Why YOU should start printing 3D tabletop terrain now

3D Printable Dungeon Tiles & Terrain Forums 3D Printing 3D Printing Why YOU should start printing 3D tabletop terrain now

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    Here is a great post that i found. I can’t post the link because i might break forum rules. Hope this helps you.

    There’s one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve seen quite a lot of people on the Interwebs who have completely dismissed 3D printed tabletop terrain because of “lack of quality”. In particular, their main gripe is about the resolution lines that admittedly can be a bit offputting to most people. Now I’m not saying people shouldn’t be free to make whatever choice they think is best for them, but sometimes I think people don’t really do a full cost/benefit analysis of the options available. I’ve been thinking about these kinds of cost/benefit analyses (or lack of) a lot lately and I’ve even put my money where my brains are and done real physical comparisons over the last year. And I think 3D printed terrain wins hands down. Here’s an essay on why…

    The one, single, ONLY benefit that terrain like Dwarven Forge (DF) has over the 3D printed variety is the lack of resolution lines. I’m not even going to use the word “quality”. There are a great many very high quality 3D sculpts out there that match or exceed DF quality. The problem is resolution lines. Admittedly, this is a big problem and I almost swore off of 3D printed terrain at the beginning when I found it nearly impossible to smooth out all those lines on PLA prints. ABS is easier to smooth, but PLA is generally agreed to be a superior material over ABS. I didn’t give up, though. And I’ve been able to find ways to mitigate the resolution lines.

    To start with, I give most of my pieces a quick dip in Acetone. Acetone is most effective on ABS, but I’ve found that it can still slightly smooth out lines even in PLA. Although I’ve been told that some PLA has a small amount of ABS in it so maybe that’s what’s actually being smoothed. So results may vary. It works for me with the filament I use. The other thing I do is prime each piece with a good automotive primer that has a crack filler. There are several on the market that you can buy at places like Walmart or Amazon. And lastly, I am experimenting with different ways of painting terrain that minimizes the appearance of the resolution lines. Normally washes and drybrushing are a terrain painters best friends, but they can work against you on 3D prints. Also, some 3D sculptors seem to be able to create sculpts that naturally minimize, or even utilize, the resolution lines of the print. On those sculpts I don’t even use the automotive primer, just a quick dip in acetone and prime with a normal miniature primer (I really like GW primers even though they are riduculously expensive).

    But even after all that, the resolution lines are still visible to varying degrees. So purists will always have that to hold against 3D printed terrain. However, there are SO many more advantages to 3D printed terrain over terrain like DF that those resolution lines begin to really disappear, at least intellectually. 😉

    Another thing I see often is that some people like to plop down on their table a ready-made, pre-painted terrain set with no other effort from themselves other than opening their wallets. That’s not really an advantage over 3D printed terrain because the vast majority of tabletop terrain and accessories I am familiar with, besides the painted DF sets, are not pre-painted and many aren’t even pre-assembled. I think most people are accustomed to either doing the prepping and painting themselves or using unpainted terrain. For those that don’t like to or can’t paint, they will be doomed to use just the limited amount of terrain that comes pre-painted.

    Which leads me to a point in favor of 3D printed terrain – availability. Because of valid logistical reasons, Dwarven Forge as a company does not keep large stocks of its product and therefore is frequently out of stock on many of its sets. This is even more true for the pre-painted sets. However, the availability of 3D prints is only limited by the availability of your own personal 3D printer. As long as you have a functioning printer, you can make more terrain.

    There are some companies or small businesses who cast dungeon accessory pieces and terrain sets themselves. They normally don’t keep a big inventory either and it takes time to do the casting and they are often limited in what molds they have available. Also, the material used to do the castings (like resin or plaster) is often not as durable as Dwarvenite or PLA. So with a 3D printer you can always print whatever files you have, whenever you want, in a high quality material.

