAD, creations.
Nathan does nothing by halves; his Genestealer Cult army is an amazing sight. His Stormcast look ready to impress as well! His Prosecutors are the best example; As a result of their communion with Nature, they have sprouted wings of trees! These armatures were designed by him in CAD, then printed by Cody, since he owned a 3D Printer.
For my part, my Cities of Sigmar army is actually almost entirely non-GW. The cities portrayed in the novels and lore only match the weapons of the actual models, and the whole army is essentially a love letter for those creating their own lore, or with orphaned Fantasy Battles armies. I really, really don’t like the aesthetic of the Freeguild battleline models, as they lack the slash and puff look I loved in the old models I picked up to play AOS with. To this end, I use Peculiar Companions models, a Patreon who specializes in 15th-16th century themed fantasy armies. Most of his stuff is Patreon exclusive, but the backlog is coming to Gumroad over time. And the models are classic fantasy, and look gorgeous.
For games beyond the Games Workshop umbrella, the range of options is even larger. For historical miniatures, if you want a tank, chances are someone has done the one you are looking for. Naval war-games take particularly well to this; If you want World War 2 ships, Wargaming3D has got you covered, as well as covering a lot of other period subjects. For Dungeons and Dragons, the world is your oyster, as crazy cool one off models from Artisan Guild, Ghamak and various others on My Mini Factory and CGTrader, and Cults 3D, have loads to offer in both free and paid options.
Really, for games that do not dictate specific models, 3D printing is a worthwhile investment. Model lines in plastic and resin tend to focus on what sells, with only metals being efficient enough for small batches. With a printer, you can produce what rule-sets require but don’t offer natively; Warlord Games takes this approach with Bolt Action, as they make more rules then what they cover, and approve of you going afield to find them. Oathmark by Osprey is an interesting case; They have official models, but make it very clear you are under no obligation to use them. They sell well regardless, being a much more traditional, less fantastical take on fantasy archetypes, but you can build up an army that suits your Kingdom easily from other sources, and 3D printing offers you that chance.
In the end, 3D printing is not the boogeyman, and handled well, it doesn’t have to be a negative experience for your gaming community. For us, it has been nothing but positive. The industry has survived such revolutions before, and the advent of being able to produce your own models with professional, paid for STL’s with pre-supported options, makes this even more viable. In any event, tossing on custom bitz is a fast way to make your army uniquely ‘yours’. This is still not quite mass-level, easy to use hardware, even if that is fast approaching. If you would like to get started, make sure you do your research, and do not take half-measures. If you want to produce good looking stuff, it will take some small effort. But the results are well worth it!
So if your on the fence, consider picking up a printer. For the bitz alone? It’ll pay itself off way quicker then you might think…
Anyways, this has been Andrew for Badly Painted Minis, and happy war-gaming, wherever you might be!