3D Printing. Greatest tech ever? Or really a secret Curse?
Hello folks of the Mortal Realms. After a short hiatus I'm back with another discussion on a topic that has been pretty hot in the hobby for the last 12 months in particular.
Yes. 3D printing is the topic of the day. Love it or Hate it, there is no denying it is not going away and only seems to be growing in popularity in our Hobby.
This is a huge topic to cover and I plan to break this up into 3 separate Blogs. The first being my experience with 3D printing, the basics and my opinions of it in the hobby. The second and third will be looking a bit more closely at the full process itself start to finish. (Showing both types of printer in their own separate article with more detail)
Lets get into it.
Brief intro to 3d Printing.
So if you've never paid much attention to it. For our purposes 3d printing can be broken into 2 Categories. Resin Printers, and PLA Filament Printers (PLA means Polylactic acid, although these printers are often capable of printing with other materials such as ABS). Both of these have very clear strengths and weaknesses so there is no 1 size fits all approach. Whilst both types are very different, they both work by "Building" your product 1 layer at a time, starting from an empty build plate and slowly adding layer after layer until you have a finished product.
You take a computer 3d design on your desired product known as an STL file (you can source these from websites such as www.myminifactory.com or www.thingiverse.com .
These files are loaded onto a software program called a slicer (I use Cura and Chitubox) which you place a graphical image of your item onto a graphic of your printers print bed along with adjusting any settings such as supports, print speeds, sizing etc before it "slices" your file and turns it into something the printer can understand. From here, typically throw it on a USB drive and take it off to the printer to hit the go button.
I'll be leaving most technical talk out of this one, so don't expect an essay on supports or bed adhesion.
Resin Printers can best be described as a storage tank full of Resin that hardens with light, and an LCD Screen underneath it. Light shines through the tank in particular spots hardens the resin, then the build plate slowly raises out of the tank pulling your printed object out. As pictured these will be seen as having a shaded cover over them to help prevent light and dust getting in and causing mischief with your prints
Strengths: Higher quality print (less layer lines), relatively fast. If you want to print models for your army. This is where you should be looking
Weakness's: Smaller build plate often meaning good for 28mm models, but don't expect to be producing large item without lots of pieces, resin can be brittle, messy, can be smelly, your dealing with chemicals so PPE is recommended, and when your finished printing your item still requires further steps in cleaning and curing before you have a finished product
(For reference on the build plate/Speed, I can print 1 Dragon Ogre on a single plate taking approx 8-9 hours. Other models are much easier to rank up and do multiple at once)
PLA Filament Printers can best be described as an Automated Hot Glue gun, however swap out the Glue for "Whipper Snipper cord looking plastic wire" that gets melted down in a really hot nozzle and the printer essentially "draws" the product onto the print bed. Really comes into its own for terrain and larger items. Also can provide much stronger parts then what resin can which you can also adjust the fill settings based on the strength of the part you require.
Strengths: Much stronger end product then the Resin, Build plates are much larger then Resin allowing for bigger parts, more applications outside of Warhammer
Weaknesses: Layer lines are much more visible then Resin (see images below, particularly the Skaven Priest, slow (Real slow), expect to see your electricity bill usage go up, I saw a noticeable jump on power used on our bill starting from when I started printing (nothing to be scared by)
For time reference. The buildings below will take a week of virtually non stop printing each. (They are really cool and totally worth it though)
My experience in Printing
I've now been 3d printing for approx 12 months, starting with a PLA Printer (Ender 3 Pro by Creality) and adding a Resin Printer (Elegoo Mars 2 Pro) about 8 months ago. Main things I've been producing have been terrain as well as a whole bunch of Beasts of Chaos and some other random odds and ends.
My reasoning for getting into the printing hobby was from feeling a position of "necessity" from a hobby point of view, I felt a real need that to compete for painting comps/coolest army awards, you need a certain level of custom to really stand out from the pack. My goal is to start putting a much bigger focus on using the printer to produce alternative weapons/parts for existing GW models to help make them my own.
It's been a pretty turbulent year as well, both printers have given me no end of issues, both have needed several replacement parts, both due to my own fault as well as actual product faults. As of writing this. My Resin printer is 1 failed print from being thrown out to the sidewalk (I'm sure it's my fault, not the printers). More on this in my final thoughts
Challenges our hobby faces.
This is a tough one in my opinion. As we've seen, 3d Printed models at competitive events is being much more acceptable over the last year. People just churning out cheap stuff for the purposes of making the hobby cheaper hurting our local game stores ability to exist, people fielding armies of "insert random idea here" and calling it something completely different, before using it as something else the following weekend being confusing as heck for an opponent.
I believe we have a lot of responsibility on our shoulders to make sure we are being fair to the Warhammer hobby with our actions. Personally, I am a huge fan of the rules the AOS event at Cancon is adopting in January although it still leaves me with a huge concern.
(Example. My Dragon Ogre army is printed, the legit model is on long term backorder, therefore Cancon legal. However, if that unit comes back into stock, How long can I use my printed army before it becomes illegitimate? Do I therefore put less effort into it in case I lose the ability to play it competitively after 6 months?)
This will of course be something Tourney Organisers across the world will need to decide for themselves and every event will likely be different, but it will definitely be a topic our community will need to face at some point. Most likely influenced by how people are using our printed units/armies and whether we are causing issues.
Final Thoughts... Should you buy a printer?
So as mentioned briefly above, I've had a rough time getting into the printing hobby. I've had some great successes, but many more failures which have taken a lot of the shine and excitement away from it.
So my response is as follows. Are you wanting a printer just because you want to produce cheap and easy models or terrain? Are you the type of person who doesn't like to troubleshoot problems or gets frustrated when things go wrong?
If this is you, then I really can't recommend buying in. 3D Printing is a hobby in itself. If you don't want to be fiddling away with settings, always adjusting, tweaking, troubleshooting then you'll find your regularly in a state of disappointment. Things can and will go wrong and whilst there's a tonne of info online to help, you have to accept that your often going to find that after 10+ hours of printing something will fail and you'll be left scratching your head.
If the above sounds like your cup of tea, and the process of creation is where your goals lay then 100% get into it, the creative freedom on offer is huge, there's so much you can achieve by adding 3D printing into your hobby, you just need to be able to keep your sanity whilst you do it. I am by no means giving up and once I get the resin printer working more reliably, I'm keen to start designing my own 3d parts.
Thanks for reading everyone, Next time around I'll be diving deeper into PLA Filament Printing, showing it up close and personal and taking you on a journey of the start to finish process of creation. From file selection, to slicing, then taking it to the printer and making it happen.
Cheers... Spooky Luke