3D Printing - the bane of the tabletop industry or it's future?

I thought a lot about 3D Printing this last year and wether I should invest in a 3D Printer or not. (Current answer is “no” due to time and space issues).

There are so many cool sculpts out there, I fear I would never stop printing :slight_smile:

But I have some mixed feelings regarding what 3D Printing could potentially do to our Hobby.
Lets use GW for an example. Their prices are…high, there is no discussion. I can totally understand people who don’t want to or simply can’t spend that much money on Miniatures.
They are also releasing a lot of books for fluff and rules and again, not everyone wants to buy every one of those to keep up with the rules/fluff.

The solution might be 3D Printing. But what would that do to the companies behind the Miniatures/Rules/Fluff? People not buying their stuff will result in them no longer producing/supporting their World (Think about Warhammer Fantasy).
GW might be big enough to survive this as they also sell their IP to Video Game Companies and sell books (Black Library).

But how can rather small companies (like Mantic), survive this? Is Profit through the selling of STL. Files enough to fuel their Games like KoW? I guess profit from STL. Files is much lower that from selling actual Miniatures, especially as you can sell these multiple times to the same customer and not only once.

What are your thoughts on this? Can Game Companies (I am thinking about Companies who provide constantly new stuff in regards to rules, fluff and miniatures) und 3D Printing effectively survive beside each other or maybe even thrive?

Let’s take Firefight as an example and assume that people are only buying the rulebook and no miniatures due to enough old miniatures and/or 3D printing their own.
Can that game be a success for Mantic if it “only” sells the rulebook?


There are a lot of companies that only sell rules, but the keep on making new rules all the time and are not that big
Yes it is possible, and yes Mantic could to this as they also make Boardgames

3D printing is in a strange spot at the moment

There are many people who want to make quick cash with 40k like files, even risking being sued by going the direct copy way, advertising them on Kickstarter (which is really just advertising and needing money to fund something) while at the same time trying to be cheaper than everybody else

There are also high quality 3D artists around, who actually test-print their files and make sure it works with as many different printers/materials as possible and those are not cheap
Still cheaper than buying the models in Resin or Metal, but on par with the plastic models out there

Than there are GWs prices, 3D printing models/armies is viable because GW prices are that high
If an Army costs 600-800€ in plastic, of course buying a 200€ printer, 20€ Resin and 20€ Files is cheaper
Compare this to historical ones, a Napoleonic R&F Army costs 200-250€ in plastic, if you only buy one to play, printing it is not a real option, specially as the good files for those cost ~70€ (it is an option if the army is not available in plastic)

Similar if you look at upcoming Firefight or Kings of War, in FF your army will be ~155€, in KoW it is 225€ (Army + Mega Army) for plastics

Another point is, 3D printing itself is not easy and by looking at how many people are not even removing mold lines from models because this is too much work, those will never invest the time to print an army
also the material, many people don’t want to use something other than HIPS, those won’t go for 3D printed Resin

there is a hype for home made models at the moment, driven by high GW prices and easy access to the hardware
but I have seen this also 10/15 years ago with normal Resin casting, were everyone was going to make a quick Silicon mold copy of old metal models and Tanks because the GW prices for plastic were so high that it was much cheaper that way

were the 3D printing really shines is making gaming supply (card holders, transport trays etc) and terrain
a full table of themed terrain will cost more than 200€ and you usually want different themes or settings
and there are not many plastic models for terrain around, and main competition is MDF and printed cardboard, while FDM printers are fine for this.


Maybe if 3D printing becomes as easy and convenient as buying miniatures, it might challenge the economies of scale that companies can utilise right now. Eventually, I’m sure it’ll bring about a shift in the industry, but then you get to the potential for cost-efficient industrial scale 3D printers and the balance tips back in the favour of companies…

Who knows, basically.

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A few thoughts from me, as a printer-haver who occasionally buys traditionally produced miniatures:

  • I got into printing because I like cool sculpts, not to save money. Far and away the most interesting sculpts to me are not being made by traditional miniature companies. There are probably some reasons for this: maybe digital mini design is less limited by production requirements, or by gaming systems, or by budgets, or marketing, or so on.

  • After 27 years, I’m really sick of building miniatures, and especially scrapping moldlines. 3d prints are very often one piece (or a few pieces if too big for your printer), but even better have no moldlines because they have no molds. Sure, supports can leave little pegs and stuff to sand or scrape away, but it’s nothing at all like traditional production. A few companies have tried prebuilt (The Other Side, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc) and even then I find myself either scrapping moldlines or having to steal myself and ignore them. Just not having them is a dream come true.

