I decided to write a blog filled with useful things I wish I knew before I started 3D printing. As someone starting out in 3D printing, you will have a lot of questions. I have set out to answer some of the questions I had and that I get asked a lot.
Welcome to the Ultimate Beginner's Guide to 3D Printing Miniatures.
Do I need a Resin 3D Printer for Miniatures?
If you are looking for the best 3D Printer for Miniatures... You are looking for a Resin 3D Printer. Don't believe any site/person/source that tries to tell you otherwise.
Of course, you will find a lot of people who already own an FDM printer, and they don't want to upgrade to a resin printer.
They will happily claim their prints are of sufficient quality.
They blatantly lie claiming that you can print decent-looking miniatures on an FDM printer.
Either these people have never seen a good mini before or they're just defending their unwillingness to switch to an SLA, DLP/LCD, or MSLA resin printer. To be fair, It could also be that you've found an article that hasn't been updated since 2018.
Don't get me wrong! I don't hate FDM printers. I have a couple myself. They have their uses. They are just complete trash at high-detail jobs. They are perfect for use on projects that require strength.
I only use FDM printers when I want to make tools. And they're also great to make paint racks etc. They just suck terribly hard at making minis.
I also don't like them for terrain and scenery. It's just too slow. And the layer lines irk me wrong. I do use them to create cheap armatures for trees though. FDM prints are also less prone to warping. But I have 0 need for large flat surfaces. And as you learn to cure better and better, you will have less and less warping issues with resin prints.
Resin 3D Printer Prices are dropping like crazy. You can get started with a pretty decent DLP/ SLA printer for under $100. So if you are not sure, resin printing miniatures is for you? Just give one of these entry-level printers a whirl. Once you see what resin prints look like as compared to FDM prints,.. you will never look back.
A normal Resin 3D Printer can print at a layer height of 0.05mm without even breaking a sweat. Most of them can even print at 0,01mm. I really dislike looking at FDM printed miniatures. They are ruined by visible layer lines, and they are a complete nightmare to paint. If you are looking for smooth results on your 3D Printed Models the choice is simple. You need to consider 3D printing miniatures in UV Resin.
Even though the absolute worst resin 3D printer outperforms the absolute best FDM printer by a factor of one-billion, when it comes to 3D printing models and high detailed miniatures, that doesn't mean all 3D Printers are created equally.
Amongst them, there is a world of difference in print quality, user-friendliness, longevity, affordability, and noise-levels.
What type of Resin 3D Printers are there?
There are hundreds of different types of Resin Printers out there.
But there are basically just 3 archetype 3D Printers to consider if you are a hobbyist, that wants crisp prints, who enjoys painting, and who loves playing with Minis in their Wargames and RPGs.
Affordable 2k Printers
Affordable 4k printers
Affordable Printers with a big build-plate
If you are a wargame or an RPG enthusiast, there is no need to get a $1500 + printer.
If you are anything like me, you started because you want to save some money.
Bit-sites are getting more expensive by the day. As are standard model kits and minis in general.
It would make no sense to put your money towards a printer that would cost as much as 3 complete armies.
So how much does a 3D Printer cost?
At the time of writing, the absolute cream of the crop, when it comes to 4k Printers under $1500 is the Phrozen Sonic Mini 4k. And it comes in under $330. YES, you've read it right. It's actually that cheap.
A lot of people have this misguided idea that 3D resin printers cost north of $9000.
But those printers are for professional commercial casters. They are for Architects and Dentists, for medical purposes. You don't need those for wargaming or playing Dungeons and Dragons.
You need something that can produce complex shapes, smooth surfaces without visible layers, with affordable resins.
Extremely Cheap 3D Resin Printer
Affordable 2K Resin 3D Printers
"2K? I just thought you said entry-level printers start at under $100"
Yes. When 3D Printing enthusiasts talk about 2k/4k/6k/8k printers there are referring to the resolution of the UV screen. The higher the resolution, the more pixels per inch they fit. This directly corresponds to the capacity of a machine to produce crisp minis.
You actually have a lot of douchebag manufacturers who might advertise their printers in a way that takes advantage of people who are new to Resin 3D printing. You will see ads and listings out there proudly proclaiming that their printer has a "2K FULL-COLOR UV screen". WOW FULL-COLOR!!!!! that must be good!