    Another huge advantage of 3D prints over DF and casted sets, is that you’re not limited by the number and ratio of specific pieces that come in each set. If you want fifty corner dungeon pieces and only thirty wall pieces, then all you have to do is print out the corner pieces and wall pieces that you need. You don’t have to buy 5 full sets of something to get the number of one specific piece you need for your layout and have a bunch of extras you don’t want or need. Or if you only want to use floor tiles and no walls, you can print out as many floor tiles as you want without having to spend the money on and store a bunch of sets with extraneous pieces. You have TONS more flexibility on the layouts you can do because you can always print more of the pieces that you need – you’re not limited. I’ve heard it mentioned that there are “trading sites” where you can trade extra DF pieces you don’t want for pieces you do want. That is a solution to the problem, but it requires extra time to make the trades and you may still not find the pieces you want to be available.

    And speaking of money, the price of 3D printed items is often smaller on average than what you would pay per piece from DF or a similar place. Yes, there is an initial cost for the printer and filament, and yes, there is sometimes a cost for the 3D sculpt files (although there are many good free options like OpenForge). But over time the more pieces you print, the less each piece costs on average until it levels off to just the cost of the filament and the power to run the printer which together is often just a few cents on the dollar. DF sets have a set expense which is likely to stay the same or even rise in the future. There are several pretty good cheap 3D printers out there that cost less than half a dozen DF basic dungeon sets. And you can turn around and use the printer to print out many dozens of equivalent dungeon sets for pennies on the dollar per piece.

    Also, 3D sculptors can put out sculpts for very little cost compared to DF and other casting companies. 3D sculptors don’t have the overhead of logistical costs for a physical product including production, storage, and shipping, and the manpower to accomplish all that. All this lack of expense is usually passed on to the consumer so that even the “set” of files costs much less than just a basic set of DF. And 3D sculptors are not burdened with all the limitations that come with molds. They can often sculpt things that are 3D printable but would be impossible to do with molds. And 3D sculpting has recently come into the realm of the everyday person who would not normally be able to do the same as easily with traditional molding techniques.

    Because 3D sculpting is so much cheaper and accessible, it has produced a literal explosion of variety for tabletop gaming terrain and accessories to dress it up with. The variety is mind-boggling and I personally have acquired more 3D sculpt files over the last year, both paid and free, that there’s no way I could print them all in a reasonable amount of time. However, if I need a monk’s bench for the gothic chapel I just printed out for this week’s game, well I can print one. If I need a garderobe or two for my 3D printed dungeon setup, I can do that. If I want to keep all of my dungeons or cities or castles to a certain theme, like say a Dwarven theme, I will be able to find quite a few terrain pieces and dungeon dressings of the Dwarven variety. And if I can’t find something today, I will almost certainly be able to find it tomorrow – or just make it myself on my computer if I want to develop my 3D sculpting skills. I almost feel sorry for the companies who exclusively do castings from molds because they will never be able to keep up.

    One other often under appreciated aspect of 3D printing is the ability to rescale. If you’re putting together a WWII board in 15mm scale and you find a really nice looking bunker that’s 3D sculpted in 28mm, well do the math and rescale it to 15mm. If you prefer your dungeon terrain to be 2.5″ square instead of 2″, rescale the x and y axes by 25% and you’re good to go. Rescaling can even be used to create more variety in what you do print. For example, I have printed the same tree 3D sculpt at 4 different scales to get different sizes of tree. After painting and adding foliage, I have 4 different trees all from the same 3D sculpt. If I wanted to, I could have made 8 different scales or 50. Or I could scale different aspects of the tree like the x and y to get a fat tree or the y axis to get a taller or shorter tree. Also, if you get a set of 3D sculpts from one sculptor where all the tiles are at 102mm for some reason and another set from a different sculptor at 100mm, you can scale one of the sets to match the other.

    Another advantage of 3D printing is if you lose or somehow damage a piece, just print another one. If you lose or somehow irreparably damage a DF piece, you are either out of luck, or you can hope they have the set available that contains the piece you need so you can spend the money for a whole set to get that one piece you’re missing.

    Yet another advantage has to do with the material itself. Dwarvenite is damn heavy. Plaster more so and resin slightly less. But PLA is light. Especially, if printed with only a 10-15% infill. Granted, PLA at that infill will not be as indestructible as Dwarvenite, but it is still strong and durable, especially when compared with the brittleness of plaster and resin. Higher infills do become nearly indestructible. Also, as long as you use rafts or brims, there won’t be much or any warping or shrinkage with PLA prints. So you can always guarantee that a 100mm piece will be 100mm every time you print it. And Dwarvenite can warp in spite of its indestructibility. I have several 4″x4″ DF City Builder tiles that won’t sit all four corners flat on the table, not to mention walls that don’t quite slot properly in the corner pieces.

