3d Printing and Preparing Gaming Figurines For the Tabletop

28mm fantasy figurines are key to what I use my DLP resin printer for. I specifically bought the printer after I was the quality that you can achieve with the cheaper DLP resin printers (like my AnyCubic Photon 3d printer or my friend’s Elegoo Mars 3d printer).

The best place to find good, free STL files for gaming figurines in 28mm (the standard size for tabletop gaming), look at Thingiverse.Com (https://www.thingiverse.com). Search on that site for “D&D Figure” to find a list of hundreds of hero characters, monsters and accessories.

Figures for Dungeons & Dragons have been around since the 1970s, and started out being around 1″ tall. This was called 25mm scale, even though 25mm isn’t a scale at all (like 1:72 scale or 1:48 scale, seen in model kits everywhere). Over the 1980s and 1990s, the figures got larger, as sculptors wanted to showcase more detail and cooler poses. The smaller the figure, the more fragile it is, so bigger figures were better for gaming. They didn’t break when knocked over or dropped, or most importantly, when transported from home to the place where you game.

The Gaming Figure Scale Creep

This gradual increase in size for gaming figures has come to be known as the Great Scale Creep, or simply scale creep. In other words, the scale of the figures is gradually creeping up in size. We started with 25mm, and now we’re at 28mm. Or are we? Heroic 28mm scale is the current scale du jour, and that’s really 32mm, or big 28mm.

So what’s 28mm measuring, anyways? The mm measurement is the distance from the bottom of the foot to the eyes for a standing straight figure. Why to the eyes and not to the top of the head? This came from the historical figure market, which predates the fantasy figure market. In historicals, like Napoleonic infantry, you would measure to the eyes because the figure might be wearing a shako or busby hat, and these can be (in real life) up to 2 feet tall! But you can see the eyes, so you can measure to the eyes on a standing figure. It was a way of keeping sculptors from many different manufacturers making figures that were all roughly compatible with each other.

But in real life, people can be 4’11” tall, or 6’6″ tall, or shorter, or taller! Us gamers like uniformity, especially in our little legions of troops. So people can be tall or short, but our figures look better if they’re relatively close in scale. It’s a false bias, to be sure, but the aesthetic is pleasing to the eye, and we’re making little art pieces, after all.

Monster Figurines For Gaming

Monsters, on the other hand, can be small, large or huge. There’s no real-world analogue, so size is according to your or the artist’s aesthetic. And you can print some fairly large figures on even the small AnyCubic Photon or Elegoo Mars with their tiny print beds. Tiny is relative when you’re making things that are made to be compatible with 28mm figures. For many of us, 1:48 scale, 1:50 scale or 1:64 scale are all close approximations to 28mm. You can size your prints accordingly.

You can find every monster in the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (or even any addition back to 1st Edition) somewhere, and most likely on Thingiverse.Com, for free as an STL file. You’ll have no problems getting monsters, simply by searching. Kobolds and orcs and lizardmen will be easy to print. The largest monsters, like everyone’s favorite, dragons, need to be printed in parts and assembled.

See Han Kim, or 7Fish on Thingiverse.Com, has produced a fantastic Dragon STL that’s actually articulated. Have a look at this:

Gaming Figurine STL File Sources

Here’s a great list of my favorite people and places to find quality STL files. Some are on Thingiverse.Com, but many are on Patreon. For those, you’ll have to support the artist. It’s well worth the small investment if the models look good to you.