No. As far as I can gather, full-color screens have a way shorter lifespan than so-called Monochrome screens. I might be wrong, but what I found was that full-color screens have a life-span of anywhere between 200 and 600 printing hours.
If you are a fanatical printer, that means you have to replace your UV screen every 4 to 6 months.
And if you are unlucky, the replacement screens are extremely expensive. Or imagine, you buy into an older model, and by the time your UV screen burns out. That company no longer produces replacement screens. That would really suck.
I cant look into your wallet. But if you are buying a printer for over $250, I can imagine you don't want to have to toss it after a year when your screen is through. So either buy a $100 printer you don't mind replacing in its entirety or always buy one or two back-up screens when you are purchasing a 3D Printer with a full-color UV screen.
So what makes a 2K 3D Resin Printer affordable?
When you are considering to purchase a specific 2K printer, there are a few things worth considering.
What size of build-plate do I need?
Does it have a monochrome or a full-color screen?
How much does a replacement screen cost?
What are the costs of 2K printers with similar specs to the one you have your eye on?
Is there a community of people on Facebook, Reddit, or Youtube I can ask questions about this brand?
What's the price of 4K printers in comparison to this 2k Printer?
If you exclusively want to print small minis then you can do with the most basic 2k Printer. If you want to print Tanks, Monsters, Angels, Scenery pieces, and whatnot, you might want to look into printers with a larger screen. Also, make sure to check the user communities of certain brands. Because if you judge a printer solely by its reviews you will not get a good idea about its quality. Only people who had a negative experience tend to leave reviews. Positive reviews are often bought. Instead, look at what the people who actually have one of those machines say about it on Facebook for example.
The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to decide what 2K 3D printer you will be getting is whether the 4K printers aren't available in that price range yet. I can imagine you pulling the trigger on a $400 2k printer, only to find out that there are superior 4K Printers available at $330.
Very Decent 2k Printer with Mono Screen
Affordable 4K Resin 3D Printers
Almost all 4K printers come with a Monochrome Screen.
So that's already something that you don't have to worry about when shopping for a 4K printer.
It is however advised to buy a replacement screen with your 4K Resin Printer.
Especially because the lifespan of those screens is longer. The chances are that by the time you would need a new one, the brand will no longer produce those screens. So get an extra one and save it for a rainy day.
Currently the first generation of Consumer-level Desktop 3D Printers with a 4K screen cost between $330 and $800.
Of course, there are more expensive printers out there. But from a roleplayer or wargamer's perspective, it makes zero sense to look at machines north of $800. We're trying to play some games and have fun painting. Not set up a Casting Master Mould-making imperium.
Excellent Affordable 4K 3D Printer
The third thing to be mindful of is how big you need the build plate to be.
If you are a wargamer, chances are you will want to start printing tanks and demons before long. Having to print your models in multiple runs can be annoying. If you are into adventure RPGs and dungeon crawling games, you will feel the desire to crank out medieval townhouses in no time. You want the next Big Dragon. You want that super rustic Victorian Tavern. Don't even try and deny it.
If you're a competition or semi-pro painter, you will graduate to wanting to bust out busts on your machine sooner or later.
It's good to note that small 4k printers have more crisp results than large 4k printers.
4k is a fixed resolution. so it's not hard to imagine that the number of pixels per inch is way higher on a small screen than they are on a bigger screen.
Excellent 4K 3D Printer with 9" screen
So, what is the Best 3D Printer for Beginners?
To be able to answer that question you need to know what you need from your printer.
Do you want rough and ready miniatures that don't take too long to print because you care more about gaming than painting?
Or do you want the best possible print quality?
Do you prefer large models?
All these questions are worth taking into mind when finding your ideal first 3D printer.
If I were you I would just find a printer that is A) affordable and B) is billed to match your expectations.
Also, see if you can use Chitubox with your printer of choice. As it is a very intuitive program and free to use.
If you want to find out if you even like 3D printing. Get the cheapest 3D printer you can possibly find. and give it a swing. Don't expect magnificent usability or a steady learning curve. If you pay a little, you get very little.