  • I spend a lot on digital files, and I’m sure many printers do. Before my printer, I had throttled my new miniature spending way down, now I spend $50+ USD a month on Patreon and individual files, every month. This is probably comparable or low compared to some gamers, but for me it’s a lot annually, especially on top of hobby supplies and printing supplies and traditional minis.

  • I agree that gesturing to GW’s pricing is an easy way to call 3D printing the cheap alternative, but most mini options compared to boutique plastic pricing is going to look affordable! Two sub-thoughts on GW:
    – GW makes the best hard plastic wargame kits on the market. Honestly, they deserve the prices they charge for them, especially once you experience the world of boutique resin outside of the GW bubble.
    – One of the actual problems with GW pricing is that it’s totally out of alignment with the games they’re used for. I’m not a price complainer when it comes to GW, however I’ve also been totally priced out of 40k at this point. A 2000 point army is so expensive, for how poor the game experience is, that I can no longer justify it as a casual player.

  • Printing an entire army takes a long time, at least for me and my little Mars Pro. If my goal is painting and playing, there’s a lot of literal labor that goes into getting to those steps. Honestly one of the reasons I buy minis still is because somebody has done all the casting for me. Plus I like cast resin, and the manufacturers I buy from (Mierce, Mantic, Creature Caster, Privateer Press) have largely moved to and grown their skills in in-house resin.

EDIT: I just wrote a massive sixth bullet about the future of printing once Amazon makes a convenient, cartridge-based, app-driven resin printer plus GW signals the time for holding out is over and begins double-dipping on their 3D sculpts, but maybe that’s too far in the future :sweat_smile: Suffice to say, we’re in a strange time right now, in what feels like the twilight of traditional gaming miniatures but is absolutely a golden age for 3D sculptors.


I think convenience is a big factor. Maybe it’s comparable to airbrushes. They are around for quite a time, but still most people use a conventional brush. It’s quite the hobby commitment to build up a proper airbrush working space. A 3D-printer is imho comparable. You need quite a bit of hobby space and additional hobby time. I foresee printers and normal buyable models peacefully co-existing for a long time.
That’s what I see in my Palantir at least.
(and yes, in my awfully incorrect Lord of the Rings reference, I can see the future and not only communicate with Sauron through my black magic bowling ball)


I print, and sculpt.

Mantic’s miniatures are affordable enough to be competitive with 3d printing costs (resin + electricity + failed prints + parts + time/effort + cost of the stls to start with), plus the additional complication of handling vats of toxic resin within a home environment.

GW should be worried, Mantic shouldn’t.


Yeah 3D Printing seems to be a hobby itself that exists next to “classic” miniatures.
Once 3D Printing becomes a Plug&Play experience, we are really going to see how the market shifts.


I have to disagree here, while I agree on all your other points, as those are not gaming miniatures any more
GW is making the best display plastics out there, and the models are priced that way. Same as display resin is priced but for gaming “looking nice” is not everything and of the models miss other features (easy to transport, fit into formation, look good as an army

At the moment, I would call Victrix, PSC and Perry Miniatures the best wargaming plastic models out there
they are not competing with GW on how good the individual model look like, but for gaming (and how armies look like) I rate them superior over the recent GW models


I know plenty of people with 3d printers, both for personal and commercial use.

A lot of stuff is really cool, and once you have the set up and everything works fine, it seems comparably straightforward - albeit time-consuming. However it is possibly more of a hobby in itself?

I’m never going to get one as don’t have space, time or enthusiasm (or money to spend on initial outlay) - and most people here know i don’t exactly go high end on spending on models at times :wink:

Being able to create and print extra parts would probably be the factor that most appeals, but as far as churning out full models for an army things would need to get far more ‘plug & play’ plus cheaper, for me to stop buying plastics

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There’s a reason I call GW a boutique plastic miniature manufacturer :wink: And they seem pretty aware that a decent percentage of their mini customers don’t actually use them for the games they make, but for display or straight up collection. Hell, during the worst GW times earlier this century, they took it as a point of pride that they were a miniature company first and a gaming company second. You could 100% see it in the quality of their rules and even worse quality of their customer relations, both of which have turned around since then.

That said, nobody is going to stop comparing every other HIPS kit that hits the market with GW. Every single Mantic sprue gets compared against GW’s latest, and the only reason releases from Perry Miniatures and similar small, more historical releases escape that fate is because GW diehards have a pretty myopic view of the larger market.

