Can You 3d Print An Action Figure?


Bruce Lee action figure by Fervent Jan

Marvel and DC movies are everywhere these days. Starwars is never far out of reach. For most of us, to own a piece of these universes is to own an action figure. 

Can you 3d print an action figure? With the correct files, you can print either a static or an articulated action figure. If the design isn’t readily available, you may need to create your own, and that requires some artistic talent.

In the simplest form, you can download an STL file from Thingiverse.Com, like this Blastoise Action Figure: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2456077. With that STL file, you can bring it into your slicer software, prepare it for your home 3d printer, and then transfer it to the printer. Print away! 

Printing Static Action Figures

When I think of action figures, I think of two types. First, there’s the display action figure that is a miniature model of the subject that I’m interested in. It’s in a pose, but it doesn’t move. Second, there’s the articulated action figure. I grew up in the 70’s where GI Joe was a big deal (and a big deal taller than the later, smaller ones). He was articulated, and could be moved into all sorts of positions. Star Wars action figures were next in my world, and they could at least move arms and legs.

You may be wanting to make a simple display piece for your desk or shelf. If you have a 3d printer already, the process is simple. Have a look at places like Thingiverse.Com or Pinshape.Com for STL files. Do a search on “Action Figures” and you’ll find a lot of examples. Not surprisingly, you won’t find that many Marvel or DC action figures, or Star Wars characters. These are all covered by trademark and copyright laws, and their owners want to control the rights very tightly. If you do find an STL file of an action figure like this, it’s likely being done outside the law. Caveat Emptor, or buyer beware!

Most action figures, even the static ones, come as multi-part models.

Steps to Creating and Painting a Static Action Figure

  • Print each pieces of the STL
  • If you’re using an FDM printer, sand the pieces to remove the layer ridges.
    • On a Resin DLP printer, at 25 micron Z-height, you’ll find that it takes no sanding, or very light sanding to remove these lines.
  • You may wish to paint the parts separately before assembly. 
    • Spray lightly with a primer paint (like a cheap Walmart Krylon White paint)
    • Once dry, spray with the color of paint that you want. Use multiple super-thin coats here. It’s slow, but let each layer dry before spraying the next.
  • Once the pieces are painted, assemble the print using superglue. Usually, less glue is better than more glue. Use the minimum necessary.
  • Once assembled, you may wish to go back and add details to your model. To do this, you would take hobby paint and a fine brush, and paint on any additional details that you’d like.
    • This step is fiddly and difficult for first-timers. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it! Give it a try. If you mess it up, simply wipe away the paint you’ve added. Once the remainder is dry, mask off that area (using masking tape), leaving only the messed up part visible. Respray lightly with the color that was originally underneath. Once dry, you can try again!
  • That’s it! You have a great action figure to put on display!

Posable Action Figures Printed Statically

Posable action figures are what first come to mind when I think of the term “Action Figure”. Again, Thingiverse.Com or Pinshape.Com are great places to find models to print. There are likely more parts to a posable action figure, as these have to have separate pieces for upper and lower arms, upper and lower legs, head and torso at the minimum.

The process is the same as for a static action figure. Print the parts, and prepare them. Sand as necessary. Prime, then paint the pieces before assembly.

Most posable action figures use a snap fit ball-and-socket style connection. These can be troublesome, as they can break during assembly. Press fitting them together can sometimes snap the ball off, so it’s best to do this carefully. If you find that the ball will not go into the socket without excessive pressure, take a rat-tail file and open up the socket some. You will want to do this in stages and test, to ensure that you haven’t made it too loose. 

The worst case is that you’ll have to reprint a broken part or a too loose socket part. It’s good to remember that this isn’t just a model kit that you put together from a box. You created the parts, and you can create them again if you need them. Just remember that it’s not a fast process. It’s unlikely that you can download, print, prepare, paint and assemble a model in a day. With practice, this is very doable, but when starting out, give yourself time to learn and understand. You’ll have more fun that way!

Printing Articulated Action Figures

Theoretically, action figures can be printed already assembled, with their articulation already in place. The balls are printed already inside the sockets as necessary. I haven’t found any files for such already-assembled figures but I’m sure they’re around.

You’ll want to use a good FDM printer for this sort of print. It prints “dry”, or without more curable material around the pieces. If you try this with a resin DLP printer, the model may print, but the parts won’t articulate. The liquid resin can’t escape the ball and socket joints, so when the model cures in UV light, this excess trapped resin hardens too, jamming the ball and socket in one place, unable to articulate. 

Have a look at these excellent action figures that you can print. The Iron Man figure is unbelievable! You do have to be careful assembling these, as the ball joints are very tight (which you want). If you’re using a DLP resin 3d printer, I recommend assembling after cleaning the parts but before UV curing the parts.

Iron Man by MyMiniFactory.Com. You can purchase the model there.

Digitally Sculpting Your Own Action Figure

3d CAD software that we use for making boxes, building models and car models is not well suited to creating organic forms. Instead, you’ll want to use a software that allows “Digital Sculpting”. With this style of software, you can create human (or alien) organic shapes. I’m no sculptor, so this is well beyond my comfort zone!

Some helpful softwares are out there. 

  • Maya
  • Autodesk Mudbox
  • Brush
  • MakeHuman

Mastering these software can take some time, and just as with other skills, practice will be key. All of the listed softwares have the ability to export 3d STL files for use with a 3d printer. All that’s left is you, your imagination, and some 3d sculpting to create you own action figure. It’s beyond my skillset, but I’ve seen others do it, and create amazing pieces!

Take a look at the Wikipedia page for MakeHuman. It has some interesting ideas on how to start with a bare-formed human body and push, pull and prod it to make whatever figure you’re wanting.

Scanning Yourself For An Action Figure

Have a look at https://www.shapify.me/. This is a service that will create your action figure for you. You’ll have to go to them to get scanned, or find them at conventions that you may be attending! They produce some amazing models, and the best part is that they’re creating you, or more accurately, a mini you!

http://www.myfaceonafigure.com/ does a similar service, but you can send them your photos. Instead of a full body scan, they’re creating your face on a head, then matching that with an existing body. It means that flabby me doesn’t have to have flabby me action figure. It can be my face on Superman’s torso. That sounds much better! 

These services are expensive. You can get just a head created for under $50 US, but a full body model will cost you $100 US or more! 

Autodesk has created software to convert photos into 3d objects. It takes a lot of photos, but it can work nicely. I’ve seen this done with architecture mostly, but it could be used for people, too. It’s called Photogrammetry and it’s a relatively new technique. Check out https://www.autodesk.com/solutions/photogrammetry-software and see if it fits your needs.

Related Questions

How much does it cost to make an action figure of yourself?

http://www.myfaceonafigure.com/ can create a 6” to 8” model for around $90 US or a 12” model for around $120 US. They come with packaging, and look professional grade.  

Can you 3d Print Anime Figures?

An anime figure is no different than an action figure. It’s just the subject. If you can find the STL files for what you want, then you’re set. Download and print away! If they don’t exist where you can find them, it’s likely because the rights holder of the intellectual property wants to control that likeness and doesn’t want it readily available. In this case, you may need to sculpt your own 3d model for printing.

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