If you want to field very decent looking minis, the odd barrel, stack of crates or basic dungeon tiles. Get yourself an affordable 2k Printer with a monochrome screen. Have fun with it. Enjoy it. But do not expect to get the highest possible quality from it. Your minis will still look amazing. But there is a whole other level of detail and crispness to explore with 4k machines that 2k machines just can't approach.
Do you want to be able to print minis that are almost indistinguishable from injection molded miniatures?
Do you want slick and crisp results in the highest possible resolution? You need a 4K printer.
4K printers are meant for people who can't stand ugly minis. For Competition painters. For semi-pro commission printers. For people that want the best possible results.
I am going to give it to you straight. There is no such thing as "The Best Resin".
There are loads of awful resins out there. yes.
But what passes as the best is 100% subjective. What do you need from your Resin? Strength? Density? High Detail? Flex?
The awful truth is, that you are going to have to watch some videos. Visit some friends with printers, ask them about their experiences. Talk to people on Reddit and Facebook. Understand that every printer is different, and every resin is too.
But if you are getting started. there are only 2 Resins worth trying.
They both have a wonderful capacity for detail. But they are not that strong.
They are super ok for painters and Careful Gamers.
But if your cat jumps on your desk or your kid/cousin/drunk neighbour throws your minis on the floor.
They will shatter.
What makes them great is that they are affordable. So you can print a lot, and hone your skills with printing before you graduate to the specialist brands after you learn what it is that you need from your prints.
Basic Anycubic Resins
Basic Anycubic Resins come in multiple colors. The Liter bottles are always between $20 and $40 (depending on what geo you are in)
It's a high-detail resin. It's not brittle. But any semblance of strength is not present. Perfect for painters and careful gamers. All the resins from their range can be mixed. And oddly enough, from experience, I have noticed that when I mix translucent green with grey 50/50 I have the highest success rate in my prints. I don't know if there's any science to it, I just seem to keep hitting the magic spot with it.
It must be noted that I paint my minis. I can't care less what the color of the resin is.
Basic 4k Aqua Grey by Phrozen
The Aqua Grey by Phrozen also comes in Liter bottles.
It price varies from $0 to $30, depending on deals and geo.
I say $0 because Phrozen is known to be very generous during discount campaigns. More often than not, will they add 2 or 3 liter bottles when you buy a new printer. Really depends what season you are buying in. They are also known to add in a free printer sometimes when you buy 20+ bottles at once.
Its worth checking their site from time to time. Especially during singles day, black Friday, and Christmas events. But a regular bottle of 4K resin from Phrozen comes in at around $30.
This is great value. It holds extremely high detail.
The Ugly Truth about Bio Resins
Ok so, there is no other way to put this. There are some bullshit marketing agencies out there egging on resin producers to flat out lie. Or....at least be creative about the truth.
All 3D printing resins are toxic gunk.
Even the Bio-Degradable and Plantbased ones.
Yes they are Bio-Degradable. But it will take over 160 years for PLA-like and ABS-like resins to degrade. These brands often make it seem like these resins and the plastics you cure of them are compostable. And they are not.
They are just taking advantage of your desire to buy environmentally-friendly products. And all they're doing is creating a "unique buying reason" so they can beef up their margin.
They're flirting with the notion their resins wouldn't be bad for the environment. When In reality, their resins are LESS bad than other resins. But still bad.
I also don't like washable resins not taking the effort to tell you that you shouldn't throw your cleaning water back into the drain or toilet. Yes! the models can be cleaned with water. No, that water is not clean. And it should be disposed of in the same way you would dispose of your other cleaning solutions.
Do not clean washable resins under the running tap.
If you want to know more about the Chemistry involved in Resin check out this insane in-depth 30-minute video by GooberTown Hobbies. Brent is a PhD in Chemistry. And the man knows what he is talking about.
Also, check this video about PLA and ABS prints. It's an eye-opener.
Is there anything else apart from a 3D Printer itself I would need?
If you are a beginner and you are on your way to starting 3D Printing with Resin for the first time, there are a couple of things you need to realize.
In addition to Resin and a Printer, you will need the following things.
