The 20th century is defined by its world-spanning wars, and those wars were defined by the new technology of the armored fighting vehicle known as the tank. Models of these tracked vehicles are a great use for your 3d printer, either to collect and display, or to use in tabletop gaming.
3d printing model tanks for tabletop gaming is a great use for a 3d printer. There are thousands of free STL files on the web that can be downloaded for making model tanks, and the printers to print them are now retailing for under $300.00USD.
My passion is gaming with tanks and other armored fighting vehicles. I’m drawn to the stories of World War 2 and more modern conflicts. The metal behemoths speak to me. I joined the Canadian Army at the ripe old age of 18 to become a maintenance officer (Royal Military College, then on to the Corps of Electrical & Mechanical Engineers). I served 10 years, and was around tanks for a lot of it. One of my posts was as the Training Officer for a tank rebuild and overhaul facility (Canadian Army 202 Workshop Depot) in Montreal, Quebec. We rebuilt Leopard I tanks, M113 armored personnel carriers, M109 self-propelled artillery, and a host of other bits and bobs, from infantry weapons to towed artillery.
There are a lot of plastic kits and resin/metal kits out there in many different scales, but the advent of 3d printing really opened up the possibilities for not only me, but thousands of us “miniature treadheads” out there. 3d printing can get you access to many more vehicles than are available in kit form, and once you have the STL file, you can print one, or fifty or more of the model. Your army can grow with the amount you’re willing to print.
DLP resin printers are great for this sort of printing. They offer fantastic detail, but with smaller print beds. Those print beds, though, are just right for tanks and other vehicles. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that they invented these machines for printing model tanks! An AnyCubic Photon on Amazon.Com ($256.00USD) is so cheap that it pays for itself by printing 25 vehicles (savings versus buying comparable plastic or resin/metal models).
Have a look here at my recommended printers, especially the DLP resin printers (AnyCubic Photon and Elegoo Mars):
Sources For STL Files of Model Tanks
To 3d print a model, you’ll need the STL file. You can find many free STL files out in the internet, and there are some great sites to find them. Here’s a list of places that have STL files for free download and for sale. Search on these sites for “tank” or for any specific vehicle that you’re looking for.
My Favorite Designers for Tanks and Other Historical Vehicles
Now that I’ve been printing for a while, I’ve found some favorite designers out there that make some fantastic STL models. Check out these collections to find some excellent World War I, World War 2 and more modern vehicles and tanks.
m_bergman (from New Zealand)
m_bergman is prolific, and a fantastic designer. He’s especially useful if you’re doing 1:144 or 1:200 scale vehicles, as his stuff is detailed for the smaller scale. You can size it up, of course, but there’s always the danger of lack of detail or expansion of exaggerated detail. For example, he’s beefed up the weapons on several of the thinner barrels so that they will print at the smaller scales. If you expanded these to 1:56 scale for 28mm gaming, you may want to redo the barrels to make them look less like telephone poles at this scale. That’s no dig on m_bergman. He’s clearly designed most of his collection for 1:200 and that’s just fine. Many other designers start with m_bergman’s designs and upsize them, adding detail as they like. I’m all for that!
Bob_Mack (from the UK)
Bob_Mack is quite a good designer. He has a bunch of stuff on Thingiverse that fill gaps in others’ collections. A lot of his stuff is post World War 2 Soviet equipment and aircraft, and some Israeli tanks from the 1970s and 80s. It’s well detailed and a welcome addition to the world of 3d printed armor.
TigerAce1945 (from Pennsylvania, USA)
TigerAce1945 started with some reworked files from m_bergman but has done quite a collection since. He packages his collections by type (like the Sherman Collection, with tons of Sherman variants all in the one download file). He’s my go-to guy for my World War 2 collection. His models are sized for 1:100 scale and that’s what I use the most (since I’m a Flames of War junkie – and it’s designed for 1:100 scale). While he doesn’t have everything (who does?) what he has (and it’s a lot!) is simply amazing. It’s high quality, and there is a lot of it.
JeremyCon (from Midlands, UK)
JeremyCon has a really nice collection of both full vehicles and parts to enhance vehicles. It’s a mix of stuff. Some of them are reworks of other vehicles that are out there, but they either have more detail, or added stowage, or both. Some of his models are turrets for other vehicles that aren’t available elsewhere. It’s a great addition to any collection. Check out his stuff!
Kampfflieger (somewhere in South America)
Kampfflieger has a huge amount of designs out there. He doesn’t, however, share his designs, but he does sell his models on Shapeways. He didn’t sell his STL files until just recently. He’s started a Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/kampfflieger) where he’s sharing many of his designs with his fans. He has many obscure vehicles (like interwar, prototype or just unpopular stuff) and more aircraft than I can count. Most of these are obscure, too. You won’t find ME-109 and Spitfire MkI in the mix, but any Dornier flying boat is likely there! The quality is high and there’s a ton to choose from. It’s a great way to fill out the obscure parts of your collection.
DeweyCat (Ontario, Canada)
DeweyCat runs one of the largest collections outside of Thingiverse.Com, on his Wargaming3d.Com website. He also participates in Thingiverse.Com, so you can find a bunch of his stuff there, too. He’s quite prolific, and has some fantastic vehicles that others don’t have. If you’re looking for a Ram Kangaroo with a small turret, he’s got one. Much of his stuff is scaled for 1:56 for 28mm gaming (like Bolt Action for World War 2 games). That means it’s usually got great detail and, as I said, lots of variety. Some of his stuff is free, but a lot is for sale at quite reasonable prices. He’s one of the most prolific 3d designers of armor on the web and deserves a place in the pantheon of 3d printing gods!
3d Printing WW2 Miniatures
World War 2 had a lot more than tanks, of course. So to print models for World War 2, you can include ships, aircraft, artillery pieces, soldiers and all the transport that moved them around. Check the sources above for any pieces you’re looking for or head to google to search for files. When searching, start with “.STL File” and then add the thing you’re looking for. So, “.STL File Tiger Tank” will yield you a list of good sites to download the model.
3d Printing Wargame Buildings
Wargaming uses model tanks, infantry, cannons, planes and other vehicles for the players to move around a miniature battlefield. Making 3d printed buildings for that battlefield is a great use for your 3d printer. In google, search “.STL File WW2 Buildings” to find STL files for free or for sale. You may need to rescale them once you acquire them, to fit your scale of game. You may also need to cut the larger models into smaller pieces that will fit on your printer. The better designers will have thought of this and have done the work for you.