https://www.patreon.com/mz4250Fantasy characters and monstersPatreon/Free
https://gumroad.com/duncanlouca?sort=newestMore scifi than fantasy, characters and monstersFree
https://www.thingiverse.com/Valandar/designsFantasy Characters and monstersThingiverse (free)
https://www.thingiverse.com/dutchmogul/designsFantasy and scifi characters and monsters. Lots of terrain accessories and bases.Thingiverse (free)
https://www.patreon.com/rocketpiggamesMostly fantasy monstersPatreon/paid
https://www.patreon.com/BSGMiniaturesMostly fantasy monsters and terrain.Patreon/paid
http://www.fatdragongames.com/fdgfiles/Mostly fantasy monsters and terrain. Lots of dungeon tilesPaid
https://www.thingiverse.com/TorchedBlack/collections/dnd-miniaturesFantasy characters and monstersThingiverse (free)
https://www.thingiverse.com/Curufin/designs/Fantasy and scifi terrainThingiverse (free)
https://www.thingiverse.com/ecaroth/designsFantasy and scifi terrain and miniature basesThingiverse (free)
https://www.thingiverse.com/schmidjon/designsModernish busts and standing figuresThingiverse (free)
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse.php?filters=0_0_0_44593_0Mostly terrain and monstersPaid
https://www.heroforge.com/Customizable character STL generatorPaid
http://www.desktophero3d.com/Customizable character STL generatorContributions

Finishing 3d Printed Figurines

The 3d prints that come off the printer usually look pretty good as they are. You’ll need to remove support material, of course, and in the case of DLP resin printing, cure the model with UV light.

Sanding and filing can enhance the places where support structures were attached. Once these are removed, it’s sometimes good to lightly go over the areas to remove any remnants. The bottom of bases, too, can be cleaned up so that they sit flat on the table and look neat and tidy.

The surface of some pieces may show layer lines that you’ll likely want to try and remove, or at least smooth and reduce. Sand paper (finer grit, like 220 grit) is the best tool for this, as the surfaces are likely curved. Take some time and sand relatively slowly. If you go too fast, you’ll be uneven, and that’s what we’re trying to correct.

Avoid faces, fingers and equipment on belts, or other fine detail. You’re just as likely to remove detail as you are to reduce the ridges from 3d printing. On shields or axe blades, you’ll have no problems sanding out the flat surface to make it smooth and good looking.

At this point, you’re ready to prime your model. I use cheap Walmart Krylon white spray paint. Shake the can for a good 60 seconds, then spray across the model once, then turn 90 degrees, and do it again. Do this until the model is covered. Resist going back and hitting anywhere you’ve missed. Instead, wait 5 minutes, then do it, but spray your second coat very lightly. The idea here is to get paint on the model, but avoid filling in the details with sprayed paint. That’s why we bought the fancy printer in the first place!

Painting Your 3d Printed Figurine

Once thoroughly dry, you’re ready to paint! For this, you’ll need some fine painting brushes (usually called hobby brushes) and some colorful acrylic paint. Have a look at these Amazon links to get a feel for the basics of what’s needed:

It’s rather outside the scope here to discuss how to paint your figurines, but you’ve got the tools above to do a good job. Acrylic paint is wonderful because it’s easy to clean up with water. You won’t need messy or smelly chemicals, just paint, brush and water to thin the paint or wash out the brush.

To give you some helpful tips, though, here are a couple of my favorite YouTubers who give you a quick tutorial on how to get started:

Happy printing and painting! I’ll see you at the game store or at the tabletop gaming convention!

Related Questions

How long does it take to print a 3d miniature figurine?

For a figurine, it’s the height that mostly determines how long it takes to print. A figurine that is crouched down is much faster to print than a standing figure with a sword held high over the head. You can print roughly 0.75″ per hour, so two to three hours for the average human-sized figurine is a good estimate.

How do I change the scale of an STL file?

If you’re creating the STL file from a design software, you can set the size of the final STL by scaling it in the program before saving it. For those STL files that you’ve downloaded, bring the STL file into your slicer program (I use the excellent ChiTuBox, https://www.chitubox.com/). You will see the model rendered there, and each box on the build plane is one centimeter (1cm). You can use this to judge how big the model will be. To adjust this, use the Scale button and adjust. If your model is showing as 2cm tall, and you want it to be 4cm tall, scale to 200%. Aim for 2.8cm (or 28mm) from bottom of foot to eyes on a standing figure for humans. Another trick is to take the base (most figurines come with a round base) and scale this to 1 inch (or 25mm).

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