1. A well-ventilated room or enclosure for your permanent set-up
2. A place for you to cure and clean your models
3. Storage for your tools and cleaning equipment
4. Tools to cure and clean your models
5. Personal protection
6. Easy access to a pc or mobile device
7. A USB thumb drive
1. A place to print
You can definitely put a desktop 3D printer on a Desk. I did it for easy access. Works fine. You do how-ever need a place out of direct sunlight that is well ventilated. Having a window open when you print is a good idea. The stories of resin stinking to high-heavens are greatly exaggerated. Yes. There are resins that smell unpleasant. And there are "odor-free" resins. But the truth is that some people are just "bitch-made" and they will whine just about any smell. If you find you are sensitive to smells, think about getting or building a 3D printer enclosure. I also built a 3D Printer enclosure, but that's because I print a lot. And the sound was getting bothersome to me after a few months. So if you are easily distracted by the sound of cooling fans (comparable to old laptops) then you should also look into creating an enclosure.
You can buy a so-called 3D Printing Hotbox. It's a desk-sized tent to keep your printer warm and can be connected to a ventilation hose to keep the smell down to a minimum. But if the sound is th issue, just stack two Ikea bottom kitchen cabinets on top of each other. Put drawers in the bottom bottom-cabinet, and add doors to the top bottom-cabinet. Put a sheet of multiplex on top and mount a 45 euro kitchen fume-suction hood ontop. Connect that to a ventilation tube that goes outside, and you are done. Well. You do need to add a couple of pieces of XPS foam to the inside and some rubber strips to make it sound and airtight. But I will show you how to do that in a future blog. If you are a creative person it shouldn't be too hard to figure out how to air and soundproof a kitchen cabinet.
2. A Place for you to cure and clean your models
You need some space to put your curing-station. Do you need a curing station? Probably not. You can DIY the f00k out of this if you are frugal. But whatever you build will also require some room in your workspace. Point is. All Resin Printed Models need to be washed and cured.
By washing, we mean thoroughly cleaned to get excess resin off your model. And with Curing, we mean exposing your model to extra UV light for a couple of minutes to make sure all the resin is properly cured inside and out.
Since it's not healthy for you to expose yourself to UV light for a long time, you will need to buy or create an isolated enclosure where your minis can cure in peace.
3. A Place to store all your cleaning tools
A set of drawers, Tupperware, Curver boxes, or a stylist trolley are all excellent ways to properly store your cleaning tools and necessities.
Unless you are a complete slob, you do not want a messy workplace.
Messy workplaces are the number one cause of hobby related accidents.
The most affordable 4K Resin available right now.
4. Tools to clean and cure your 3D printing models
If you are buying a curing station. You will spend a fair amount of money on a quality of life-enhancing product. But if you are frugal and creative, there is no reason at all to get a curing station.
If you want a curing station.. Go for it! Do you need one? probably not.
Will you regret buying one? Probably not.
But if you are not going to get one you will need:
A big bucket with a lid or an old Ikea cabinet.
Reflective foil or cheap mirror tiles.
a 405nm UV LED light of at least 20Watt
An alcohol proof Curver box with an airtight lid
An alcohol proof Tupperware box.
Line your bucket or cabinet with reflective material. Mount the light to the door or lid. and you have yourself a frugal UV curing oven.
Put your Tupperware box inside your Curver box, fill it with alcohol, acetone, Windex, simple green or bio-ethanol. and put the airtight lid on your Curver box when you are not using your cleaning solution.
You will need the following tools regardless of you buying a curing station or not
A towel to put your printer on. If you spill resin you won't fuck up your desk
A flat Spackle/Filler knife to remove 3D prints from your build plate
A Cleaning cloth to wipe your build-plate down after use
Several micro-fiber cloths to clean your Resin vat's FEP screen
A dedicated micro-fiber cloth that you keep clean to place your resin vat on when cleaned
A dedicated micro-fiber cloth to clean your printer's UV screen
A funnel to put your Resin filters in for when you want to put resin back into its bottle
Resin or paint filters
Wet wipes to clean the body of your printer after each use.
Cleaning solution. Can be Iso Propanol Alcohol of 96% or higher, Bio Ethanol, Acetone, Windex, or Simple green
Cleaning materials to clean resin from your floor or desk when you spill any
5. Personal Protection for Cleaning 3D Prints
You need to be packing serious heat to protect yourself from the threats of an uncleaned 3D Print. You need a piece with serious stopping power. Sometimes these 3D prints can be savagely predatorial.