I guess to tie this back to 3D printing a little bit, we should never forget that GW at one point made the worst resin miniatures I’ve ever worked with, that were also among the most expensive I’ve ever seen. Finecast, what a joke … but also an example of trying to extend the life of traditional metal sculpts into a new medium.

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yeah it was just the term “wargaming kits”, as those have not much to do with wargaming any more

and GW still makes the worst Resin on the market, not only Finecast but Forgeworld as well, but Warlord Games is trying hard to catch them

which is also a reason 3D printing is an option, while not on par with well cast resin, superior to what GW sells

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GWs current idea of multi-part monopse models (lots of bits but only fit a specific model in a set pose) is horrible for an ardent kickbasher! :wink:


I have been 3D printing for four years now, and I don’t ever see it replacing injection molded plastic. The only reason I print is to produce items that do not exist commercially, if I had the option to buy in plastic or resin I definitely would and save myself the time.

I do not think that 3D printers will become much more common in the hobby, probably not even as widespread as airbrushes, due to all of the processing surrounding the resin printing process. Most groups will have one or two people that take on the printing for all their friends, I just wish that it was someone else in my group, and not me that took the plunge… :confused:


I once heard this topic compared to books.

I don’t recall where or who said it and it’s a bit outdated as well as not being directly compatable, but interesting enough to share here.

People still buy books. Physical copies of text printed on paper.
Despite paper printers available and usable in homes. You could probably bind books at home too if you wanted.
People still buy books though.

Disposable print (like newspapers) is declining, but still being produced.
Despite devices that make it unnecessary.

The old analog way still holds appeal and value.
Obviously it’s not directly compatable, but I think 3D printing miniatures is more like books (i.e. a different way of enjoying something similar) than, say, computers are like typewriters (i.e replacing an obsolete technology)

3D printing might make current production methods obsolete eventually, but I would stiil pay someone to do it for me.


I print. There’s enough of a learning curve, combined with space needs and resin toxicity, to keep it from being too common for now. That may change as it gets easier, but I don’t see it replacing plastic anytime soon.

Most people who print seem to do it because they like the ability to customize and kitbash digitally. I do it to save money (with two sons and multiple game systems, we saw a clear use case), but we’re not very particular about aesthetics, either.

We live in a one room flat - I would never want a printer inside our room :smiley:
But I think even if we would have enough space - I wouldn’t want one - just because I am not a fan of technology as a whole. We try to avoid unnecessary “machines” around (no airbrush either of course!). So - def a “no way” for me, but that’s a very personal point of view I guess. :wink:

I do hope the whole printing stuff doesn’t do any harm to miniature companies - allthough I don’t really care about GWs future. :stuck_out_tongue:

Aaaand – resin is my least fav material. :innocent:
Metal is my thing :joy: :100: :metal:t3:

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So to add to the view points here…

I got back into miniature games early during the pandemic and have quickly become very mantic focussed as I love the style of their miniatures and the games they make. I am in the lucky position of having enough disposable income that if I wanted to buy a 3D printer I could. So why haven’t I?

Honestly, I don’t think the people on this board are truly representative of the hobby (though I think a discussion around that would be really interesting!). The people on this board are really into the hobby - for many I expect it is their main hobby and they spend many hours a week on it. For me, it is something I enjoy, and I spend a fair bit of time on it (maybe 4-5 hours a week or so at the moment painting and gaming combined), but I mainly play my son at the games and use the painting as a bit a meditative exercise. In the summer my hobby time reduces a lot as my other hobbies (cricket, cycling, walking etc.) are better in good weather.

My point (finally, he’s going somewhere with this!) is that I think that there are an awful lot of people more like me (and perhaps even less “committed” than me) who buy quite a lot of miniatures and for whom a 3D printer is simply overkill. It’s the same as me not owning (and likely never owning) an airbrush. Quite a lot of hassle and just a bit unnecessary. At the rate I paint I wouldn’t spend more than £30 a month on miniatures and painting supplies combined, so cost isn’t really an issue. There are also a lot of younger gamers (14 to 18 or so) who won’t be able to afford a 3D printer or convince parents that it’s a good idea to get one.

I guess the question is: Am I more “typical”? Is the income of gaming companies predominantly from “die-hards” who are super committed to the hobby or from “casuals” like me? If the latter then I don’t think 3D printing will take-over. If the former then companies could be more at risk.