    One advantage that few people are thinking of right now is longevity. 3D sculpt files don’t degrade with time, they will be there in 1 or 2 or 5 or 10 years if you decide you want to print out some more pieces. Also, many 3D sculptors sculpt in a resolution higher than most printers can handle today. Which means as 3D printers attain higher and higher resolutions, those 3D sculpts will move forward into the future and be even more amazing when printed on those newer and higher resolution printers we will all inevitably migrate toward. The 3D sculpts will actually get better with age. 🙂

    And then there’s the ease of modding. Not only can you easily print out extra sculpts which you might only use parts of in order to “kitbash” with other parts after cutting them up and gluing them together, with the right software and permission from the original sculptor, you can “kitbash” virtually on the computer and print out your mods directly. And you can print as many as you like. And if the original sculptor approves, you can even share your mods and increase the variety available for everyone.

    Now like I said above, I have put my money where my brain is. I have personally bought thousands of dollars of Dwarven Forge. I have purchased dungeon dressings from places like ebay (jahecker has some amazing stuff there) and several Kickstarters (talking about you, Stone Skull Studios). And I love all that stuff. And I really took it to heart when I saw posters on the DF Kickstarters poo-pooing the lack of “quality” in 3D printed terrain. My peer pressure nerves kicked in and I decided I wanted to be a quality snob too and buy only the “best”. But it kept nagging at me when I felt limited in what layouts I could put together and what limited dungeon dressings I had available. I always felt like I didn’t have enough of this piece or that piece and it would be nice if I could just buy more of that piece. Then I thought about just buying more and more sets (and I did to some degree) and the plan in my head became too grand to be financially feasible anywhere other than in my head which was, of course, disappointing. I always felt a depressing sense of scarcity when it came to my tabletop terrain and accessories.

    So I went back to looking at 3D printed sculpts again. I did some more experimentating to try and minimize the resolution lines. This last year has seen some amazing Kickstarters for 3D sculpted tabletop gaming terrain like Printable Scenery’s Winterdale, the two DragonLock KS’s, and the .stl files from the aforementioned Stone Skull Studio KS. Not to mention the efforts of people on Thingiverse like Devon Jones’ OpenForge sculpts and Curufin’s amazing dungeon dressings and many others’ efforts. And it kept nagging at me all the advantages I kept finding with 3D printed terrain over the alternatives and eventually the scale was tipped in my mind which put me overwhelmingly in the 3D printed terrain camp. Not that I won’t ever buy non-3D printed terrain again, but I will definitely think hard about any purchase I do make and will need to make far less purchases because I will already have comparable items fresh off my 3D printer.

    And the future is looking even brighter with KS’s coming from the likes of Rocket Pig Games and Printable Scenery and another DragonLock KS next summer and another Axolote KS later this year. Not to mention new KS’s that will definitely pop up from companies that we haven’t even heard of yet. So now I’m feeling an overwhelming sense of abundance with regards to my tabletop terrain and accessories. There’s almost too much to consider, much less print, but that’s a great problem to have. 🙂

    As a disclaimer, I want to say that I have nothing against Dwarven Forge and I love their stuff, so much so that I always felt like I didn’t have enough of it. Like I said, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on DF and have pledged lots for their Castle KS. I think Stefan set in motion a wonderful thing 20 years ago (I highly recommend watching The Dwarvenaut on Netflix or buy the dvd). And I think the 3D printing tabletop community is a natural evolution of what he set in motion. I fully expect, as 3D printing (and 3D scanning) matures even further, that Dwarven Forge will eventually join that community and make it shine all the brighter.

    Total posts: 40

    I couldn’t agree more! I didn’t read the whole thing though, it was quite heavy haha. It was very well put though and I believe that 3D printing is the way to go. Epic Dungeon Tiles in particular are a great way to get started.

    Total posts: 0

    That’s a really insightful post, Bookmarked this for later!

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