All jokes aside. When you are using a Resin printer, you are exposing yourself t a bunch of chemicals. And it always pays to be safe.
Resin can cause skin irritation. And it can hurt really badly if you have it on your skin and it gets hit with sunlight. So wear Nitrile gloves.
Why not vinyl or latex? Loads of people are allergic to vinyl and latex. AND both Vynil and Latex cant stand being submerged in alcohol or ethanol for long. So just get some Nitrile gloves. and keep your skin safe.
If you are a fan of cleaning with acetone.. get butyl gloves. they are better equipped to keep your claws safe from harm than a nitrile glove would be.
If you are cleaning in Windex or simple green, you don't need need gloves, but I would advise wearing them anyway. People have this weird habit of developing allergies if they use a certain chemical for too long. Best be safe.
When cleaning with Alcohol and Bio Ethanol, you can opt to wear a mouth mask. The fumes can get you drunk. When you are cleaning with Aceton or Windex, wear a fucking mouth-mask. Don't even play. Just do it. You don't want to fry your lungs over some DND characters.
When you are cleaning with Alcohol, Bio Ethanol, Acetone, or Windex, please wear safety glasses.
It's only a matter of time before you drop something in the cleaning solution, and you don't want Windex scorching a hole in your eyeball when that ammonia hits your face.
Please consider that Alcohol, Ethanol, Acetone, and Ammonia are flammable. Don't allow anyone near you that smokes or is a dipshit that likes to whip out the blow torch when you are cleaning prints.
Take it seriously. You don't want to die in a blazing inferno because some stoner offers you a toke while cleaning.
Also Isopropanol, Windex, and Acetone really, really, REALLY stink. That's why a lot of people prefer Bio-Ethanol. at least that smells like Tequila. That doesn't make it any less-flammable though.
Do all your cleaning in a well-ventilated room.
If you are a recovering alcoholic, Muslim, Buddhist, or Rastafari, you might want to seriously consider not using Alcohol or Ethanol at all. Use Acetone, Simplegreen, or Windex instead.
NEVER EVER EVER drink the Alcohol or Ethanol. You will die. They put lethal toxins in there to punish poor alcoholics who can't afford vodka. Or to avoid taxes or some shit.
After you have cleaned your mini put it in your curing station or UV curing oven. Do not directly look into the UV light or the mirrors. A 20Watt lamp is strong enough to damage your sight.
When you take your gloves off, realize that there still might be resin on your gloves. do not touch your skin, your printer's UV screen, or your FEP. Carefully take them off and dispose of them in a responsible way.
Always wash your hands with an alcohol-based disinfectant hand gel to make sure there is no resin left on your hands. Afterward, it's smart to use some hand-lotion, baby-oil, or sunscreen on your hands. With all this covid disinfecting going on at every supermarket, you don't need the added stress to your skin from cleaning your hands after printing. If you print a lot you will wreck your hands in no time from "over-cleaning" your hands. Water and Alcohol dehydrate and destroy all the healthy fats on your hands. So make sure to moisturize after you wash your hands.
6 & 7. Computer stuffs!
You will need a decent pc or laptop to run your slicer. A Slicer is a program that helps you tweak the settings on objects that you want to print. It creates "sliced files" with information that tells your 3D printer what to do during the printing process. Slicers don't take a lot to run, but you'll run into a gangload of trouble if your are using some old crusty laptop from 2007.
You will also need a USB thumb drive or a mobile device. You will need this to send your sliced file to your printer. Older printers only take USB 2.0 so dont get too fancy with your printer. It might just ignore your modern USB stick.
Is 3D Printing Difficult?
It's pretentious pictures in every-day media like this that make it look
like you need to be some kind of a rocket scientist with a PhD in applied Bullshitonometry to be able to 3D print.
No. Just like learning to use any other tool. There is some effort involved in getting started. But it doesn't take any rocket science to learn how to successfully print on a Resin Printer.
If you have zero computer skills, have a hard time reading, or if you are poor-sighted, 3D printing can be more difficult than it is rewarding.
You need a basic understanding of either English or Mandarin to be able to read the manuals or to understand articles about your machine.
You also need to know how to work a mouse, how to name and copy files, how to install and run software. Basic understanding of Reddit or Facebook is also a huge plus.
A lot of people say that 3D Printing is a hobby on its own because it's fabled to require a huge amount of learning before you can do anything. But as far as I am concerned... that might be true for FDM printers, But resin printers are literally plug and play devices.
Yes, there is a learning curve. But no. it's not hard.
If you know yourself to be a weakling that cant amount to bring up the required concentration needed to watch a youtube video or google for the answer to a problem. Then yes. 3D printing will prove too difficult for you.
But if you are a creative curious person, you will get the hang of it in no time. It might take you a couple of months to be able to troubleshoot your machine when you have a misprint. But hey. Take a few good pics of your failed projects, take a screenshot of your settings, remember the room temperature, and find a Facebook group filled with friendly people to get you moving along. You can always crowdsource the answer to anything you cant figure out yourself.
3D Printing breaks down into the following process.
So if you are not familiar with the process, you can prepare yourself :P
3D Printing Models are called STLs after the STL format they are saved in.
Before you can Print your STL you need to place supports. You place supports to make sure the entire model sticks to the build-plate. If you didn't place supports, any overhangs on the sculpt would stick to the bottom of the resin vat (the FEP screen) and they would just float or lay there, totally destroying the rest of your print. Supporting isn't hard. It just takes some effort to learn. It's not super fun. But you can learn to do it yourself, outsource it to someone, or buy pre-supported models (Like Ours :P ).
3. Validate your files
Once you are done supporting, you save your session and you run it through a free file validator. Those types of programs checks for overhangs you haven't supported. We call those "islands"
Once you have seen the feedback from your file validator, you correct any mistakes you've made, and then you are ready to slice your STL.
4. Slice your Files
If you slice something for the first time on a printer, or when using a new resin, or working with a new set of support settings, you have to dial in your printing settings. That sounds harder than it is. You can watch a few youtube videos and read a few articles and BENG. Before you know it you are murdering at figuring out custom settings!
If you are coming from an FDM background this might give you a migraine. Don't worry, there are roughly 16 settings, this is not FDM printing. You won't have to go through thousands of minute factors to get your resin printer working. Making the switch to Resin Printing will be a piece of cake.
5. Load up a USB stick and Top off Resin
Once you are done slicing. Save your file and copy it to a USB stick.
Stick the USB stick into your printer. Turn the printer on. Check if you have enough Resin in there. if not, SHAKE yourself some additional resin. Pour it into the vat. Put the hood back on your printer.
Make sure the room is nice and toasty (Printers hate cold they start behaving very stupidly)
If you are in an extremely cold environment put your closed bottle of resin in a bucket of warm water before you use it.
Select the file on your USB stick on the touch screen of your printer.
6. Printing, Curing, and Cleaning
WAIT.... once the printer is done (several hours later lol) you remove the hood.
You suit up for bio-chemical hazmat warfare.
Take the build-plate off the Z-Axis, use your Spackle Knife to get your print loose from the build-plate.
Throw all your prints in your Bio-Ethanol or cleaning solution. Wash it with water.
Throw it back in some clean Bio-Ethanol.
Remove all the supports.
Cure your print.
Clean your printer metuculously
If you had a misprint, empty the vat through a filter into a funnel back into a resin bottle and clean the FEP
7. The End Goal
Paint your print.
Field your print!
8. Disposing of Garbage
Remember to dispose of your garbage like a responsible adult.
Do not flush your dirty cleaning liquids down the toilet or drain.
Dispose of them in a responsible fashion.
Remember that bio-resins, and water washable resins are bullshit.
ALL RESINS ARE TOXIC SLUDGE. Just because it's "less" bad for the environment than another resin, doesn't mean it's nature friendly. Also, Don't buy into the Bio-Degradable hype. I mean it is bio-degradable. But it takes a good 160 years. So yeah. Don't throw your supports in the garden to compost.
The garbage that comes off of that is still chemical waste. Don't be fooled by lawless madmen.
And I shouldn't even have to say it.
DO NOT LET KIDS UNDER THE AGE OF 16 PRINT UNSUPERVISED.